Written by Laurie Frankland – New Horizons Project Manager
Here at CHS we provide one-to-one in person coaching for people furthest from work through our New Horizons Project. As part of New Horizons offer, we try to address digital inequality by providing coaching in basic digital skills and encourage digital skill development through the use of free initiatives such as Learn My Way as well as sourcing grants and schemes that can supply laptops and smartphones to those in need.
When researching New Horizons impact on digital inclusion less than half of the New Horizons participants we interviewed had a broadband connection at home. Those without broadband connections were instead relying on data, often from their mobile phones. Over a quarter of interviewees accessed the internet using a limited data allowance, either on a pay-you-go basis or on a contract which limited the amount of mobile data which could be used 
With current cost of living pressures, budgets are tight, and more and more people are unable to afford to get or keep broadband or mobile data. Internet access is slipping back down peoples budget priorities which is likely to widen the digital divide.
With this in mind we jumped at the chance of being part of the UK National Databank so that we could help those we support access more data alongside free calls and texts, at no extra cost.
Organisations that support people who can’t afford broadband at home and struggle to pay for mobile phone contracts or top ups, can sign up to the UK National Databank giving them access to free mobile data SIMS and vouchers to distribute to people who need them.
At CHS Group, we have taken advantage of this offer and are now able to give up to 12 months of free data, calls and text to our customers. To gain access to the National Databank we joined the Online Centres Network and then applied for National Databank funding.
This has given us access to a digital databank where we can set up monthly O2 vouchers, as well as a stock of O2, Vodafone and Three SIM’s that we can give out to people over 18 who do not have adequate access or cannot afford to keep access to the internet. A simple survey is used to report monthly on how many SIM’s we have gifted. The hope is that eventually all providers will sign up to the databank giving the best coverage across the country.
We have only had access to the databank for a couple of months and it did take us a little while to get our heads round the process and to educate ourselves on other aspects to consider such as helping people keep their current mobile phone number. The Online Centres Network did provide us with training in various formats and have been very responsive with any questions that we have had. We have been able to give vouchers to young people we support who are at risk of homelessness and data sims for MiFi devices supplying internet access for some of our New Horizons Participants.
Mobile data is not as good as home broadband but is definitely a step in the right direction and can have a huge impact on people who cannot afford a phone or internet connection.
Find out more about the National Databank and how you could get involved at https://www.goodthingsfoundation.org/databank/
 Holmes H., & Burgess G. 2021. New Horizons: Digital exclusion and the importance of getting online. https://www.cchpr.landecon.cam.ac.uk/files/media/new_horizons_digital_exclusion_report_final.pdf
The New Horizons Project, offers 121 coaching on money, getting online and employment across Cambridgeshire, Peterborough and West Norfolk, funded by the Big Lottery Fund and the European Social Fund.