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Free laptops to help bridge digital divide

A new Ealing Council programme is working on providing almost 1,000 free laptops to some of the borough’s most disadvantaged residents.

A hundred devices have already been distributed through Ealing & Hounslow Voluntary and Community Services (EHCVS), and around 900 are expected to be given out by the end of the year.

The Re-Klaim IT Ealing project takes old, surplus laptops donated by the council and then services and refurbishes them. They are then distributed to eligible recipients who have been referred by various agencies such as Ealing Foodbank or other local support services.

It is aimed at helping the borough’s most vulnerable residents, for instance young people leaving care, those with physical or intellectual disabilities, or people receiving benefits.

Recipients receive 30-60 minutes of introductory training when they are helped to learn basic IT skills, and other functions such as setting up email, or pointing them to online NHS prescription renewals or CV development websites – whatever is most suited to their individual needs.

Users can use the free wifi at West Ealing Community Managed Library run by EHCVS, or at any other library in the borough.

There are 30, 60 and 90-day checkups to see how the recipient is progressing with their IT literacy. A volunteer technician is also on hand to assist with any technical hiccups.

‘Amazing what a difference it makes’

“It’s amazing what a difference it makes to people’s lives, seeing them grow in confidence online,” said Irfan Arif from EHCVS.

“They might join an online book group, learn new skills or start using Amazon. To see the bright look that comes over their faces when they see the potential of being online is really satisfying. It also does wonders for people’s mental health and makes a big dent in feelings of social isolation.”

Councillor Steve Donnelly, the council’s cabinet member for an inclusive economy, said: “Tackling social isolation and bridging the digital divide are both priorities for the council. We want to help some our most marginalised residents to get online, learn new skills and explore fresh opportunities.”

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