University-led civic partnership installs free WIFI to help residents cope with COVID-19 lockdown

A University-led partnership that is creating a digital and eHealth centre in the heart of one of the most socioeconomically deprived areas of the country has installed free public WIFI in response to the isolating impact of COVID-19. 

Residents living on and near the historic Union Street in the Stonehouse area of Plymouth are now able to access the internet thanks to the work by the University and Outersight, a leading provider of wildlife observation systems. 

This will enable people who may not have access to the internet at home to connect to the web for school work, to access health information and services, or to keep in touch with family and friends. 

The project is part of the Centre for Health Technology Pop-Up to be based at The Plot, on Union Street. 

The Pop-Up, funded through UKRI's Enhancing Place-Based Partnership for Public Engagement awards, brings together researchers and students from nursing, computing, design, medicine, engineering, architecture and urban design, with community activity specialists and crowdfunders to address health inequalities and social deprivation using digital technology and eHealth solutions. This includes companion robots as well as apps and internet-based health and welfare resources.

Dr Katharine Willis, Associate Professor in the School of Art, Design and Architecture, said:

“COVID-19 is a real challenge for those who lack digital skills or access to technology and the internet. Our research shows that digital divides map to areas of deprivation, and residents in Stonehouse may lack access to internet for GP appointments and keeping in touch with friends and family. This initiative is part of our response to COVID in the Health Tech Hub project, and it shows the value of our partnership with Nudge Community Builders to make a small change in a neighbourhood close to the University campus.”

The six-month Pop-Up project brings together a host of organisations including Nudge Community Builders, Plymouth Community Homes, Plymouth City Council, Crowdfund Ready and Adelaide Street GP surgery. 

Hannah Sloggett, from Nudge Community Builders, said: 

“COVID-19 is shining a light on digital inequality and the need for people to use tech to access services. Now, during social distancing rules, we are exploring ways to break-down digital inequality in Stonehouse and our link with the University of Plymouth has enabled us to open our WIFI to provide free access to people in Stonehouse who live along and around Union Street. This has been so important and if we hadn't been working in partnership with the University we would have found this more difficult to achieve."

The WIFI can be accessed by linking to the UnionStreetFreeWifi when you are in the vicinity.

Health Technology Community Pop-up in Stonehouse

A community-based outpost to address health inequalities

As one of the most deprived areas in the UK, the pop-up centre will aim to address health inequalities and social deprivation using digital technology and eHealth solutions. This includes companion robots as well as apps and internet-based health and welfare resources.

It will bring together an interdisciplinary cohort of University researchers and students from computing, nursing, design, robotics, design, medicine, engineering and architecture.

Find out more about the Pop-up project