Illustration by Nicola Ferrarese
Photo David Wagstaffe
Advertorial from O2
Throughout the pandemic, tech has held us together when things fell apart. It allowed us to carry on with work or study, and it kept us in touch with the people we couldn’t see in real life.
But it’s not the same for everyone. Digital exclusion is real, and comes at a cost to the people who can least afford it. Often these people are Big Issue vendors.
From banking and GP appointments, to boosting their sales with a card reader and app, those vendors who now have access to mobile data are reaping the benefits.
Like Lavinia Neda, for example. The Big Issue vendor has been bolstering her cash sales with card transactions since 2020.
“Having the card reader has helped me to get through Covid,” says Lavinia, 30. “The first thing people ask is ‘can I pay by card?’ I have everything – the card reader and the app – but if you don’t have data you can’t sell.
“If you don’t have data and someone comes with their card it’s very sad to have to turn that custom away.”
The Big Issue continues to kit vendors out with card readers, and since the end of last year, O2 has stepped in to provide free mobile data via the National Databank – an initiative it set up with digital inclusion charity Good Things Foundation to provide data to those who need it most.
Big Issue vendors are given 7GB of free O2 mobile data from the National Databank, which is like a foodbank but for mobile data, helping people like Lavinia move over to card readers by having enough data to connect them to the internet. O2 has pledged to support over 200 vendors on their journey to take cashless payments.
Free O2 mobile data via voucher codes, plus free text messages and voice calls, are provided by the National Databank and distributed by local community partners.
Now I can check my emails anywhere
Virgin Media O2 and Good Things Foundation have pledged to get more than 255,000 people connected by the end of 2023, which will have a positive and long lasting impact on lives.
That’s no exaggeration. Lavinia sells The Big Issue in Cardiff, but she’s also a chef in a local cafe. The data from O2 means she’s better equipped to do her job.
“When I’m working in the kitchen, maybe something changes on the menu or something’s not available,” Lavinia says. “So my boss sends me an email to let me know. But sometimes I couldn’t see it because I was on my way to work. Now I can check my emails everywhere.”
Like Lavinia, Mark Richards has seen his confidence soar as a result of selling The Big Issue and building up his digital skills.
He has also benefited from a SIM card and free O2 mobile data from the National Databank.
Mark sends out Big Issue corporate subscriptions to readers all over the world from the magazine’s Cardiff office. He also has stocktaking duties, making him a vital member of the team.
Ten years ago I wouldn’t have been in this position
“I use the data on a daily basis,” he says. “I track my sales, listen to music, sort out any housing problems I might have. It’s pretty useful to have this free data and SIM, it means I can check things when I’m on my pitch.”
Before selling The Big Issue Mark says he had no confidence and couldn’t speak to strangers. Now he’s something of a local tour guide, helping people who are lost in the city centre find their way around.
It’s the same with his digital skills. From a standing start years ago, he’s now passed online courses in fire safety, GDPR and Covid security. He also emails Big Issue colleagues with his stock count.
“Ten years ago I wouldn’t have thought I’d ever be in this position,” he says. “These are skills I’m still learning slowly, but when I can afford to I’d love to get my own laptop.”
Ahmed Hashi is just starting out on his digital journey. The 62-year-old Big Issue vendor had already moved over to card sales and more recently received the O2 data and SIM.
“Taking cards made a hell of a difference,” he says. “So now that I don’t have to pay for data it benefits me even more. But I’m not that good at other digital stuff. Obviously though, this will help me get a bit of confidence.”
This is going to take me forward now
Ahmed is settled now after years moving through the hostel system, and would like to get online to stream films and music.
“I have a home now, but it was a long time coming,” he says. “It was hard getting digital skills in the hostels but I’m hoping it’s going to take me forward now. I’m just taking it one step at a time. It’s all a bit scary but it’s well within my abilities.”
Lavinia, Mark and Ahmed are exactly the kind of people Virgin Media O2 and Good Things Foundation want to reach with the National Databank. Group Chief executive Helen Milner OBE is determined that society has to change.
“The pandemic has exposed and exacerbated the digital divide, highlighting a huge problem in our society and leaving people with multiple social challenges behind,” she says.
“It is not OK to leave people locked out of the digital world and unable to access essential services. Together, we can all address the issue of data poverty in the UK once and for all.”
Data poverty shouldn’t exist. With groundbreaking initiatives like the National Databank, we can help end digital exclusion and transform lives.
When most people think about the Big Issue, they think of vendors selling the Big Issue magazines on the streets – and we are immensely proud of this. In 2022 alone, we worked with 10% more vendors and these vendors earned £3.76 million in collective income. There is much more to the work we do at the Big Issue Group, our mission is to create innovative solutions through enterprise to unlock opportunity for the 14million people in the UK living in poverty.