Community lifelines: Hackney mother helps bridge the digital gap
- Credit: Grey Hutton/National Geographic Society Covid-19 Emergency Fund
A Hackney mother has been tackling the digital divide in her community by distributing digital devices to families in need.
Taryn Wint and Melissa Francis, who says she would "help every single soul" if she could, together set up Bridge The Gap - Families In Need during the first lockdown last year despite having never set up a grassroots organisation before.
“It threw me out of my comfort zone,” Melissa said.
But with help from resident-led project Our Place, Hackney Council and Hip, a forum for parents and carers of children with disabilities, her idea to give more families access to the internet got off the ground and found funding.
The mother-of-two says her experience living without internet just before the lockdown, struggling with slow mobile data, costly wifi-hotspots and dongles while her children grew anxious about school work, led her to speak to other families in similar situations.
“It was just getting so frustrating and I was thinking, I wonder how other people are managing,” she told the Gazette.
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Although Melissa’s internet access problems were temporary and caused by moving house, she had learned about many residents affected by Hackney’s digital divide.
At first, Melissa tried to help people with her own money but was advised that with funding and a crowdfunder, the organisation could reach more people.
All the while the former community support worker was volunteering at other Hackney organisations, such as Children With Voices, The Feel Good Community and Connecting All Communities, and people were donating laptops, printers and phones as well as tins and other food items.
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But, she said: “I had to slow it down because it was a lot. I was going through a process of not getting any sleep just working around the clock non-stop."
Now the service “sticks” to offering digital devices and more recently a tutoring service to help children catch up on online learning.
But an “overwhelmed” Melissa says “the list is just increasing” with people from outside the borough contacting her for help.
For now, the service can only provide devices to families with children on free meals in Hackney, but she hopes to branch out to other areas in the future.
To support Bridge The Gap, visit www.bridgethegaplondon.co.uk/donations
To get involved, visit www.bridgethegaplondon.co.uk/vacancies
The Hackney Gazette has teamed up with photographer Grey Hutton to tell the stories of organisations and people helping their communities during the coronavirus pandemic.