‘Made a difference’: Campaigning youngsters persuade council to provide wi-fi in its family hostels

Ubah Egal from charity Doorstep addresses councillors about digital exclusion. Photograph: Julia Gregory

Young people who missed out on online education because they did not have wi-fi in temporary accommodation in Camden have won agreement from politicians to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Pupils who use services offered by Doorstep, a charity that works with families in temporary homes, said making hostels digitally inclusive would make life better for all those in council-run hostels.

They described how they lost out during the lockdown and how the cost of wi-fi can be too expensive in temporary homes.

They brought their campaign to the council chamber and said that as wi-fi is provided in schools and libraries, it should be available in hostels too.

Sixteen-year-old Layan Alkebsi told councillors: “Having free wi-fi is important because it contributes to a better connected society.

“It promotes agile interactions between citizens and businesses. It enhances convenience and accesibility for residents and businesses, making it easier for them to stay connected and access information online.”

She said it also helps people apply for jobs, sixth form and university places, and it reduces the cost of mobile data.

However, she said the cost of wi-fi can be prohibitive.

“When we move from hostels we have to pay a lot  more to move contracts. The cost of internet is too expensive and means many families cannot afford to put it in their rooms.”

She explained that children faced further difficulties during lockdown when classes went online “and wi-fi was essential to education”. 

Doorstep intervened to pay for wi-fi for the families.

Doorstep childen’s worker Sarah Lough said: “A lot of families in hostels ended up falling behind in their education and that’s still going to be impacting at the moment.”

She said families in temporary accommodation are left wondering if “there is any point having a contract for 12 or 18 months if you’re not expecting to live there that long”.

If they do take out a contract, they might lose money if they have to cancel.

Ubah Egal from Doorstep said: “When children went back into accommodation, the impact is still felt now and we have children who are behind academically. We have parents who are unable to get into work because they still haven’t got connectivity, we have people getting sanctioned because they don’t have  wi-fi or their data’s run out.”

She said some children were using mobile phones to do their school work.

Shamme, who is 13, told councillors: “It is compulsory to do homework. If you don’t do homework you can’t step forward.”

She said she was not always able to log on to do homework during the pandemic as she did not have wi-fi, even though her school issued laptops.

She added: “I want to improve myself so I can get good grades and hopefully to go to university as well.”

Responding to their concerns, council leader Georgia Gold said one in 23 children in London now live in temporary accommodation – roughly one child in every classroom.

She said families have told her how difficult it was to do homework and stay connected with friends, and she praised the students for the video they made to highlight the problem.

She said: “We’ve found the funding through our families fund to install free wi-fi in our three family hostels and will try to do that as quickly as possible.”

Cllr Gould said they would also look at providing wi-fi for families in other temporary settings such as hotels.

She told the youngsters: “As a result of your campaign, you have really made a difference. Thank you for pushing us.”

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