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New scheme offers free laptops to families in need




Stratford School year seven student Odai Dark Alsbaai, aged 12, with some of the used laptops collected so far by Nick and Marie Rendell pictured along with David Hawkings, a chartered engineer helping to bring the old machines back to life.Photo:Mark Williamson
Stratford School year seven student Odai Dark Alsbaai, aged 12, with some of the used laptops collected so far by Nick and Marie Rendell pictured along with David Hawkings, a chartered engineer helping to bring the old machines back to life.Photo:Mark Williamson

When 12-year-old Odai Dark Alsbaai was given his first laptop last week, his smile could have outshone Stratford’s Christmas lights.

Like many children around the UK living in so-called digital poverty, the Stratford School student did not have access to the internet at home.

A Syrian refugee, he came to the town a couple of years ago with his mum, dad and six-year-old sister.

The Alsbaai family have been supported by others in the community since their arrival, including Marie and Nick Rendell.

When schools moved learning online under lockdown at the start of the year, without a computer at home Odai’s education began to fall behind.

Marie explained: “After lockdown I was horrifed to find that Odai’s English had slipped and that he hadn’t been able to access his online school account since he was last at our house, so he wasn’t able to do work that had been set. Until recently he had been doing things like taking photos of other people’s screens on his mum’s phone.”

Recalling the old and abandoned laptops left in a cupboard at home, Marie and Nick had a brainwave – they would not only get one refurbished for Odai, but they’d do up the others and give those out too.

They called in their friend, tech guru David Hawkings, who stripped the data off the machines and reinstalled free software.

After making enquiries with local schools, the trio realised what a widespread problem lack of digital access was – an estimated one in five children do not have computers at home.

The government had promised to step into the breach, but a Department of Education report recently revealed schools had only received 20 per cent of the laptops they were promised. This was when the couple formed Laptop 4 Learners. They are asking for old laptops – maybe with dead batteries or out-of-date-software – to be donated. These will be made good and distributed locally.

Nick said: “We want to get as many repurposed laptops out there as possible. Many better off families upgrade their laptop and bung the old one in the cupboard. Give them to us instead.

“We hope Laptop 4 Learners will sow the seed for this idea throughout the country.”

Marie added: “Can you imagine trying to do well at school or get into university without a computer? We think Laptops 4 Learners could literally change people’s lives, and we’d love local people to help us to do that.”

If you can help – or know a family that would benefit from a laptop – email laptops4learners1@gmail.com.



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