The TR14ers community dance group, based in the highly disadvantaged town of Camborne, was quick off the mark when it came to responding to the Covid-19 lockdown. There has been a partially successful take up of the new arrangements. But they have also found unexpected barriers for young people to continue their involvement.
Zoom to dance
To keep their dances going and to ensure connectivity between friends, the TR14ers set up their dance workshops, usually attended by up to 60 members, on Zoom.
“However, we’ve realised that normal stereotypical assumptions about kids being great with computers is not necessarily true,” said David Aynsley, group founder in 2004.
“Cornwall has got fabulous super-fast broadband, so nearly every house in Cornwall has got access to super-fast broadband, if they can afford it – a lot of them can’t. And a lot of them can’t afford 4G downloads.”
They also found that using the technology can have its limits. A laptop computer of one of the dance leaders broke down, so the TR14ers provided him with another one. Unfortunately, by not being on The Cloud, there was no remote back-up to the files and a lot of work was lost.
“I realised then, that people who do use The Cloud are normally paying for a premium internet provider,” said David.
It turns out, the Wi-Fi provision at school is the main provision to access the internet for some young people. “A lot of it isn’t happening at home,” said David. “We’ve got a bunch of youngsters who are doing the online dance sessions. And a bunch who aren’t.
“They don’t have laptops, they have mobile phones, usually pay-as-you-go and it’s really expensive to use a mobile phone – 4G costs a lot of money when you’re buying it in little bits.”
The government has recognised some of the issues. They recently made an announcement of free laptops for certain students, along with other measures.
But as an interim solution, David said the TR14ers, a registered charity, are offering to buy 4G top-ups for their members. Even though the charity struggles for funding David rightly views this as an essential in keeping them connected.
He also highlights the inability to transfer bundles of unused data between phone plans.
Despite these bumps, take up to the online Zoom dance sessions has been pretty good.
“We’re getting 20 kids doing it. Some aren’t that keen for various reasons. One of the problems is they didn’t want to have their house in the background, but that can be fixed. Some of them don’t have the privacy in their house or a room in their house for dancing. So the take-ups quite good, but it’s the same kids. And some that we thought would be up for it aren’t. We can’t find out why at the moment. We’ve offered to buy their 4G package for them, but at the moment there hasn’t been any take up of that either.”
David ended with this observation about taking things online: don’t assume that young people: 1, have got access and 2, that they know what to do when they have got it.