Features | 01 Feb 2021

Great British Tech Appeal: ‘Loneliness was the worst feeling’

Vodafone UK’s Great British Tech Appeal, run with charity partners Barnardo’s, SafeLives and the British Red Cross, distributes refurbished smartphones and tablets to disadvantaged people who lack connectivity. But what impact does it really have on someone's life?

Terry*, 19, had a tough childhood punctuated by bouts of depression, self-harm and attempted suicide. Growing up, he was resident at several mental health institutions across the North West of England.

“I’ve had my ups and downs,” he says with poignant understatement.

Accidentally smashing his phone meant he couldn’t apply for jobs, attend his weekly Barnardo’s meetings online, or chat to friends and family.

“Loneliness was the worst feeling,” he says, “being disconnected.”

Things changed for the better when he received a refurbished phone from Barnardo’s through Vodafone’s Great British Tech Appeal.

“I found a job within a week or two of getting the phone,” he says. “I was able to connect with people again, talk to family and friends – it really helped me.”

Now living in Runcorn, Terry’s life is on a more even keel. He has a job handling deliveries of luxury cars, runs marathons to raise money for cancer charities, is a keen gamer followed by thousands of online fans, and enjoys making rap music.

“My music is a way to vent all my pain, rage and anger,” he explains. “I say it like it is.”

Fishing for bream, roach, eels and carp as a member of a local angling club also has a therapeutic effect, Terry says.

“It calms you down so much!” That and Thai boxing.

“It’s good to be busy!”

But while phone connectivity brings many benefits and helps him feel part of the digital world we all now inhabit, Terry reflects that the solitude and tranquillity of camping – without the distraction of any digital devices – is also medicine for the soul.


For Jenny*, 19, not having a phone just made her already complicated life that much harder to manage.

A young mum from north Tyneside with a toddler and a new baby in tow, Kim dreams of owning her own hairdressing salon one day, so she’s signed up for a hairdressing course through Barnardo’s employee trainee scheme.

But when Jenny’s little girl accidentally broke her phone, it brought home just how much she depended on it to manage her life.

“I was quite isolated and couldn’t communicate,” she says. “I had to take my daughter with me everywhere, which cost more on bus fares. It was difficult to arrange child care.”

She couldn’t talk to family or friends either, which only heightened the sense of isolation.

“The phone the Great British Tech Appeal gave me meant I could sort childcare, arrange for her dad to see my daughter, travel less so save money, and access my emails and do my college work,” says Jenny.

“I could also talk to my mum more. It’s changed my life a lot. It’s given me more freedom.”

Disconnected generations

For many of us, having a connected phone and home Wi-Fi are modern conveniences we take for granted. But Barnardo’s estimates that around 700,000 children and young people across the UK do not have adequate access to a computing device or internet access at home.

And Ofcom estimates that 1.1-1.8 million children in the UK (9%) do not have home access to a laptop, desktop or tablet, and that about 900,000 children live in a household with only a mobile internet connection.

Vodafone’s Great British Tech Appeal aims to address this need by wiping and refurbishing donated smartphones and tablets and distributing them to people who have no connectivity at home. Approaching 3,000 devices have been re-homed so far.

Helen Lamprell, General Counsel and External Affairs Director, Vodafone UK, says: “Hearing directly from people really helps bring to life the impact this lack of connectivity has.

“If you have any old devices at home, please send them to us, so we can get them out to those in need.

“Your donation really will make a difference.”

The Tech Appeal complements Vodafone UK’s schools.connected programme, which has seen 350,000 data SIMs distributed to disadvantaged schoolchildren.

To find out more about the Great British Tech Appeal and how you can take part, click here.

* The names of Barnardo’s service users have been changed to protect their confidentiality.

Click here for the latest press release about the Great British Tech Appeal.

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