A number of young carers in Southwark, aged between eight and 16, have taken part in an online multi-arts project over the past few months.
The art:space project was developed by creative arts charity, Create, and supported by British Land, investor and developer of the 53 acre Canada Water masterplan, which includes Surrey Quays Shopping Centre.
With many young carers in Southwark, and across the UK, faced with increased pressures and hours due to Covid-19 this year, the interactive project aimed to help alleviate feelings of loneliness and offer young carers time away from their caring responsibilities.
Recent research from Carers Trust found that 69% of young carers are feeling less connected to others since the pandemic, while 31% reported a weekly increase of 30 hours or more in the time spent caring.
The art:space project explored three different art forms including drama, visual art and music, and took place virtually for the first time. Activities encouraged the young carers to develop a variety of interconnected artistic and technical skills, while also boosting their self-esteem and wellbeing, and reducing their sense of isolation.
Around 20 young carers from Southwark took part this summer. All were members of Imago, a local charity that provides support services to young carers in Southwark, based in the shopping centre at Surrey Quays.
The project has been run in conjunction with Surrey Quays since 2013, and this digital pilot ensured that local young carers could still participate at a time when needs were likely to be even greater.
Ian Moore, Centre Manager of Surrey Quays at British Land, said: “We have built a great relationship with both Create and Imago over the years, which has helped hundreds of local young carers take a break from their caring responsibilities through the arts. This year was no different and we enjoyed bringing even more young carers on board, especially at a time when interacting with others and supporting those in our local communities has never been so important.”
Nicky Goulder, Founding Chief Executive of arts charity Create said: “We love working with British Land on the art:space project. This creative project has been especially important this year, when the pandemic has made the lives of young carers across the UK even tougher. By reaching these young carers in Southwark with the power of the creative arts, we were able to give them time and space to express themselves, meet other young carers, and boost their sense of wellbeing. It is vital that, together, we make our young carers feel valued and supported, as they deserve.”
The Community Calling campaign will see smartphones first distributed in the London Boroughs of Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark – locations with high levels of inequality, poverty, exclusion and employment challenges.
A national rollout will then follow in Manchester, Bristol, Leeds, Swansea and Glasgow.
As part of the campaign, O2 will be donating 12 months of free connectivity to the beneficiaries, which will include unlimited minutes, unlimited texts and 6GB of data per month for a full year.
Katie and Jay attend Bede House in SE16 (a centre for adults with learning difficulties) for social reasons. However, due to the pandemic, their main social outlet in life is closed at the moment – which means that many of the people who visit Bede House are feeling lonely and disconnected.
The smartphones they received via Community Calling have enabled both Katie and Jay to stay in touch with the centre and their friends – they can access the centre’s app, join daily virtual meetings and activities, and share photos with each other.
Mary is a single parent who, pre COVID-19, supported herself and her son by working as a cleaner. When the country went into lockdown in March 2020, she was unable to work and ineligible to claim benefits. Unemployed and at risk of homelessness, she was disconnected from the outside world and struggling to cope. Community Calling was the lifeline she needed – it provided her with a smartphone, which allowed her to apply for jobs. The next week she received a job offer and she now proudly works as a cashier at Surrey Quays Shopping Centre.
Mark Evans, Chief Executive of O2, said: “Connectivity has been vital to keeping the country running during the pandemic, but if you’re unable to get online you’re likely to miss out on a lot of support. We’ve already seen the positive impact Community Calling has had on vulnerable people in Southwark, so we’re pleased to announce this expansion and tackle digital exclusion elsewhere across the country. We’re determined to support the people who need it most.”
Gavin Ellis, director and co-founder at Hubbub, said: “It’s been heart-warming to see the positive impact receiving a smartphone through the Community Calling project has already had on so many people’s lives. Being connected to loved ones and accessing essential services is easily taken for granted, but is still not a reality for too many people.
“We’re looking forward to working with O2 to expand Community Calling to get more people connected and prevent unnecessary electrical waste. We’re calling on individuals and businesses with spare smartphones to donate them to somebody who needs a device to stay connected at this difficult time.”
Cllr Stephanie Cryan, Southwark cabinet member for jobs, culture and skills, said: “Digital isolation has never been more noticeable than during the Covid-19 pandemic. It is so important we support our most vulnerable residents to stay connected to loved ones and vital services during this time, and support them with the digital skills they need to access these services and support.
“We are pleased to be hosting a second round of the Community Calling project in Southwark. This project has already supported hundreds of people in Southwark to stay connected. It is important we build on this innovative programme and deliver even more vital support to those most in need in our communities.
“So, if you are a Southwark resident or business with some old tech gathering dust in a draw, please consider how this unused device could benefit someone who needs it in your community. Help us achieve our aim of enduring all residents have the digital tools they need to live and work in a digitally inclusive borough.
Anyone in the UK can get involved by donating unused smartphones. It’s easy to sign up online – you’ll receive a free-post donation box to post your old and workable smartphone, to be refurbished by trusted partner Reconome. It will be data-wiped, sanitised and redistributed with user guides and PAYG SIM cards.
With the usual Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day gatherings at local war memorials not possible this year, St James’s and St Anne’s Churches in Bermondsey have recorded an online Bermondsey Community Remembrance Service which can be viewed on YouTube: