Dr Saffron Woodcraft
2 February 2022
East London based housing association Poplar HARCA, on behalf of its partners LETTA Trust, The East End Community Foundation and the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, partnered with the Institute for Global Prosperity (IGP) to evaluate the Connecting Communities Project – a Universal Basic Services digital inclusion project on Inclusive Broadband.
Latest data on digital exclusion (2014) in Tower Hamlets shows big intergenerational, socio-economic, and disability/illness condition disparities in access to the Internet. Levels of access varied with age: 96% of those aged 18-34 had access compared with just 38% of those aged 60 and over. Those with a disability or health problem were far less likely (60%) to have access to the Internet compared with those with no disability/health problem (90%).
The IGP was invited to research and evaluate the impacts of the first phase of the Connecting Communities Project. The project was launched in June 2020 by Poplar HARCA in partnership with LETTA Trust Schools, Tower Hamlets Council, East End Community Foundation, and Internet provider Community Fibre. The project which will run for two years, is currently targeting 100-200 low-income households in Poplar, Tower Hamlets. Each household family participating in the project is being provided with free broadband internet connection, a Google Chromebook digital device, and basic information and communications technology (ICT) training and support.
IGP invited to research and evaluate the impacts of the first phase of the project
Kulsuma Islam (Stebon Primary School) and Sultana Yasmin (Poplar HARCA) were trained by the IGP to work as Citizen Social Scientists to collect ‘stories of change’ through in-depth interviews and personal accounts exploring the expectations and short-term impacts of the project. Together they developed research questions and a programme to examine and understand the experiences of nine families participating in the project.
Participating households for the Phase 1 include 100 children and families currently living in Poplar HARCA-managed homes and attending the Stebon and Bygrove Primary Schools. Out of the 100 households were a total of 76 families who had received broadband connection and a Google Chromebook device.
Findings from the research show the project is having rapid and important beneficial impacts on participating household families and community residents’ in four key areas: home schooling and learning opportunities; work and employability opportunities; physical and mental health wellbeing and behaviours; time and costs savings.
“It’s been such a struggle. I was having to link devices to get internet through my phone and my son and daughter, who both have schoolwork to do, were having to take turns. They’ve not been able to do a lot and they were falling behind. Having a proper broadband connection has made a big difference.” Esra Mallick, one of the participants, female parent with three children.
The findings also highlight further improvement required in three areas: online access to and management of basic services and utilities; ICT skills and internet safety; overall broadband connectivity and project reception.
The opportunities presented by UBS experiments in digital inclusion within the housing sector, such as the Connecting Communities Project, are very promising for improving the quality of life and wellbeing of communities. The IGP recommends accelerating and scaling up the learnings and impacts of local digital inclusion initiatives and other UBS-type experiments. Such approaches are crucial for the redesign of a welfare state for the 21st century aimed at supporting people’s livelihood security, tacking poverty and structural inequality, and building back better in a post Covid-19 world.
Facing the current pandemic crisis and the challenges brought forth by rising economic insecurity, structural inequality and poverty, and the lack of labour market realignment to automation, technological change, the green economy, and climate change, necessitates a redesign of the welfare-state for the 21st century. One that is based on locally situated but also coordinated transformative strategies, is guided by local and central government leadership, as well as cross-sectoral stakeholder collaborations, and considers the complexities of each place.
Accelerating the learning and impact of local UBS-type interventions, such as the Connecting Communities Project on digital inclusion, could be achieved through the creation of a cross-sectoral multi-stakeholder UBS Community of Practice (CoP). Drawing from a diverse range of knowledge, expertise, capabilities and leadership, such UBS CoP would be able to deliver rapid and measurable impacts for the worst affected communities through more effective mechanisms for knowledge exchange, co-design of experiments, and evaluating different models for delivery, that make meaningful contributions to local, regional, and national policy interventions. The IGP is already working with Poplar HARCA, and other partners in local government and academia, to develop such a CoP.
The policy brief and report for this project is available here: https://seriouslydifferent.org/igp-data/stories-of-change-from-the-connected-communities-inclusive-broadband-project
To learn more about IGPs east London work and ProCol UK, please see here:
Dr Saffron Woodcraft Saffron is the Executive Lead for ProCol UK. She has led the Institute’s work to develop a citizen-led Prosperity Index since 2015, which is now being adapted internationally. She manages the London Prosperity Board and IGP’s longitudinal study of prosperity in the UK.
Image Credit: Hannah Busing on Unsplash
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