Getting Oxfordshire Online – An Interview with SOFEA

Getting Oxfordshire Online (GOO) is a scheme which has been running for several years and aims to provide the majority of Oxfordshire’s residents with digital access by 2025. It provides ex-convicts, those on low-incomes and from otherwise marginalised backgrounds with refurbished laptops and training. The organisation, which was initiated by Oxfordshire Community Foundation and received funding from Our Common Good and Oxfordshire County Council, is now hosted by SOFEA. I spoke to Ben Tuppen from the SOFEA team to see how they’re helping to improve digital literacy and ensure that everyone can access the internet.

Getting Oxfordshire Online

Image credit: Nenad Stojkovic

SOFEA is a delivery hub for GOO – what does this involve?

That’s right – there’s two jobs that we do at SOFEA to deliver the programme. One is partnership management, meaning that we work with other charities (including Aspire, Bicester Green and Citizens Advice North Oxfordshire) to coordinate the supply of devices, manage fundraising and work with the Connect! Service who support people in using their computers. We also take donations of laptops, tablets and phones, securely wipe them and manage the traceability of each device, upgrade them to the best system available, and then allocate them to requests from local charities and organisations, to support people in need.

How and why did SOFEA start?

SOFEA was started in 2013 by Richard and Ruth Kennell, with a mission to provide education for those who don’t normally get the opportunities they need in our education system. We focus mainly on young people, and a big goal of ours is to relieve food insecurity in the community. We’ve partnered with FareShareUK and supermarkets to redistribute food via our larders. This not only reduces food waste, but also creates jobs and training opportunities in our warehouse, for young people who are unemployed or have dropped out of the education system.

Getting Oxfordshire Online is one of a number of “purpose projects” that sit alongside the education programme SOFEA have put together. As well as doing good in their own right, these projects provide employment opportunities for people including graduates of the SOFEA education scheme. The two technicians who work in our refurbishment hub have both been through the education scheme and taken these roles as their first jobs.

Has SOFEA seen a change in the numbers of people it is supporting due to the cost of living crisis?

Speaking from my position managing Getting Oxfordshire Online, my sense is that the cost of living crisis is just one of a number of long-running challenges that affect people and communities. Our referrals don’t tend to be specifically because of the cost-of-living crisis, but people who, for various reasons, are in need of support to get online. This includes for example refugees, families who have lived in poverty long before the current cost of living crisis, or people with complex needs for whom digital is part of a broader package of support they are receiving to help them transform their lives.

How can we, as members of the public, support SOFEA’s work of getting more Oxfordshire locals online?

In general, SOFEA is grateful for people donating with their time, say volunteering to help with van deliveries, helping at community larders or in our warehouse. We depend on people supporting us financially, which you can do on our webstie. And of course, with Getting Oxfordshire Online, we’re very grateful if anyone is able to donate a laptop (up to 12 years old, Windows 7 or later or any unibody mac), smartphone or tablet (iPhone 5s or Android 8 or later). It’s also a huge help to us if you’re able to spread the word!

You can find out more about SOFEA’s work here, and how Pink Orange Designs could help your business here.