Tech Lending Community Fund launched by Hubbub and Virgin Media O2

Grants of between £50,000 and £120,000 are available to organisations

Environmental charity Hubbub and Virgin Media O2 have launched a £400,000 fund to enable a pioneering tablet lending scheme which will make tablets and free mobile data available to community organisations supporting people in temporary accommodation.

The Tech Lending Community Fund will deliver social and environmental benefits by helping people facing digital exclusion to access the internet, while reducing e-waste by maximising the use of refurbished digital devices.

Grants of between £50,000 and £120,000 are available to organisations such as local councils, NGOs and community groups to purchase refurbished devices to lend to groups in temporary accommodation. These might include refugees, young people facing hardship, those recently released from prison and domestic abuse survivors.

The tablets will help people connect with loved ones, access healthcare, complete training or job applications and take part in virtual interviews.

The initial aim is to establish and support up to five Tech Lending Hubs in locations across the UK and make at least 1,000 high quality refurbished devices available.

This builds on Hubbub and O2’s Community Calling initiative which has redistributed more than 9,000 donated smartphones to people in need, and has reduced potential e-waste, too. The free mobile data will be provided by Virgin Media O2’s National Databank created in partnership in digital inclusion charity, Good Things Foundation.

The grant fund is also being supported by Amazon who are providing an additional £100,000 to support the running costs of the lending hubs.

Trewin Restorick, CEO and founder of Hubbub said:

“This is a really exciting project which not only helps address the pressing issue of e-waste – one of the world’s fastest growing and most toxic waste streams – but also aims to support at least 4,000 people in temporary accommodation facing digital isolation. We’re very keen to hear from community groups interested in pioneering a community lending scheme.

“Our long-term ambition is to create a strong and vibrant network of tech lending hubs supported by high quality resources and guidance. This is a similar model to our Community Fridge Network which is now helping address waste and inequality in every corner of the country.

Leeds City Council’s 100% Digital Leeds programme which helps digitally excluded people across the city, will also support the campaign and be on hand to share learnings, support groups and help with funding bids.

Leeds City Council’s deputy leader and executive member for resources, Councillor Debra Coupar, said: 

“Leeds City Council is delighted to support the launch of Hubbub and Virgin Media O2’s Tech Lending Community. Through our 100% Digital Leeds programme, we know that access to equipment and connectivity is an important aspect of digital inclusion. This scheme will overcome that barrier to inclusion for people living in temporary accommodation.

We look forward to working with Hubbub to develop the Tech Lending Community. It will make a huge difference to the lives of people across the country.”

Tracey Herald, Head of Sustainability at Virgin Media O2, said:

“In an increasingly digital world, we know how important it is to help people get connected. For those in temporary accommodation, connectivity is a lifeline – helping them stay connected to loved ones and accessing essential online services, from healthcare to applying for a job.

“That’s why we’re building on our partnership with Hubbub by launching the Tech Lending Community Fund to create community lending schemes across the UK that offer devices and data to those who need it most. The scheme supports people and planet – connecting the disconnected and giving old devices a new lease of life, helping to prevent e-waste.”

Tech Lending Hub

Organisations wanting to start up or develop an existing Tech Lending Hub can bid for between £50,000 – £120,000.

Funding should be used to: 

  • Oversee and manage a lending scheme which ensures data and devices reach people in temporary accommodation and which is integrated into wider support that they are receiving.  
  • Support people directly but also create a network of local organisations providing temporary accommodation who could integrate the provision of devices and data into existing support activities. 
  • Distribute refurbished devices that will be supplied by Hubbub through Reconome at a fixed cost of £90 each + VAT, funded through the grant support.  The devices will be of a sufficiently high quality to make them suitable for lending and will contain standardised software enabling them to be remotely managed and disabled if necessary. The devices will be topped up with free data (15GB per month) provided via the National Databank, created by Virgin Media O2 in partnership with the digital inclusion charity, Good Things Foundation. 
  • Establish a monitoring and evaluation process allowing Hubs and the community groups to measure impact against agreed outcomes. 
  • Be an active participant in the wider Tech Lending Community by sharing learnings, supporting other groups and providing evidence/stories to support press and social media activities. 
  • Develop a long-term plan that builds a legacy, impact and financial resilience. 

Applicants have flexibility on what costs can be covered within the grant, enabling bidding for support that will make the biggest impact. 

Applications close on 1st March 2022 and organisations interested can apply here. Funding will be released from May 2022.