Winners 2022

Best community initiative

The National Databank
Virgin Media O2 with Good Things Foundation
Agencies: Hope & Glory, Missive

The pandemic and cost of living crisis have exposed the UK’s data poverty problem: more than 1.5 million homes are without internet access, which meant they are unable to connect with friends and family, work remotely, study or contact vital digital services, such as GP video calls.

Virgin Media O2 is committed to tackling digital exclusion, with a commitment to lift more than 500,000 people out of digital poverty by the end of 2025, but the telecoms giant knew that it could not achieve this alone.

The Good Things Foundation is a charity that helps people improve their lives with digital, which has a network of more than 5,000 community partners. The social change charity was a natural fit for Virgin Media O2’s plans, but also serves as an agnostic partner to engage other operators.

Virgin Media O2 built an online platform for Good Things Foundation, which it gifted along with 23 million gigabits of free O2 data, to create the first ever National Databank to tackle digital exclusion, which works like a food bank, but instead of food or groceries offers free data.

A three-month pilot scheme was launched in July 2021, with ten community organisations testing the user-friendly platform ahead of a national rollout. They received a stock of O2 SIM cards and data vouchers. The pilot proved popular with the media, generating 114 articles.

More than 400 data vouchers were distributed during the pilot scheme, which revealed that a seven-gigabit monthly donation was not quite enough to help people access all the services they needed, leading to an increase of 15 gigabits per month.

When the National Databank launched in December 2021, Virgin Media O2 had secured the buy-in of other teams within the business, including marketing, which gifted the initiative centre stage on its O2 Christmas advertising campaign. An exclusive screening was shared with media and influencers, where they heard from managers of the community centres looking to connect the disconnected.

The launch received 87 pieces of coverage, while a broadcast day, featuring Good Things Foundation’s chief executive Helen Milner OBE and community manager Hafsha Shaikh discussing the potential of the National Data Bank, secured 130 pieces of television and radio coverage.

A partnership with Big Issue sellers, providing them with free SIMs and a monthly data allowance to enable them to take card payments for the first time, also generated media interest, with 210 pieces of coverage.

At launch, Virgin Media O2 had connected more than 1,000 people who previously were without internet capabilities. It then called on its competitors to follow its example and in January, Vodafone joined the National Databank, pledging 24 million gigabits – enough to connect 200,000 people for six months, while Three followed with a donation of one million gigabits.

And to mark the first birthday of the National Databank, Virgin Media O2 upped its donation to 61 million gigabits. ‘This is a really, inspiring campaign with extraordinary and unusually far-reaching results. The collaboration with genuine intent to change something for community value, is very powerful,’ said the judges.

‘It’s noticeable that the power starts to build internally, then goes external with stakeholders and media, and then climbs to the peak which includes competitors. To be this collaborative with competitors in such a cut-throat area as mobile telecoms, is seriously impressive! Hats off to Virgin O2.’