Written evidence submitted by Mrs Jill Hussein
OVERVIEW OF LONDON BOROUGH OF WANDSWORTH
Wandsworth is the largest inner-city London borough with 307,000 residents; the population is much younger than both the London and England average (Wandsworth Health and Wellbeing strategy 2015- 2020).
The Borough has 61 state funded primary schools and 21 state funded secondary schools (including special educational needs & disabilities and pupil referral units). Of the pupil population of 34,193, some 17%, were eligible for free school meals in 2019 (Department for Education 2019).
The level of free meal provision highlights Wandsworth as a low-income borough.
During a meeting of grassroots community leaders including headteachers, councillors and local businesses, it was raised that the COVID-19 global health pandemic had identified that alongside access to food, access to data was becoming a huge problem for low income families in the borough.
BATTERSEA POWER STATION OVERVIEW
Battersea Power Station Development Company (BPSDC) was established in 2012 by a group of Malaysian shareholders who bought the 42-acre brownfield site from the previous owners to develop it into a mixed- use retail, office and community hub for London, a sixth town centre for Wandsworth.
Upon acquisition of the site, the shareholders established the Battersea Power Station Foundation (BPSF), an independent grant funding operation to help local organisations and charities in the Wandsworth and Lambeth boroughs.
The overarching objective of the BPSF has been to provide the tools, opportunities and resources to support the people living in the local area, improving and enriching local people’s lives in a self-sustainable manner. The regeneration of the Power Station will therefore become a catalyst for positive change and transform the lives of those around it.
To date, the BPSF has given 182 grants to organisations and charities across both boroughs, totalling £5.7million.
POWER TO CONNECT
COVID-19 has exposed a digital divide and the effects of digital exclusion on low-income communities such as Wandsworth. Residents are feeling isolated, forgotten, and unable to communicate. Many cannot readily access government resources which are delivered through digital media.
With schools closed and pupils studying at home, the inability of our poorest students to access technology (PC and the internet at home or in libraries) means they are unable to utilise the wealth of educational resources made available by schools, the BBC and other providers. They are also isolated from their school community. This is adversely impacting the mental wellbeing of students and will continue to widen the educational divide between low income families and the rest of the community.
In partnership with Wandsworth Council, Battersea Power Station built and launched a project called Power to Connect. Through a two-pronged approach, the project’s goal is to tackle digital poverty through data vouchers and laptops. The first was for Battersea Power Station Foundation to make a donation of £10,000 towards £10 data top up vouchers for families who are on a Pay As You Go (PAYG) system on their mobile phones. The donation was made to the Council’s school meal voucher app as we identified most of the families struggling with access to data were also recipients of free school meals. The families who need help with a data top up voucher are then able to approach the school who can notify the Council through the app, allowing the top up voucher donation to be made.
LEADER OF WANDSWORTH COUNCIL, CLLR RAVI GOVINDIA SAID:
"As we dealt with the coronavirus crisis in Wandsworth the council kept families at the heart of its work to keep local communities connected and supported.
"We have been working closely with schools and their dedicated teachers to keep children plugged into their education, and identify families most in need of laptops, WIFI and data connections so they can take part in lessons whilst classrooms are closed.
"The council's joint initiative with Battersea Power Station and community groups came at the right time for many families across our borough who needed help to continue their children's education at home, and we look forward to progressing the Power to Connect scheme through the summer term."
SARAH COLLYMORE, HEADTEACHER AT ST GEORGE’S CE PRIMARY SCHOOL IN BATTERSEA, SAID:
‘Power to Connect’ campaign will be such a support to families on the estate who are home-schooling during the COVID-19 crisis.
“The need for greater internet use at this time can prove impossible for families using Pay As You Go data or without computers, with children struggling to access their online learning. Lockdown can also be extremely lonely if you have no way of communicating with the world outside. However, as data credit runs out and families need to prioritise food over internet access, they can be left feeling isolated, disconnected and unable to access the wealth of home-learning resources out there.”
