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Tower Hamlets students delight: community partnership removes barriers to digital inclusion


On Thursday 10 December 2020, 30 excited students and their families from Lansbury Lawrence and Clara Grant primary schools in Poplar, received free laptops and one year free broadband connection to assist with home learning, courtesy of the Inclusive Broadband Connected Communities project.

The two schools are the newest participants in the scheme’s latest round of the programme, following a successful pilot with Bygrove and Stebon primary schools and internet provider, Community Fibre this past summer. It brings the number of local families who received this twin offer, that also come with a digital skills training package to 230.

The scheme, which launched in June 2020 is an initiative of the partnership between Poplar HARCA, Letta Trust, LBTH Council, the East End Community Foundation (EECF) and Community Fibre.

Digital connectivity is essential to learning and education. In Tower Hamlets, over 50% of students do not have a device to access online learning. National research shows that in the most deprived schools only 16% of pupils participate in online lessons daily. This widens the already significant attainment gap between the poorest and richest children. The partnership plays an important role in closing the digital divide.

Even prior to the pandemic, evidence shows that lack of digital access correlates with educational, social and economic disadvantage. Fixing the digital divide is more important than ever.

Tracey Walsh, CEO – East End Community Foundation, said: “You are at an immediate disadvantage if you don’t have access to learning and information, so I am delighted we could level the playing field today for the children and families participating in the latest round of this exciting initiative.”

Karen Symons – Head, Clara Grant Primary, said: “Digital inclusion must be a priority going forward. Access to the internet and suitable devices are essential for our families to allow them access to services, advice, information and online learning. Having the support of the East End Community Foundation, Poplar HARCA, the LETTA Trust and the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, has meant we have been able to begin to reduce the digital divide in our community. Our families are delighted and so are we.”

Owen O’Regan – Head, Lansbury Lawrence Primary, said: “It’s been wonderful to work with our community partners to deliver this to our families. It’s going to make a real difference to those who need it most during this difficult time and beyond. Community support like this is what makes Tower Hamlets a special place to work and live.”

Babu Bhattacherjee – Director, Communities and Neighbourhoods –Poplar HARCA, said: “It is essential that we maintain the momentum of this scheme by moving on to this second phase. The more families we get connected, the closer we get to closing the gap in digital inclusion.  We hope that in 2021, we can reach hundreds more families across Tower Hamlets.”

Graeme Oxby, Chief Executive Officer of Community Fibre, said: “At Community Fibre, digital inclusion is at the heart of what we do. We strive to provide fast, affordable, and reliable broadband to everyone in London. We are proud to help the East End Community Foundation, Poplar HARCA, the LETTA Trust and the London Borough of Tower Hamlets further with their mission in offering access to online education, which is more critical than ever in these difficult times. We will continue pursuing our efforts in 2021 to connect more families in London and bridge the digital gap.”

The project has already revealed important and beneficial impacts:

“It helped me with searching for educational work by using the internet broadband. I use the Chromebook for Google classroom work and to do my Spanish homework that is set on Google classroom. It has helped me with my Maths and English work.” Samir – student, age 10-11

“I never had broadband at my flat. It’s been great so far having a free connection and being able to surf the net at the same time. My daughter had issues doing Google classroom. However, since the Chromebook was gifted, she was very content and completed her class work successfully. She gets to do other activities on there with delight. We are all privileged to be offered such a great project all free of charge! [We] feel lucky that we got selected. It’s on very rare occasions you get opportunities like this. We are glad we are one of them. Thank you.” Sheena Ram – parent

The scheme has enabled children to continue with their studies, increase social inclusion using video streaming, and carry on with extracurricular activities such as language learning or swimming and boxing.  For parents it increases access to employment opportunities and training, essential services and saves time and money; making life simpler and more efficient.