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Donated laptops help keep everyone connected

The need for electronic devices is high

The last few months have shown us how much we rely on our electronic devices. From socializing to getting an education – many activities moved online.

This shift has also highlighted how unequally distributed access to technology is: A poll revealed that 88% of teachers know of students who don’t have access to the internet or devices to participate in online learning. These teachers fear that a large number of students will be left behind. The government set out to distribute laptops to students. But only care leavers, those with a social worker and disadvantaged pupils in year 10 were eligible, leaving many others without access to a device.

This problem does not only affect students. Those shielding suddenly relied on electronic devices to stay connected and even for basic necessities such as ordering groceries. And with many libraries still being closed to the public, people who relied on the computers there now find it more difficult to apply for jobs or manage their benefits.

Across the UK, civil society has stepped up to help. Community groups and local organisations came together to start projects. They collect donations of electronics such as laptops and desktop computers, refurbish them and distribute them within their communities. We are listing these projects here. We hope to see this list grow, so please share it with your communities and let us know if there is a computer donation project near you!

Refurbishing laptops for London students

In London, several projects are currently active. In Hackney (East London), the Restarters of Hackney Fixers started to collect and refurbish donated laptops themselves. As skilled fixers of anything with a plug or battery, this work was right up their alley.

For this, they teamed up with Mer-IT. Mer-IT is a community initiative teaching young people how to repair computers themselves, thereby giving them confidence in their skills. They also offer traineeships for disadvantaged young people, training them to become IT technicians.

Hackney Fixers volunteers James and Dave visited Mer-IT in their hub at Mildmay Community Centre. With them they brought 17 donated laptops which they collected in the previous weeks. Their goal: Repair and refurbish these laptops, ready to be used by local students. James explained their progress in our community forum

“4 of the laptops were sadly end of life. The other 13 needed various hardware fixes to bring them up to scratch including 4 new batteries, 2 new chargers, 2 UK charger cables, 1 memory upgrade, 1 coin battery, replacing missing screws, gluing down loose bits of trim, and relabelling two keyboards – luckily Mer-IT had a very useful label maker!”

These laptops will feed into the donation project of Hackney Council, which will distribute them to schools in the area. To meet their specifications, the refurbished laptops received a fresh install of Cloudready OS turning them into Chromebooks. Sadly, some devices proved to struggle with this install and will need more work done. Still, they succeeded with six of the laptops. This means that, thanks to James, Dave and the donors of the laptops, six pupils will now be able to follow their courses and access learning materials online.

James and Dave would like to thank Mer-IT, Mercedes and Alex, for the facilities, help, advice, company and support.

How you can help

Projects like this one show the important role repair groups play in their communities. The knowledge of volunteer fixers and their experience with getting older computers up and running again is extremely valuable for this. But also people without repair knowledge can help, for example by collecting donations or promoting a project to local partners and the media. There certainly is a role for everyone!

Has this inspired you to get more involved? Look at our list for a project near you or contact your nearest Restart group or Repair Cafe to start a similar initiative!

Do you have an unused laptop or computer at home? Here’s your friendly reminder that electronics are not like wine – they don’t get better with time. Even if your device worked fine when you stored it in that drawer ages ago, chances are that it’s not doing as well now. So it is better to donate these devices now while they work and can be reused. Not only will you save a device from landfill – you will also make a real difference in someone’s life!

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