Virgin Media O2 provides ‘lifeline’ to low-income families with free mobile data

Virgin Media O2 is extending support to more people in need this Christmas by expanding the National Databank to all O2-owned stores and two major homelessness charities across the nation.

From December 7, more than 240 O2 stores across the UK will start to become National Databank Digital Inclusion Hubs, providing free O2 data to anyone experiencing data poverty – regardless of their mobile provider.

Additionally, the provider is increasing the available data to help those who need it get online and stay connected to loved ones.

The National Databank, created by Virgin Media O2 and the UK’s leading digital inclusion charity, Good Things Foundation, is described as a “foodbank for data”, providing free O2 mobile data, texts and calls to people in need.

The move follows a successful pilot of the National Databank in 10 O2 stores last Christmas.

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Rob Orr, chief operations officer at Virgin Media O2, commented: “To help people most affected by the cost-of-living crisis, we’re opening the doors to more National Databank Digital Inclusion Hubs than ever before and making it easier for people to get connected

“With O2 stores, Crisis’ Skylight Centres and Driving for Change’s buses becoming Databanks, and Virgin Media O2 boosting free O2 mobile data to 25GB per month, there are more places for people in need to get help so they can get online, access essential services, and keep in touch with loved ones this Christmas and beyond.”

It comes as new research by the provider reveals that almost two-thirds (64 percent) of Britons think this winter and Christmas will be tougher financially than last year. More than half (52 percent) say they are uncertain or worried about their finances over the next 12 months.

In addition, more than eight in 10 people on household incomes less than £17,000 are considering going without mobile data to help them afford other bills.

The move will see the amount of free O2 data available via all National Databank Digital Inclusion Hubs increase to 25GB per month for six months – which is enough for around 275 hours of internet browsing per month.

Virgin Media O2 and Good Things Foundation are also supporting people experiencing, and at risk of, homelessness this winter and beyond by expanding the National Databank to charities, Crisis and Change Please – Driving for Change.

As well as offering free O2 data, texts and calls via the National Databank, both charities will provide free second-hand smartphones to their guests from the Community Calling programme, run by Virgin Media O2 and environmental charity, Hubbub.

With free smartphones and data, people experiencing homelessness can access essential services, such as finding a place to stay, locating food banks, accessing online medical help and contacting loved ones. Crisis will offer the scheme via its nine Skylight Centres across Great Britain, with all centres also being offered free WiFi from Virgin Media O2.

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The charity, Change Please, will take the National Databank on the road via its Driving for Change buses, which stop in deprived communities across London and provide hygiene and dental care.

With O2 stores, Crisis and Change Please – Driving for Change, becoming National Databank Digital Inclusion Hubs, the National Databank will be available at more than 1,600 locations across the UK. People can find their nearest Hub here.

Kieran O’Brien was homeless before he was supported by Driving for Change, and has explained the importance of having free mobile data.

Mr O’Brien said: “When you’re homeless, having access to mobile data and the internet is so important. Often, I didn’t have credit and I’d receive messages from my family and I couldn’t send them a message back, which meant they’d worry about me. It would have made such a difference if I could have called my family and said ‘I love you’ or asked ‘how’s school?’.

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“If I would have had mobile data, texts and calls from the National Databank, I would have got out of homelessness much quicker, there would have been more services I could have accessed and there would have been more things I could have done.”

Helen Milner OBE, group CEO at Good Things Foundation, said she is “thrilled” to see the National Databank grow even larger. She added: “With the cost of living crisis raging on, increasing the amount of data on offer to 25GB will mean more people in need can access essential services and connect with loved ones.”

Henrietta MacEwen, head of partnerships at Driving for Change, said the service will “provide a lifeline” to those experiencing homelessness, giving “vital access” to information on services and charities that can help. She said: “We live in a 24/7 online society, and no one should be excluded from that.”

Matt Downie, chief executive at Crisis, said: “This connection will play an important part in helping people to discover a life beyond homelessness, being able to access support from Crisis over the phone and ultimately find somewhere safe and secure to live.”

Theo Blackwell, the Chief Digital Officer for London, commented: “It is fantastic that Virgin Media O2 is putting digital devices and data in the hands of homeless people to help them stay connected, which is a necessity to stay in touch with loved ones or access essential services.

“Partnering with Crisis and Change Please will help support vulnerable Londoners across the city, as we continue to work together to build a better and fairer London for all.”

Virgin Media O2 has committed more than 61 million GB of O2 data to the initiative by the end of 2025.

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