Alison Taylor, Managing Director 

In November we launched an appeal to find laptops for the 100+ children from a local academy who didn’t have a device to work on at home. Despite government assurances, the DfE supply of laptops was simply ‘too little, too late’ and children and their families were really struggling to keep on top of school work during lockdown.

With the tireless help of Phil Priestley and the Cambs Youth Panel, generous donations from local businesses like Velocity Commerce and individuals, including long lost school-friends (!), and some funds kindly provided by a local charitable trust, by February we just about had every student in the school catered for, with an array of laptops, PCs and tablets. Some of the donated machines were pretty ancient and were, literally, offered to the Centre for Computing History in Cambridge; others were works of art, adorned with stickers or fitted with flashing lights; and some even came with pristine cases or still in their original boxes. But all that could be were carefully refurbished, fitted with new hard drives and supplied with data so that children could get online straight away.

It was good to know that we had done a little to level the playing field for children from disadvantaged families in our local community. Imagine my dismay then, to hear that between 8,000-9,400 children and young people across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough still do not have a laptop or PC and over 3,000 do not have access to the internet at home.

I have always believed that if you want something done you should just get on and do it yourself so, knowing that the partnerships and model we had created around donations for our local school had worked, we decided to try scaling it up and approached the council to join Cambridge 2030 and the Cambs Youth Panel in a campaign to find a further 8,000 devices.

Digital Drive Cambridgeshire and Peterborough was launched on 6th February, just two weeks after the idea was first discussed among the Cambridge 2030 committee. There are now laptop drop-off points in every library across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough and volunteers in five locations working hard to refurbish and upgrade donated machines before they’re distributed, in turn, to the schools with the most need. Within just a couple of days we received a donation of 200 laptops, tablets and PCs, together with 100 new 126 GB SSD hard drives and 35 172 monitors from Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust!

It is early days but I’m hopeful that, with the help of our friends in the local media who have been very busy supporting the launch with great editorial, we will be able to make a big dent in what’s needed. The pandemic has brought people and communities together in so many wonderful ways, which has renewed my faith in human nature, so I am optimistic that, together, we can fill the void that government pledged to fill a year ago and remind the many children who need it that there are people out here who care about them and their futures.

If you’re reading this and haven’t yet dropped off your unused laptop(s) or would like to contribute to Digital Drive Cambridgeshire and Peterborough in another way, please visit www.cambridge2030.org to find out how you can get involved.

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