A PROJECT which is helping bridge the digital divide in Wiltshire says the situation has become more difficult for families now schools are better equipped to provide online learning during this third lockdown.

Community interest company, Wiltshire Digital Drive, refurbishes donated laptops and other devices to pass on to children in low-income families to allow them to continue to access their education.

Since forming in October, the organisation has passed on over 300 laptops.

Director Kieran Thomas said: “I think the situation is actually worse this time round.

“I think the demand for digital kit is higher. Schools seem to be so much better prepared, and certainly looking at my kids who’ve both got a laptop each, they are on those from 9am until 5pm.

“They seem to be doing more work now than during the first lockdown and the lessons are live so they couldn’t take part if there was only one laptop between them, let alone one laptop per family that’s being shared between parents working from home and children home schooling, which is often the reality of what we hear.

“Last spring children could have perhaps had their homework printed off and worked on it offline but this time round it’s all online,” he said.

Kieran runs IT support company PriorityIT in Westbury, and originally had the idea last spring. He teamed up with Corsham-based communications agency Naturally Social to form the Wiltshire Digital Drive.

“When the first lockdown hit,” said Kieran, “We at Priority IT got besieged with emails asking if we had any spare laptops from people who suddenly had to work from home. We normally have a few spares which we carry for our clients for emergencies. All of those went out in the first few days to help clients manage with remote working.

“I started thinking how can we help more, and then I woke up one morning and thought I know I’ve got one or two laptops floating around the house, if I’ve got some then other people probably have them, and that’s sort of where it started,” he said.

“I don’t think we ever thought it would get this big,” said co director Natalie Sherman from Naturally Social.

“Some of the stories we’ve come across are heart breaking. There were some A-level students working off one mobile phone in order to do all the research for their qualifications.

“It’s not unusual for families to have three or four children, and both mum and dad work but they can’t afford individual machines for all the children,” Natalie added.

“And now the parents are having to work from home, the children are having to complete their schoolwork at home but they cannot all access their lessons because there aren’t the machines in the house,” she said.

Natalie added that this worsens the attainment gap for disadvantaged students.

Organisations, schools, charities and community groups can all apply for a device on behalf of someone they know who needs one.

“Obviously there’s an immediate demand right now because of lockdown,” said Kieran.

“But the digital divide is something that’s ongoing, so once we get to the end of this there will still be people who require some sort of technology.

“As long as the demand is out there and we’re able to make it sustainable we’ll continue,” he said.

To donate a laptop or device or apply for one visit wiltshiredigitaldrive.org