A Year in Outreach and Support Work with Spark and Co.

An open door with a solar system flowing through it.

Most of us can’t wait to see the back of 2020. We’re waving this year goodbye and shoving it firmly out of the door, welcoming in a new year with new prospects of vaccines, of hugs and big smiles. 

Although we may have faced travel restrictions these past 12 months, through my role as Offline Outreach and Support Manager at Spark and Co I’ve been able to reach clients in the valleys of Wales, work with partners up in Glasgow, and even took a very exciting trip to the moon in one of our mindfulness workshops. 

The challenge of digital exclusion

While for many of us lockdown has been reliant on our phones - messaging on social media, facetiming our families and watching TikToks for entertainment - digital exclusion means none of that is possible. 

Digital exclusion has traditionally referred to people without the digital skills to navigate online and can refer a lot to older people, or people who haven’t ever experienced typing on a keyboard - particularly in languages with different scripts. 

Now, though, as the class divide in this country has rapidly increased the term also refers to communities who don’t have equipment like a laptop at home, or can’t afford wifi or data. Library computers were a huge lifeline for people in this situation, but as they shut for lockdown, and more and more services (such as registering for food bank collections) went online, the divides just kept getting bigger

Due to the structural inequalities and legacies of racism which live on in this country, people of colour were even worse hit by these - as well as many other - factors during the pandemic.

With the primary goal of reaching people of colour who are facing digital exclusion in order to equip, enable and empower them to make decisions and access support based on their individual needs, the outreach work we have been doing this year at Spark and Co. has been super multifaceted. 

Bridging the worlds of online and offline

In Manchester we ran a community Covid info zine project with Let’s Keep Growing and V2020, which were printed and posted across the city to people who may not have any other access to trusted information. In Liverpool we worked with Savera UK and organised phones and sim cards for survivors of female genital mutiliation (FGM) and honour based crimes. We worked together to enable that no sensitive information was shared with any data provider so that each client could safely and securely access socially distanced activities, talk with their case worker and register for food banks. In Wales we worked with a network of refugee and asylum charities around Swansea to get access to goods they needed, as well as this we ran events around mindfulness. 

Key learning / reflection

And this is just a handful of what’s to come; next year we look forward to working with more partners to deliver services that connect communities to services and support. Over the past few months we’ve learnt a lot - we’ve learnt how much people just want someone to talk to throughout lockdown, how workshops on mindfulness or creative activities can bring people out of isolation, how our communities deserve this and so much more. Taking forwards these learnings to deliver a program of compassion, empathy and understanding will drive us through 2021. 

This piece was written by Spark and Co.'s Offline and Outreach Manager Jessica 
Elouahbi Mallard. Find out more about Jessica here.

If you are, or know of, an amazing organisation that might want to work with us, get in touch at jessica@sparkandco.co.uk.