“How could we continue to provide a service whilst ensuring that our staff were not put at risk? That moment of thinking - what do we do?”
High Trees Community Development Trust (‘High Trees’) is an established non-profit community anchor and hub in Lambeth’s Tulse Hill. It provides employment support, training, young people's services and community engagement opportunities to local people, and has been around for twenty-two years.
High Trees responded quickly to the Covid-19 lock down by adapting its services and working with local organisations to develop ‘Connecting Tulse Hill', a partnership that gave them the ability to continue to help their most vulnerable service users as well as develop new relationships with local people lacking support. The project included information packs, a comprehensive wellbeing check service, laptop/dongle loans and updated online learning opportunities. More details can be found below by clicking on the Read More button .
“Digital exclusion wasn't foreign to us...Prior to going to lockdown we were able to address it by providing an internet café and training but it is definitely one that we didn't see growing into what it did”
Funding came via the Lambeth Community Response Fund, coordinated by the Walcot Foundation and part of the wider London Community Response Fund (LCRF), a quickly assembled group of London’s funders working together in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. An ‘emergency response’ grant ensured High Trees had the technology required to work remotely and as plans developed further, an additional grant of £24,000 supported the setting up and staffing costs of the responsive services. All this happened within just four weeks of lockdown being announced.
The London Community Response Fund portal meant a single application, shared due diligence checks and the opportunity for jointly funded projects and this helped to reduce the administration and waiting times for many applicants, including High Trees.
“Completing an [LCRF] application, to having a phone call, it wasn’t even a week. So, the ability to respond, and to be responsive allows us to do that in a way that we've never been able to do before”
Meanwhile a separate crowdfunding campaign, created with partners Jubilee Primary and Tree Shepherd, was also a huge success, reaching its £10,000 target in less than 10 days and raising over £15,0000 toward tackling local digital exclusion in total. The additional funding allowed High Trees to build on Connecting Tulse Hill and supply devices and IT support to many more struggling families than originally thought possible.
The new funding, coupled with High Trees’ local knowledge, meant they could deliver 344 hours of remote support, complete over 500 wellbeing checks, loan 190 devices and support 274 unique beneficiaries over the following 12 weeks, providing a vital lifeline for vulnerable households. Of these, 28 progressed onto one of High Trees educational courses.
“We distributed devices to about 130 families, initially thinking we can help about 20.... we definitely exceeded the role we thought we were going to play, which has led to other future priorities for High Trees.”
These projects have allowed High Trees to identify a next step to further reduce digital exclusion. Despite having access to devices, many local residents continue to be disadvantage when accessing learning, support, jobs and more by lack of a reliable internet connection. 33% of those accessing help via Connecting Tulse Hill have no functioning Wi-Fi. High Trees are now working closely with local partners and Lambeth Housing to develop a longer-term solution. Using High Trees and other partners as Wi-Fi hubs and a ‘meshing system’, a free community WIFI service is in development. This is a relatively low-cost solution which, if successful, could be replicated in other areas. It shows the value of those with an understanding of local needs and resources working together to generate genuinely local solutions.
“Our role is to bring the community together and try and find a solution to the local problem, getting all the right people in the room...get a commitment to that... help source the funding and identify a community partner able to maintain it, that is our goal”