Teesside University is supporting a charity which aims to tackle digital poverty in the region.

Middlesbrough-based charitable organisation The Hope Foundation has been working with a number of partners to launch furbdit, which strives to improve access to digital technology.

furbdit is helping to address digital poverty by recycling, refurbishing and distributing donated digital devices to individuals and communities in need.  Led by The Hope Foundation, it has support from a partnership of stakeholders and National Lottery funding.

The hope is to develop furbdit into a sustainable social enterprise, and Teesside University is supporting that aim by providing incubation office space at its Launchpad premises on Victoria Road in Middlesbrough.

Sue Kearney, CEO of The Hope Foundation, said: “We worked with a number of organisations as part of the South Tees Digital Partnership to set up furbdit during the first Covid lockdown, as a way of doing something to help tackle digital exclusion in Middlesbrough. We collect unwanted devices and IT equipment and breathe new life into them to benefits others and the environment.

“We hope that by moving to Launchpad we can access Teesside University expertise, extend the amount of equipment we can accept, and look at ways to make furbdit more sustainable once our initial Lottery funding ends.”

Francis Hammill, Business Development Manager, furbdit, said: “There are lots of people who struggle to access IT equipment, even though for many, it is something which is taken for granted. furbdit makes a real difference to individual lives by increasing access to digital technology, ensuring that refurbished devices reach those people who are most in need.

“We’re currently Lottery-funded and part of The Hope Foundation and our aim is to work towards making furbdit a viable, stand-alone business.”

Francis added: “We are always keen to hear from individuals or companies who are upgrading current IT equipment, have surplus IT equipment that needs recycling, or would like to donate for community benefit.”

The project is also supported by Thirteen Group and wheels are in motion to provide desktop PCs to a number of local community groups in Thirteen’s priority areas.

Lyndsey Coe, Community Resilience Manager, Thirteen Group, said: “We are delighted to be part of the development of the furbdit platform. Digital exclusion can have a big impact on how people access essential services and connect with others, and we hope that the scheme can help people in our communities get online.

“We have already started to see the benefits of the project, which has led to new employment opportunities for people who have been able to access training online that was previously inaccessible. We look forward to continuing to work closely with both the furbit platform and Teesside University to help connect more people in our communities.

Stephen Goodall, Social Enterprise Activator in the University’s Research & Enterprise Office, said: “We are delighted to be able to support furbdit. They worked closely with us to recruit Francis, a Teesside University graduate to help drive the project forward. This new base in Launchpad will allow us to develop closer ties across the University and increase the impact on the community.”