A shelf of laptops standing next to the Wiltshire Digital Drive banner

Back in March 2020 when the country went into lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and students were sent home to home school, the digital divide within communities became more apparent than ever. In Wiltshire, a rural county in the Southwest, Kieran Thomas, a small business owner, saw this divide firsthand with the local schools appealing for laptops to help its students. After joining forces with a local communications agency, Naturally Social, an appeal went out for any unwanted devices to be donated to them. His team at Priority IT then used their own time to refurbish these donated laptops and tablets and get them out to the schools and families that were struggling.

Since then, the initiative has gone from strength to strength and the two businesses joined up to create a Community Interest Company (CIC) in September 2020, called Wiltshire Digital Drive (WDD). Local and national companies have seen the appeal and have been donating large amounts of tech as they upgrade their offices. Man Truck and Bus has handed over around 100 laptops, Kingfisher PLC recently donated more than 800 devices, and when the Honda factory in Swindon closed it gave all its leftover devices to the cause.

Along with these donations, and the items still coming in from members of the public, more than 1,500 students, families and organisations have been helped to get online. With 1 in 5 school children across the county now using a donated and refurbished laptop for their homework.

But what about those devices too old to be updated, where would they end up? Following a successful partnership with a local recycling company, more than 6 tons have been saved from landfill. WRAP data is showing that the 6,200 kg (6.2 tons) of equipment collected and recycled in 2021, equates to a saving of just under 55,000 kgs of CO2e embodied Green House Gas emissions going into the atmosphere.

Kieran Thomas, Wiltshire Digital Drive co-director explained: “Unfortunately not all the devices donated could be refurbished. Some of the laptops given to us were either too old or too broken to do anything with. Our pledge is to be 100% sustainable and we did not want them going to landfill, so we set up a partnership with a local recycling company. The figures speak for themselves, having saved that amount of machinery going to waste and saving that much in CO2 emissions is amazing.”

100% of the materials recovered go back into the manufacturing of new products. Gadgets that are thrown away, like laptops, mobile phones and tablets are a rich source of precious metals, and by recycling them it helps offset the mining of virgin material around the world. Useful reclaimed elements are then sold, with the money raised used to help benefit communities in the Southwest through the recycling company’s own initiative, Donate IT, as well as funds going back to Wiltshire Digital Drive to ensure its sustainability.

For more information on the work carried out by Wiltshire Digital Drive visit www.wiltshiredigitaldrive.org

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