The second of the two-pronged approach has been the campaign to encourage donations of old, working laptops and tablets to the project. Launched on the 19 April, 2020, Power to Connect has collected over 100 devices from local members of the community, refurbished them as Chromebooks and donated them to the local schools. Schools then identify who the vulnerable families are who would benefit most from a laptop and send them out to them. The tablets that have been received have been refurbished and donated to the local NHS hospital, St George’s NHS Hospital Tooting. This allows patients who have been admitted with COVID-19 symptoms to stay in touch with their families and loved ones whilst the lockdown measures prevent them from visiting.
A call out to local volunteers was made online and through our local community partners. Volunteers have been sought to provide IT specialism in repurposing the donated computers at the ROSE Community Club on the Savona Estate; delivery/collection of the devices from the donors to the refurbished and on to the end user; access to personal and business networks, social media etc to source device donations; assistance in raising awareness of the need for cash donations to support the data top up voucher scheme and materials needed as part of the device refurbishment.
COUNCILLOR WILL SWEET, FROM WANDSWORTH COUNCIL, SAID:
“As the Cabinet Member for Education and Children’s Services I have witnessed first-hand the struggles facing some families in Wandsworth as they moved to online home education for their children when the lockdown was introduced. We’ve been pleased to be able to work together with a local business like Battersea Power Station to set up the Power to Connect initiative and engage other local businesses to donate devices.
“The council has already donated 74 of its own used laptops to the scheme with more to come each week. It’s fantastic to be part of such a wonderful project with people who have given up their precious free time to get involved and bring relief and joy to so many families who need to stay connected during this difficult time.”
MICHELLE LIVING IN BATTERSEA WHO RECEIVED A LAPTOP DONATION FOR THE FAMILY, SAID: “
“Without access to a laptop and having to home-school has been incredibly challenging. As a family we found it difficult to continue with the school’s curriculum whilst being at home without the necessary technology required to do so. With the laptop received from the Power to Connect campaign, we are now in a much stronger position to continue the pace of learning at a much closer rate to that of pre-COVID-19 and are therefore very grateful to Battersea Power Station and the Council for getting this great initiative up and running.”
Wandsworth Council have donated over 50 of their own laptops and Amazon have committed to donating around 100. In month two of the project we’ll have seen over 250 laptops refurbished and passed to those most in need.
The project has been a huge success, gathering a large online following though social media, and spreading the word amongst the community to such an extent that other boroughs and companies have been in touch to see how they can learn from us and establish their own local projects.”
BPS EDUCATION PROGRAMME
The BPS education programme is a key plank of the community outreach work. BPS actively engages with over 4,000 local children and young people (from seven to leaving secondary school) per year, encouraging them to aspire to great things.
The key focus for younger children is on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects to support school science and maths curricula with activities designed to bring STEM to life. The emphasis with students from Key Stage 3 is on future employment opportunities. In partnership with the construction managers (currently Mace and Sir Robert McAlpine) attend career fairs organised by schools and colleges, run mock interviews and the construction managers offer work experience placements for students.
BPS’ education programme has won a number of awards including:
EvCom Clarion Awards 2019 – Gold Award for Education & Training Category
EvCom Live Awards 2019 – Bronze Award for Best Communication: External
Corporate Engagement Awards 2019 – Silver Award for Best CSR Programme & Bronze Award for Best Education Programme
The regeneration of Battersea Power Station is a £9bn project in which our main aims are to restore the much loved British icon fit for modern day purpose, to create a new town centre for London and to provide access to over 20,000 jobs in both construction and end-use jobs once the project is complete.
The Power to Connect project has no natural fit for a property development company however our shareholders pride themselves in ensuring the entire local community benefits from the project once opened to the public for the first time. This is why we chose to invest our time, energy and money into something which we believe is genuinely making a difference to people’s lives.
The main aims of this particular project are:
Battersea Power Station has always made children’s learning a central focus of our community work through the education programme we run. It has been proven If a child/young person has 5 interactions with an employer in the course of their school life, they are 70% less likely to become ‘Not in Education, Employment, or Training’.
The Power to Connect project, we believe, will last way beyond the immediate global health pandemic and lead to a more sustained approach to alleviating digital poverty in the Wandsworth area.