Digital Bench

A safe, dry, carbon zero bench with solar-powered phone charging and fruit and vegetable growing.

100
Est. number of people
who benefit directly

Our story

In Pontypridd there is limited space available for homeless people to spend the night, as a result a park bench is, in many cases, a home for the homeless; a place they can claim as their own for the night. With an increase of “anti-homeless” benches popping up, the most vulnerable people are being sent a discriminatory message. Newydd Housing Association and RCT YEPS wanted to reverse this message by creating a safe space that invited people to take shelter, have accurate information on local support services and provide free mobile charging facilities.

Young people at a local youth club noticed the increase of homelessness locally whilst engaged in the local youth provision they wanted to do something to help, as they were participating in a woodwork project with Eggseed's, they suggested a bench of some sort. As a result, an initial consultation took place in the local youth club where we discussed features and possible locations. Following this, staff at Newydd volunteered with homeless charity and discussed and consulted the concept with service users that attended. Once the design was approved, a workshop was set up to construct the concept. Due to the complexity of the work, specialist organisations including GB-Sol were brought in to upskill the young people on specific aspects of the build. Once completed, the build was taken to St Catherine’s Church where the young people rebuilt the digital bench onsite.

This innovative idea is Wales’s first digital bench, it has a solar panelled roof that stores power and allows the public to charge devices through USB ports. It also offers a dry place to sleep at night with support services information available to hand if required.

As for the structure itself, the wooden trellis is used to grow fruit bearing vines such as strawberries or tomatoes, whilst the wooden planters are used to grow root vegetables for the community. The guttering acts as an irrigation system, diverting water away from the bench and into the planters.

Since the project was erected, staff at St Catherine’s Church reported that on several occasions there has been people taking shelter at the digital bench overnight. The Church’s homeless café have seen an increase in attendance, and as a direct result of the digital charging facility service users are staying on site longer to charge their mobile phones resulting in higher levels of engagement and support.

For those involved in the project it has provided a variety of practical and purposeful activities, developing a range of expertise and skills in order to increase their confidence, basic literacy skills and problem solving skills, while making them more desirable and job ready to work within the solar energy and construction industry.

Furthermore, the bench has enabled the public to not only enjoy somewhere to sit but also have the opportunity charge their electronic devices for free throughout the day.

What have you learnt that others will find most useful?

  • Providing a safe creative environment for the youth to explore and discuss issues provided a space that evolved a real answer to a social issue. No matter how many Adverse Childhood Experiences or labels these young people had they still had something amazing to offer the community and sometimes all they need is space, time, inspiration and role models to support them to develop their self-esteem and self-worth that creates a pivotal moment in their lives and become a stepping stone on their personal development story.
  • We need to provide learning built around their interests and meaningful projects and formal and informal education bolted to this as and when the opportunity presents itself as the young learner becomes motivated to tackle personal barriers more to see it through or have the confidence to say they have a problem is there another way of doing this.
  • If we cannot accommodate this in the formal setting, then we need to start reinvesting in other services or youth services to provide this kind of opportunity as it will pay back to the community in dividends. It’s not about replicating a project it’s about replicating the processes and collaborative approach to real social issues which is the harder of the two options as it takes more time and money to get to tangible results but social return on investment far outstrips it for those funders with a longer term vision and not an annual budget vision.

Measures of success?

Staff from St Catherines Church are recording observational notes on the number of people that use the bench to charge a device and also the number of rough sleeps that use the bench to sleep at night. Staff on the project recorded very positive feedback from all young people involved in the project with many expressing a further interest in carpentry, electrical engineering and building.

Read more: https://www.newydd.co.uk/news/young-tenants-build-wales-first-digital-bench

Scott Tandy
Digital Bench