Essex laptop scheme helps with mentoring for gifted witness protection youngster

A scheme distributing reconditioned laptops is helping a talented youngster escape the environment of crime and domestic violence that forced his mother into witness protection through a University of Cambridge mentoring scheme.

Essex County Council has distributed 6,500 laptops to families whose children don’t have access to a device at home through its Closing the Digital Divide Scheme.

Among the recipients is a talented 14-year-old tutored through a scheme run by Cambridge University – despite their mother being under a witness protection programme.

Essex County Council cabinet member for levelling up Louise McKinlay told a committee on March 26 that providing the child with a laptop has opened doors to opportunities that had seem closed.

She said: “I met with a lady who was under witness protection and suffered domestic violence and witnessing crime, couldn’t work, had two children, one of whom, has been offered a scholarship linked to Cambridge University.

Cllr Louise McKinlay

“It’s for PhD students to come out to work with the children when they are 14 or 15 on a one-to-one basis in a particular area where they have shown promise.

“And the child has got on that despite all the challenges but didn’t have a device to even do maths homework and was getting into trouble at school for it.

“They were very focused on what they wanted to do in terms of future aspirations.

“And being able to give the family a reused laptop – whenever we talk about giving people the opportunity the tools to be and do what they can – this sums that up.

“Something as relatively simple as that gives them that life chance.”

Anyone with an old or unused laptop can drop it off at their local library during opening hours.

Essex County Council can take laptops of any age, make or condition but not other devices. All data will be completely wiped and no data on the device will be accessed during this process.

Any that can’t be re-used will be sold for parts and the income used to buy new devices.

Businesses upgrading their IT systems can also donate. Interested business owners or residents who feel there is an opportunity to engage with their employer and would like to know how the scheme can work with businesses, can email TSLaptop.Donations@essex.gov.uk.

Nicole Wood, Essex County Council’s executive director for Finance and Technology said when the council launched its appeal in 2021: “Online learning is here to stay but pupils who don’t have access to a laptop at home will lose out. By providing these devices we are closing the digital divide and helping all children and young people to have the opportunity to learn, develop and thrive.”

Closing the Digital Divide builds on the Department for Education’s ‘Get Help with Technology’ initiative which saw 2,000 laptops provided to disadvantaged pupils in Years 3 to 6 in Essex.

The county council’s scheme widens availability to other families and ages where children and young people have no access to a device at home or, perhaps, have had to share a parent’s mobile phone or laptop.

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter