The Romanno Bridge group recycles old electronic devices

A social enterprise funded by a COVID recovery grant is helping laptops live again.

Renew Crew currently operates from a room full of electronic testing devices at Newlands Memorial Hall, near Romanno Bridge.

Created with an initial grant of £37,000, the company, run by former Newlands Community Development Trust director Joe Fernand, recycles old laptops and often resells them to charities and other social enterprises.

The 58-year-old said: “During the COVID pandemic there was a need to get lower cost IT equipment into the hands of charities and border groups, mainly laptops.”

At first, Renew Crew worked to refurbish old donated laptops that they would review.

If they were of sufficient quality, the hard drive would be replaced by a 256 GB SSD, 8 GB of RAM, i5 or i7 processors, Windows 10 and Microsoft Office.

Mr. Fernand said: “We are Microsoft accredited refurbishers who provide access to Windows 10 and MS Office at low cost to charities and individuals.

Needing a steady supply of recycling machines, Mr. Fernand began to expand his network.

Mr Fernand said: “One of the many discussions was with Scottish Borders Council (SBC) chief financial officer David Robertson.

“We asked what the council was doing with their old laptops.

“The council had a process in place that went through its digital service provider, Canadian IT company, CGI.”

SBC awarded CGI a 13-year, £92 million contract in 2016 to provide “transformational IT services and integrated digital services”.

“After conversations with various people at SBC, they were able to divert around 50 laptops from the normal junk chain,” Fernand said, “Some weren’t great but we managed to salvage around 40.

“The majority were of a particular model and that makes the renovation process more economical.

“We are in talks with various companies as they have to pay to have old used IT equipment removed.”

The idea for Renew Crew, which has two technicians working three days a week, grew out of a network of groups of volunteers, called Restarters, who help people fix and learn how to fix anything that’s electric.

A Restarters group has been organized at the Newlands Activity Centre.

Additionally, Mr. Fernand owns his own audiovisual company, The Media Factory, which was able to provide some of the test material used by Renew Crew.

Part of the initial grant was needed to purchase equipment such as PAT test kits and anti-static mats.

Recycled laptops sell for between £190 and £260, with a 12 month warranty and Renew Crew have an online store.

“Peebles Community Trust uses these machines,” Mr. Fernand said, “They are also used at AdAction in Galashiels and Peebles Foodbank.”

“There is room for other similar programs and Councilor Drummond Begg is working with us on the Tweeddale Repair, Pefurbish, Reuse and Share initiative.

“Another plan is to eventually recycle sewing machines.”

Renew Crew will soon be moving the A701 to workshops at Whitmuir Organic Farm and Mr Fernand is working to turn it into a community benefit company.