Diane Webb – Digital Policy Lead at Renfrewshire Council – writes here about sourcing an affordable laptop for a young man starting an apprenticeship. This brings to life the challenges outlined in reports such as “Switched on, digital access for all”, recently published by the Carnegie UK Trust.

This has probably happened to many of you. You get a request in for help from someone in difficult personal circumstances and you think yes we must be able to help, surely someone out there somewhere can help! Only to discover no and it really hurt my heart.

This is what happened when SCVO had been contacted by Victim Support who were supporting a young man and his family living in Renfrewshire. The young man whilst trying to support his mum and siblings in difficult circumstances was preparing to start an apprenticeship but he had hit a barrier. He needed a laptop for the theory part of his apprenticeship. To avoid a situation that would involve the family pawning something to get the money to buy a laptop Victim Support stepped in and contacted numerous organisations across Renfrewshire for help but to no avail. There tenacity was admirable. Finally they then contacted SCVO Digital Participation Team who in turn contacted me quite rightly hoping I could help. I am the Lead Digital Policy Officer for Renfrewshire Council and I coordinate #DigiRen a network made up of public, private and third sector and academic institutions, all of us trying to close the digital divide and increase digital participation.

I soon discovered that after asking a range of my contacts via our #DigiRen network that no one could provide a laptop. Don’t get me wrong it wasn’t that people didn’t want to help they just weren’t set up to do so. There was no process in place and people just didn’t have spare laptops to give away at speed. I decided that no matter what we would get him a laptop but I also knew we needed to address this gap in support.

A few colleagues offered their own personal laptops, libraries offered free access to their laptops but the young man let the house at 6am returning at 6pm to help his mum out with the house and care of his siblings so this just wasn’t an option. In the end it came down to my sister (Thank you Tracey!) who came forward with an offer of help after seeing our Tweet asking for help. She managed to negotiate a refurbished laptop for £40 from her University ICT Department who offered the same service to their students. To be honest this was my last resort and I was surprised that this is where I ended up.

While it was brilliant to get this message from the support worker at Victim Support – “Really can’t thank you enough as we will have a very happy young man starting his theory soon with no debt” – I vowed that we couldn’t let this happen again.

I’m currently working with colleagues and partners to see what type of solution we can come up with that can be sustained long term. A solution that provides flexible options such as the provision of a laptop for life, long and short-term equipment loans and a loan to learn option potentially. It is hoped we could manage this in partnership and via the DigiRen network as a route for referral. Watch this space!

If anyone else out there has set up something similar, please get in touch and share your approach! Are there any businesses who would consider donating 1 or 2 laptops/tablets a year to help build up a stock of equipment? Follow me on Twitter @Dianeeva and @Digi_Ren or use #DigiRen.

In an ideal world I’d set up a digital recycling and refurbishment service coordinated by a paid member of staff, supported by volunteers. Sponsored by local business and local academic institutions who would provide premises, technology, students and expertise. The service would provide student placements, apprenticeships, training opportunities. We would become a STEM ambassador encouraging more females into technology. All supported by the DigiRen network with the aim of tackling the digital divide. #DigiRecycle

Here are a few similar services that already offer access to low cost refurbished equipment in Scotland:

http://www.reboot-forres.co.uk/

https://www.lamhrecycle.co.uk/

Refurbished Computers