Wiltshire Digital Drive has been awarded a £5,000 grant through our Coronavirus Response Fund to refurbish and distribute laptops to low-income families in Wiltshire and Swindon.

The project, begun by IT firm Priority IT, has been formed into a community interest company and hopes it will eventually supply thousands of laptops and tablets to families. Many of them have been distributed through Wiltshire Council and schools.

Director Natalie Sherman said: “We are making a concerted effort to get applications and donations from Swindon. We want the project to cover the whole of the county, we are really passionate about making it for everyone’s benefit. We know lots of people and companies have old tech sitting around that they don’t use. They could make a huge difference to a young person’s life.”

The project began when Priority IT managing director Kieran Thomas was asked by a careers advisor via social media if he could help pupils in lockdown whose parents couldn’t afford laptops to help them do online lessons. Natalie Sherman manages the company’s social media, said they put out an appeal for second-hand laptops and were overwhelmed with the response. The story was picked up by BBC Breakfast and the publicity brought even more donations in.

Natalie Sherman commented “Everyone got behind the project from day one and we managed to meet the demand until we had some coverage on BBC Breakfast and then the donations went up. We had 100 in a week from all over the place. We even had some from Manchester and other people were driving two hours just to drop them off.

“We have received great feedback from the families who received the laptops and there have been some really touching stories, like children who were going into lockdown with five siblings and two working parents and had nothing to do their coursework on or being unable to apply for university places. We had other children who had been removed from their homes because of abusive relationships between their parents and had to leave everything behind.”

“It costs £20 to £30 to ensure each laptop is refurbished and ready to be gifted. “They all go out with anti-virus software and a Microsoft package, so they are ready to use. Some are completely unusable, so we recycle them. That’s another side of the project because it means old tech is being recycled responsibly rather than them going into bins or ending up in landfill.”

Our grant will fund the next batch of refurbishments as well as help with the expansion. Natalie Sherman continues “The grant will really make a difference because we have 100 laptops waiting to be refurbished. Our application process is open until November 6, then we will match the laptops to applications and start delivering,” said Ms Sherman.

"We have had 12 or 13 applications already but some of those organisations like schools, social services and parent/carer councils, are asking for multiple laptops so we have had to limit each application to five. We know this project will work just as well in Swindon and there is just as much need there.”

To date, our Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund has distributed more than £925,000 via more than 200 grants to groups to help them deal with the fallout from the pandemic.

Joint chief executive Fiona Oliver said: “This is another great example of a new group that has been established to meet a specific need caused up the pandemic. We delighted that this important service is now going to continue for the long term and that our grant will enable them to do this and support even more people.

To donate a laptop or device or apply for one search for Wiltshire Digital Drive on Facebook or go to wiltshiredigitaldrive.org.

To donate to the Wiltshire and Swindon Coronavirus Response Fund or to find out how to apply for a grant, go to wiltshirecf.org.uk.

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