Volunteering, digital exclusion & the future of schooling


Child looking at laptop, with head in hands

As a major funder, working with hundreds of charities and similar good causes across London, we recognise the vital importance of volunteering across the capital.

We noted with interest the statistics from the government’s latest Community Life Survey, which reveal that formal, organised volunteering has gone down across all age groups during the pandemic, but that informal volunteering (such as getting an elderly neighbour’s shopping) has risen to the highest on record.

We discussed the difficulties this must be having on the many organisations who rely on regular volunteering, and wondered how the charity sector could make the most of this surge of informal volunteering, perhaps attracting new volunteers and fostering new links.

Digital exclusion and digital allowances

Our discussion moved on to discussing the digital divide, prompted by both the Age UK report (PDF) into the digital gap for the elderly during the pandemic and the Local Trust report (PDF) into action on data poverty. Both reports showed the divide that not having digital connectivity brings to modern life, especially during the pandemic.

For older people it is both a skills and an equipment issue, whereas for others it may be mainly a poverty issue where device and data provisions were both key parts of tackling data poverty. The team wondered whether we will see digital allowances like the elderly get for fuel poverty, or other schemes to ensure everyone can get connected, such as community broadband and beyond.

We also discussed community utilities and what their role might be, and learned how the City Corporation’s Central Grants Unit has been supporting a community solar panel installation at Middlesex Street Estate in Aldgate. This will produce cheap, clean electricity for the local community, while offering training opportunities and fostering community cohesion.

Throughout the pandemic the Trust has heard from our funded organisations of how digital exclusion has impacted on their ability to reach clients and service users remotely. We discussed the impact the digital divide can have on organisations, particularly user-led, smaller and grassroots organisations that find it hard to access funds and may also lack the capacity and skills to do so.

The future of schooling and accelerating change

Discussion of the digital divide neatly led us into talking about schooling, as any further lockdowns will exacerbate the digital exclusion and the lost learning caused by previous lockdowns. Within the team we expect some form of home schooling to be here to stay, and believe the additional educational support of supplementary schools will be fundamental to supporting those who are likely to fall behind.

However, these schools are often poorly funded due to their small size or lack of experience in funding applications, meaning they often ask parents to subsidise places. This can lead to difficult decisions, such as which child to support.

Finally, the The Hamilton Commission’s report, Accelerating Change: Improving Representation of Black People in UK Motorsport, reveals a shocking deficit of black teachers – with 15,500 black teachers required to be proportionally representative of the student body across the country. We heard that black teachers are less likely to be able to climb the career ladder and so more likely to drop out of the profession. As our discussion wound up, we collectively wondered whether the school curriculum is now more representative than it used to be. We hope that it is.

 “The Hamilton Commission states how important it is to disaggregate race data. This is part of City Bridge Trust’s current Race Action Plan. We are working internally to report race data in a way that reflects the range of racialised groups and minoritised ethnic experiences, rather than using blanket terms such as BAME.” Dr Emma Horrigan, Data Analyst, City Bridge Trust.

This blog illustrates informal discussion within the City Bridge Team and does not necessarily reflect established Trust policy or views.

Image by Thomas Park on Unsplash

Further reading

Charity Sector’s digital skills (PDF)

Data maturity in the charity sector


Data Digests

Every month our Data Analyst, Dr Emma Horrigan, compiles and shares a Data Digest, based on recent, impactful reports.


Members of our team get together for an informal discussion of these reports, focusing on issues that affect London as a whole, and particularly Londoners facing disadvantages.


We use this to discuss who the Trust could be supporting, and for sharing our own sector knowledge and experiences with colleagues.


This approach is part of our ongoing mission to put learning at the heart of our decision making.