Middlesbrough digital partnership develops a solution to bridge the digital divide across the Tees Valley

Teesside University has helped Middlesbrough-based charity, The Hope Foundation join forces with IT recycling business ComplyIT through the Digital Development Partnership to develop an ingenious platform that helps tackle digital exclusion in the local area.

Furbdit is a practical and accessible online tool primarily designed for businesses and individuals to donate old devices and redundant IT equipment for recycling, refurbishment, and distribution to those that don’t have access to a digital device.

This free service accepts donations including everything from laptops, computers, keyboards and monitors to printers, mobile phones, games consoles and peripherals, including those that no longer work.

All devices are wiped securely by IT experts at ComplyIT before being reused or disposed of. Suitable devices are then refurbished and fed back into the community to those people who need them.

Businesses are also invited to become partners and play a vital part in the project itself. Whether that’s providing free office space for a drop-off point or becoming a distribution partner to take equipment to the people who need it most.

Determined to tackle digital exclusion in Middlesbrough, Chief Executive of The Hope Foundation, Sue Kearney instigated the innovative idea and utilised the Digital Development Partnership to make it a reality.

The partnership consists of a group of local leaders including Teesside University, Middlesbrough and Stockton Mind, Thirteen Group and more, who initially came together having witnessed the extent of the digital divide for many people of all ages across the local community during the first UK lockdown.

Furbdit has already had a noticeable impact within the community, with South Tees Hospital being one of the first to receive a donation of refurbished laptops. These are now being used by families with children that have diabetes to manage their condition.

Having access to a digital device means the families are now able to download the data from their child’s blood glucose meters and receive virtual advice on insulin adjustments, reducing the need for regular hospital visits.

Sue Kearney said: “With the pandemic leading to closures of key technology access points such as libraries, community centres and our own Hope Foundation centre, it has made many in our local community ‘digitally poor’ and restricted their opportunities.

“As an organisation that often has redundant equipment, we really wanted to help but were unsure about the data and security aspects of doing so.

“By partnering with the professionals at ComplyIT we now have the reassurance that the recycling and refurbishment of our devices meets industry standards and we are really excited to be launching this platform to improve connectivity in the local community, ensuring no one is left behind.”

Lynsey Robinson, Director of Teesside University-led initiative DigitalCity, added: “The pandemic has exposed the true complexity of digital poverty in the local area, with the lack of devices being a deep problem for many, not just for those that are home schooling.”

“Through this fantastic partnership, we’ve been able to come together to build an easy-to-use system that utilises any unneeded kit, recycling and repurposing devices to those in the Tees Valley that really need it.”

To get involved or find out more, please visit: https://furbdit.org.uk/