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It’s never been more important to stay connected

O2 and Good Things Foundation have launched the National Databank to make sure everyone can access essential online services and support – and keep in touch with loved ones. Sarah Reid explains how it works, and how it’s supporting Big Issue vendors

If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the last two years, it’s the value of staying connected to the loved ones and friends who really matter to us.

But what if we never had it in the first place?

Across the UK, 1.5 million homes have no connection to the internet (Ofcom, 2021), meaning lives are lived on the fringes and everything’s so much harder than it needs to be. That’s why O2 is taking action.

The award-winning network understands better than most how digital connection is a necessity for everything from online shopping and banking to studying and GP appointments. Not to mention staying connected to the people we love. But millions of us are still locked out – that’s the reality of data poverty.

Covid has accelerated the shift to digital, and for many of us it felt like our entire lives were suddenly online. Connection kept us going when the world stopped – meanwhile, people who were yet to make the move online were left behind.

And the consequences of digital exclusion are far-reaching.

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Not being online doesn’t just shut down opportunities like jobs and education, it’s a marker for poorer health and lower life expectancy. Downloading an app to access an online GP appointment feels like something from another world if you’re digitally excluded.

In from the cold this winter

Being locked out of the digital world means paying more for life’s essentials, being frozen out of welfare benefits, and not having a voice in the modern world.

Everything seems out of reach, while everyone else, turbo-charged by digital advantages, moves onwards and upwards.

It doesn’t have to be like this. O2 (and their reliable robot Bubl) have a plan to bring the digitally excluded inside from the cold this winter.

Together with social change charity Good Things Foundation, they’ve launched the National Databank to celebrate the power of connection and share the benefits with people who’ve been left behind.

It’s a buy-one-give-one model that works like a foodbank. For every plan O2 sells this Christmas, they’ll donate 10GB of data to the Databank so it’s there for someone who really needs it, absolutely free. Vouchers for the Databank are distributed by local community partners registered in the Online Centres Network, to the people they support.

This is O2’s way of making sure everyone can enjoy the opportunities that connection brings. It’s part of their data pledge to get more than 255,000 people connected by the end of 2023 – and triple the amount of O2 mobile data getting to the people who need it most, including refugees and survivors of domestic abuse.

It is important to The Big Issue, too. Since vendors started to offer cashless selling in 2019, many have seen sales swell by a third or more. Covid made this shift more urgent. And like all of us, vendors have people and places they desperately want to remain connected to, especially at Christmas.

You feel part of things

Big Issue vendor Rodney

After years living on the streets, Big Issue vendor Rodney is now online and he’s gone cashless, so his phone is a lifeline.

“I’ve just paid my bill, which means I’ve got it for a month now,” he says happily. “I can have a card reader, which increases my sales. Around 10 per cent of my customers now pay with a card but I need a mobile phone for that.

Big Issue vendor Rodney on his pitch
Big Issue vendor Rodney now has a card reader, which increases his sales and helps him feel more connected Photo: © Exposure Photo Agency

“I can ring The Big Issue office when I need to, I can do banking on my phone. When I check my balance, I know how many magazines I can afford to buy that day.

“My family are in Newcastle and I’m in Bournemouth, so being able to stay in touch when we’re so far apart has benefits for my mental health and wellbeing. You feel part of things.”

As part of its drive to help end the digital divide, O2 is reaching out to Big Issue vendors with data plans
to help 200 sellers go cashless and grow their business. With 7GB of data, as well as a free sim, unlimited calls and texts, they’ll be able to reconnect with family and friends just in time for Christmas. All this means that more Big Issue vendors than ever before will be joining Rodney in the digital world.

Being connected is no longer just a bonus, it’s a necessity. An O2 plan is a plan that gives something back. Get on board and help connect someone this Christmas. It’s a wonderful thing.

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Every copy counts this Christmas

Your local vendor is at the sharp end of the cost-of-living crisis this Christmas. Prices of energy and food are rising rapidly. As is the cost of rent. All at their highest rate in 40 years. Vendors are amongst the most vulnerable people affected. Support our vendors to earn as much as they can and give them a fighting chance this Christmas.

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