New fund aims to support the delivery of 1,000 tablets to ‘digitally isolated’ households

Virgin Media O2 has teamed up with environmental charity Hubbub to support the creation of new tech lending hubs that will distribute refurbished tablet computers to people living in temporary accommodation.

The Tech Lending Community Fund will offer between £50,000 and £120,000 to local authorities, charities, and social enterprises that want to become dedicated tech lending hubs that provide tablets and free data to people who would otherwise not have access to the internet.

The partners are aiming to find new homes for 1,000 surplus devices through the scheme, which aims to improve quality of life for refugees, young people facing hardship, those recently released from prison, and domestic abuse survivors.

By finding new homes for second-hand digital devices, Hubbub said the fund had also been designed to tackle the problem of electronic waste (e-waste), which it said represented one of the “fastest growing and most toxic waste streams”. The project builds on a previous e-waste initiative the charity ran with Virgin Media O2 that saw 9,000 smartphones refurbished and distributed to ‘digitally isolated’ people, it said.

Levels of e-waste globally and the UK are continuing to climb and present both a significant risk to the environment and a drain on high value resources. Used electronics can be toxic and are not biodegradable, and when disposed in landfill can result in chemicals seeping into groundwater that damage marine and land-based ecosystems. The UK is in the top 10 of e-waste producers per capita globally, along with the US, France, and much of Scandinavia. In 2019, a record 53.6 million tonnes of e-waste was produced globally, making an increase of 21 per cent in just five years. 

Hubbub said it hoped the venture would act as a catalyst for the development of a “strong and vibrant network” of tech lending hubs supported by high-quality resources and guidance, much like its community fridges initiative which has spurred the development of a 250-strong network of community hubs where surplus food and food waste resources are shared.

Tracey Herald, head of sustainability at Virgin Media, said that “connectivity was a lifeline” for people living in temporary accommodation.

“That’s why we’re building on our partnership with Hubbub by launching the Tech Lending Community Fund to create community lending schemes across the UK that offer devices and data to those who need it most,” she said. “The scheme supports people and planet – connecting the disconnected and giving old devices a new lease of life, helping to prevent e-waste.”

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