16 March 2021

Forest Hill Society’s Members Help with Laptops for Schools

By Claus Murmann

At the turn of the year, I was chatting with John Doherty from our Transport Committee to see what, if anything, was new. “Oh,” he said, “I’m building laptops for one of Lewisham's schools.” He’d collected a few laptops from regulars at the All Inn One pub and had set about refurbishing them and re-installing Windows 10 and Zoom, so that they could be handed out to children who did not have access to technology at home or any way to interact ‘face to face’ with teachers during lockdown. The idea was to provide a stop-gap solution for some families while the school waited for national tech-supply programs to kick in.

Without quite realising what we were letting ourselves in for, I said why don’t we put this on our Forest Hill Society social media! Out went a couple of social media and forum requests for old laptops and tablets. We had a fantastic response, so much so that I had to start collating a spreadsheet with who was offering what and via what medium so I wouldn’t lose track. For more than a week I was messaging, emailing and then planning a cycle route around Forest Hill collecting up to five devices a day to drop off at John's house. John was almost overwhelmed, but he very jovially insisted it was all fine, and set about restoring machines and buying random licenses, parts, chargers and even keyboard decals from eBay. I heard stories of random screen and keyboard swaps, and all kinds of ‘surgery’.

We have now successfully refurbished over 27 devices including laptops, MacBooks and iPads — all repurposed and delivered. That’s pretty much equivalent to a whole new class online, plus a few more that were donated and used for spares.

The headteacher of the school has told us that every device is making a difference to the families who received them. It has removed the stress on children of not being able to log in to their daily meetings, eased the issue of siblings and working parents competing for devices, and increased active engagement in online learning in every class. She said,

“I can't thank John and all at Forest Hill Society enough for what they've done. Their generosity in terms of time and money is overwhelming and has made a huge difference to our families.”

It’s not too late — we’ve figured out that the school’s Apple remote install will handle Zoom right down to iOS Ver 9; so, if you have any old iPads from the old larger connector generation lying around, we can maybe bring them back to life. Ditto any laptops that have a webcam, probably going back to 2010; let us know and we will still pick them up.

Some donors have been exceptionally generous and provided more than one device, and one or two very up-to-date tablets and laptops have emerged too.

Thanks to everyone who donated, including the All Inn One pub who contributed £100 for spares, and Finches and Sushi Garden; and a huge thank you to John who’s spent most of January knee-deep in technology. Forest Hill Society has matched the £100 in order to help purchase data SIMs and dongles for households with no Wi-Fi/Broadband.

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