A young aspiring engineer and a 62-year-old asylum seeker are among the hundreds of people in the North East to benefit from free data from a databank amid the cost of living crisis.
Every month, up to 200 people in the region access support in the form of free mobile data, texts, and calls from a service which has been described as “like a foodbank, but for data”. The National Databank service was set up by the charity Good Things Foundation in 2021 and is now providing free data to 500,000 people in need across the UK.
Fareeha Usman, founder of Being Woman, a small Northumberland-based charity which delivers the National Databank to people in the North East, said: “The databank was founded because a lot of people were struggling to either get food or struggling to get data.
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“While food is important and it is a priority, data also forms a very important part in people’s lives because it’s the only source of being connected for a lot of people.”
Fareeha added: “People get in touch with us when they’re in need of data, whether that’s because they can’t afford it, they’re unable to get connected, or there’s a bit of a barrier for them to get connected.”
(Image: Being Woman)
Being Woman, based in Ashington, was part of the pilot in rolling out the Good Things Foundation’s National Databank to people across Northumberland, as well as some people outside of the county. Soon after launching, it played a vital role in keeping rural residents affected by Storm Arwen connected with loved ones and up to date with news from Northumberland County Council.
In recent months, the service has also supported a number of people, including 62-year-old Mako Ali, who arrived in the region as an asylum seeker during the coronavirus pandemic. When she arrived in Northumberland, Mako faced isolation as she lacked knowledge of the local area, including information about local bus routes. She also faced social isolation due to language barriers, no way to contact her family and no way to make new connections with people in the local area.
Fareeha said: “The databank has supported her in many ways. Not only in accessing and learning English online, but also to understand how to use the Google Translate service to speak to people efficiently and be able to communicate regularly.
“It also helped us to make a Facebook account with her, which she never had before, and that allowed her to be part of groups which would be supportive to her.
“I think it’s the social and digital inclusion that has made a big difference to her life now. Today she’s a confident woman who can not only access the bus routes via the data service on her phone, but also can improve her skills and confidence by meeting new people on Facebook and WhatsApp groups that she’s part of.”
(Image: Being Woman)
The National Databank, which works in partnership with Virgin Media O2, Vodafone and Three, has also helped a young aspiring engineer to go on to study at Newcastle College.
Fareeha said: “He defined the internet as being a necessity in the modern world, whether that was for keeping in touch, maintaining mental health and also to booking an appointment for their Covid vaccine. For many that might sound like a simple task, but for him it was something that he really wanted to do but he faced a financial barrier, not only with purchasing a devise, but also keeping up the cost of a regular internet connection.
“Living in poverty can bring many challenges and through databank, we’re very proud to say, that this young man has been accepted into Newcastle College. Databank has helped him in two ways. Firstly, to help him save money and not having to burden additional cost of data, and secondly, to give him more confidence of taking decisions of his choice.”
Fareeha added: “We’ve had a massive response, it highlights the need for this type of service. It highlights that what people are facing during these difficult times – coming out of the pandemic and going through many other crises – and therefore why this service was needed.
“While people struggle for food, they also struggle to get internet and as we all know everything is moving towards being digitalised and that’s why I think databank is proving to be a big step in making sure no one is left behind.”