John Warby is a Team Leader for our Connect Team. Every year our Connect team knocks on 20,000 doors, providing information and referrals to specialist advice organizations and services for people in Islington. John also manages Help on Your Doorstep’s partner network, a group of 140+ organizations that share work together to support Islington residents.  

He talks about one of the biggest challenges for the Islington residents he works with - getting online.  

Struggling to get online  

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I knew that there were families that would struggle to access online activities due to a lack of equipment. Not everyone can afford to have a laptop or computer at home. Whilst mobile phones are great for checking Facebook or Instagram, it’s difficult to do your homework on an iPhone.  

Normally residents are really innovative in the ways they get online- they make use of the libraries, borrow technology from friends and use WIFI at free hotspots. At the start of the pandemic all of those options went.  

At the same time access to the internet decreased, the need to get online increased. Families with children were expected to get online to access learning opportunities. When there was a period of shortages in the shops people were encouraged to shop online. Many real-life activities were replaced with online versions; PE with Joe Wicks is great, but only if you have a device and internet access to be able to watch his videos.  

Tackling the digital divide  

I knew I had to find a way of doing something for those families. Luckily, I was approached by Mercedes from Mer-IT. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic Mer-it opened a temporary refurbishing station at Mildmay Community Centre to ensure students, teachers and those in need of technology have access during lockdown. They take laptops, desktops, tablets or printers that aren’t being used anymore, wipe the data and refurbish them so they can be used again by someone who needs IT. 

Organisations working together to support residents through COVID-19  

A few days after speaking to Mercedes, I had a meeting with Patrick from Cripplegate Foundation and Sargeant Tony Flynn from Yes outdoorsYes Outdoors are an organisation that arranges activities for young people in inner London. Since COVID19 they have suspended their face to face activities and are exploring new means of engaging young people. This has included providing laptops for young people in Camden and Islington.  

Following the meeting, I put Mer-It itouch with Yes Outdoors, who decided to work together to support those who need IT equipment. Yes Outdoors collect the donated equipment and Mer-It refurbished it.  

Getting technology to the people that need it most  

So far, we have made 15 referrals into these schemes. These fantastic and much needed services have helped support our clients to stay in contact with the outside world at a time when it really mattered. Families have told me 

“This came just at the right time. Our laptop broke and my son, who is in year 6 could not access his school work at this most important time for him. Both my partner and myself had been furloughed from work so could not afford to buy a new laptop. The Connect team were really easy to deal with and ensured we got the laptop quickly.”  

I feel lucky to work in Islington where we have such a strong network of partner organisations who work together to support the people within our community. As lockdown eases, many services are encouraging people to go online to access the things that they need. Our Connect Team are still coming across people that need IT equipment.  

If this is you or someone you know, contact the Help on Your Doorstep team on 020 3931 6080 or email us at [email protected]."