Socialbox.biz was founded by Peter Paduh, a former child refugee from the Balkans who built his IT career on a donated laptop. Now he helps others like him do the same
The Covid-19 pandemic has emphasised the digital divide between Britain’s haves and have-nots – and that’s why a social enterprise has been working hard to keep the country’s most vulnerable people connected.
SocialBox.Biz launched in 2014 to take old donated laptops from businesses and repurpose them with open-source software before passing them on to homeless people and asylum seekers.
It’s vital work that goes a long way to tackling digital poverty – with 1.9 million households living with no access to the internet in the UK, according to the Good Things Foundation – while also boosting sustainability by making the most of old tech destined for the scrap heap.
The social enterprise is the brainchild of Peter Paduh, who arrived in the UK from Bosnia aged 15 in 1993. The second-hand laptop that he received while he was living in shelters and with a foster family formed the foundation of his successful IT career.
But Peter didn’t forget his own journey and was keen to ensure that others who could not afford a new device did not become isolated or miss out on the chances he had.
The Covid-19 pandemic has seen soaring demand for SocialBox.Biz’s work. Peter told The Big Issue that the social enterprise has helped “hundreds of people” during the crisis, including helping elderly people connect to family through Age UK or to help homeless people connect with services from charities C4WS, Centrepoint and The Passage.
“I got help to buy a second-hand laptop – the battery didn’t work properly and it had one of those green monochrome screens but it really helped me change my life,” said Peter. “I learned so much from connecting a modem to it when the time came and I helped other kids and teachers at school with IT skills.
“I started working in IT and I wanted to make a difference. I started seeing all these old computers being replaced and I thought how I could use my skills to help. That gave me an extraordinary sense of purpose.
“We’ve helped hundreds of people during the lockdown, whether it be through Age UK, some of the homeless charities like The Passage, C4WS, Centrepoint. We get so many requests at the moment and we just want to help everybody.
“The problem has been around but the Covid-19 pandemic has emphasised it, especially for vulnerable groups like older people, refugees and homeless people. This really is a lifeline for them.”