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The National Databank, founded by Virgin Media O2 and leading digital inclusion charity, Good Things Foundation, is like a foodbank but provides free mobile data, texts and calls for people in need.

Following a six-month pilot, which saw Virgin Money become the first bank in the UK to sign up to the programme, the bank has now increased the number of stores taking part in the National Databank from 16 to 33 and plans to introduce the service to more of its network over time.

The latest towns and cities to benefit from the data support service are Barnsley, Bradford, Carlisle, Castleford, Doncaster, Dundee, Glasgow, Greenock, Hartlepool, Hull, Leicester, Middlesbrough, Nottingham, Oldham, Rochdale, St Helens and Stockton.

The initial sixteen Virgin Money stores to pilot the National Databank programme were: Aberdeen, Birmingham, Blackpool, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow Hillhead, Grimsby, Inverness, Kilmarnock, Leeds, Manchester, Montrose, Newcastle, Peterborough, Rotherham and Sheffield.

Through the National Databank, people that suffer from digital poverty and live in these areas can request a voucher from a local community support organisation registered with Good Things Foundation, take it to a participating Virgin Money store and pick up an O2 sim card loaded with 20GB of free data – enough for around 220 hours of internet browsing per month. The free data allowance renews every month for six months. Specially-trained Virgin Money hosts will help users to register their sim cards, show them how to get online and offer tips on how to stay safe when browsing.

To support people that are impacted by digital poverty but living outside of these areas, Virgin Money has also worked closely with Good Things Foundation to provide specialist training for its customer care team to help people identify and contact alternative National Databank sites nearby, whether it is a Virgin Money store or not.

Expanding its partnership with Good Things Foundation further, Virgin Money has also provided funding for c.150 refurbished smartphones and tablets as part of the charity’s National Device Bank programme, which works alongside the National Databank programme to provide free smart devices to people who are unable to afford them.

Lyn Rose, head of customer care and stores at Virgin Money, said: “Many of us take for granted how easy it is to use digital tools to complete everyday tasks such as paying bills, comparing insurance premiums and even chatting with friends and family online. However, for people living in digital poverty, getting online isn’t quite as straightforward or affordable and we want to change that. Over the past six months we have seen first-hand the positive difference that free monthly data can have on people in need, and driven by our purpose of making you happier about money, we are expanding our work with Good Things Foundation and Virgin Media O2 to help more people get online and out of digital poverty.”

Helen Milner OBE, Group Chief Executive, Good Things Foundation, said: “Having enough data in our increasingly digital society is not a nice to have, it’s an absolute essential. If you’re not online you can’t save money on products and services, help your children participate in home-learning, or apply for jobs.

There are 2 million households struggling to afford internet access in the UK today, and 10 million adults lack the most basic digital skills. We’re delighted to work with Virgin Money to more than double the number of Virgin Money stores taking part in the UK National Databank. Together we can help fix the digital divide.”

Making a difference – Case study

Colin Patterson, cluster manager at Virgin Money, shares his experiences of working with the National Databank and seeing the positive impact the programme has on people in need after supporting a member of the community who had been directed to the store by a local phone shop.

Colin said: “We recently received a visit from a gentleman who was in the middle of searching for work and somewhere permanent to live but was finding it difficult as looking at rental sites, calling letting agents, searching online job sites and checking emails all takes up a lot of data and unfortunately it had drained all that he could afford that month.

“When the man came to us, he explained that he runs out of data regularly and as a result he was missing out on some key job opportunities. We soon reassured him that we could help and one of our specially trained colleagues got to work setting everything up so we could issue the SIM and activate the data, calls and texts. Within minutes everything was sorted, and the gentleman was really appreciative and excited that he could continue his search and hopefully secure a new role. He also mentioned that the free international calling allowance he now gets every month is going to make a huge difference to his wellbeing as he has family living overseas and he hadn’t spoken to them in several months. He couldn't wait to give them a call.

“This was the first time I had seen the National Databank in action from introduction to implementation. It was heart-warming to see first-hand that something as simple as free data for those who otherwise wouldn't have digital access can have such a positive impact.”

For details of Virgin Money store locations, visit: Store Finder | Virgin Money UK | Virgin Money UK Link opens in a new window.

To find out more about Good Things Foundation or to locate the nearest community organisation taking part in the National Databank programme, visit: Link opens in a new window.