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O2 gifting smartphones to most vulnerable

O2 Social Media Team
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  • ‘Community Calling’ – a partnership between O2 and Hubbub invites people to empty their drawers of old phones to pass on to the digitally excluded
  • The trial will initially see 800 refurbished smartphones and O2 Pay as you Go SIM cards distributed to ‘digitally excluded’ people in Southwark, London
  • 9 million UK households are ‘digitally excluded’ from internet access, despite 4 phones sitting unused for every 1 in use across the country
  • Smartphones are proving more important than ever during the pandemic: tackling loneliness and enabling contact tracing

O2 is partnering with environmental charity Hubbub to encourage people to donate old or unused smartphones to digitally disconnected members of the community, as part of a trial to tackle digital exclusion during the Covid-19 pandemic. The ‘Community Calling’ trial will initially involve 800 handsets being distributed to residents of Southwark in London.

1.9 million households in the UK don’t have access to the internet and are considered ‘digitally excluded[1]’. O2 and Hubbub hope to change this, starting with a trial in Southwark which aims to encourage people to donate 500 old or unused smartphones which will be gifted to vulnerable members of society.

The pre-identified list of households has been put together by a number of local organisations in Southwark. Their clients range from the elderly, those in low-income households, survivors of domestic abuse and asylum seekers. Within these groups, each organisation has identified those who would benefit most from a smartphone, based on providing access to essential services, online learning or getting connected to family and friends.

The project will invite members of the local Southwark community and surrounding areas to donate unused smartphones which will then be data-wiped, cleaned and refurbished by ready for redistribution. O2 is donating an additional 300 handsets alongside providing pay as you go SIMs and top up to be used with the donated devices.

Unused phones
In the UK, an average of four phones sit unused for every phone in use. O2 and Hubbub hope the trial will demonstrate a feasible phone-gifting model whereby, unused, workable phones can be donated and redistributed to the disconnected across the UK during the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond, extending the life of the devices whilst ensuring that people can stay connected to loved ones and vital frontline support services.

Once complete, O2 and Hubbub will share the learnings from the trial to help inform recycling and re-use initiatives in other cities across the UK.

The trial builds on O2’s commitment in March to become a Net Zero business, tackling carbon emissions in its business and supply chain. O2 has the longest-running major UK network recycling initiative in the UK, where customers can trade in their old devices for cash incentives. The scheme has saved over 450 tonnes of mobile phone waste from going to landfill, with all devices received being data-wiped and reused or recycled.

Tracey Herald, Head of Partnerships and Social impact at O2 said – “Connectivity is a lifeline for so many at this time – and with so many smart devices sitting in drawers at home, this project provides the perfect opportunity to dust them off for a good cause. The Southwark community has been particularly affected by the recent pandemic, so we’re working in partnership with Hubbub, the local council and community groups to ensure we can distribute these devices to those who need them most. The trial will help us tackle digital exclusion and help the environment too.’

Gavin Ellis, Director and Co-Founder at Hubbub said – “Community Calling offers a simple way to get unused smartphones to people who need them most during the current pandemic, allowing them to access essential services, to educate their kids or to stay in touch with loved ones. Plus it has the bonus environmental benefit of avoiding electrical waste going to landfill or incineration. We’re trialling the approach with O2 in Southwark and if successful, we’ll look to replicate it elsewhere in the UK.”

Councillor Evelyn Akoto, Cabinet Member for Community Safety and Public Health and Councillor for Old Kent Road Ward said – “At a time when we can’t physically visit our friends and families, many people are relying on their phones and computers as their only point of contact with others. This is especially tough on those who are vulnerable and have to isolate completely, and those who cannot afford, or are unable to get access to, a mobile phone or a computer. Our mental health needs protecting as much as our physical health right now, and this project provides a great way to combat loneliness and keep people connected.”

Krzysztof Mikata-Pralat, CEO at Community Southwark said – “During this pandemic we are working with front-line organisations serving to support the most vulnerable and working with Hubbub and O2 to help deliver this project will ensure that many members in the borough will be more digitally included. Being able to connect with family, friends or your community is a vital lifeline during this time and we are proud to be a part of this project” 


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