'Facebook simply would not exist today if not for Bletchley Park,' says social network – but don't hold that against it

Zuckerberg and UK government throw code-breaking site funding lifeline


From the Department of Definitely Not Evil comes news that Facebook is donating £1m to Britain's Bletchley Park computing landmark.

The troubled site in England's Milton Keynes, home of the code breakers who worked to decrypt German messages during the Second World War, has fallen on hard times with revenues almost entirely drying up due to the coronavirus lockdown.

The lengthy closure, and restrictions required as part of its July reopening, led to a warning from The Bletchley Park Trust that it expected to lose approximately £2m this year and was looking at 35 redundancies from its workforce.

Facebook is quite the fan of the work done at Bletchley Park, and a mural of scientist Alan Turning adorns a wall at the company's California headquarters. Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer said: "Facebook simply would not exist today if not for Bletchley Park" – perhaps not the most ringing endorsement of the code breakers – before describing the antisocial network as "honored to be able to provide £1m of support" in order to keep the doors open.

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Being instrumental in defeating the Nazi threat while also instrumental in the existence of Facebook? Hmm.

Facebook notched up $17.4bn in revenue for the three months ended 31 March 2020, an increase of 17 per cent on the previous year and at the time of writing Forbes put the wealth of its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, at $100.4bn.

Facebook's largesse is aimed at supporting the work of the museum over the next two years and is joined by £447,000 from the UK government's Culture Recovery Fund.

The social media giant told us that the cash was in addition to a $1m grant for fact-checking organisations and other multimillion-dollar pots aimed at small businesses and the news industry, all of which are unlikely to put much of a dent in its revenues.

Iain Standen, CEO of Bletchley Park, said: "With this significant support, we at Bletchley Park can weather the current crisis and survive into the future, keeping the doors open for future generations."

While we applaud the donation, one can't help but hope that a bit more of the cash sloshing around the tech world might find its way to other worthy causes as well being spanked on multibillion-dollar acquisitions, share buybacks, or orbital ambitions due to too much cash.

Cambridge's Centre for Computing History remains £10,000 shy of its modest £36,000 fundraising target and recently found itself the victim of a burst water main a mere five days before reopening. 2020, eh?

While wringing hands over the centre's bad luck, a spokesperson told The Register: "The Facebook donation to Bletchley Park is fantastic. Some companies have seen huge increases in demand for their product during COVID, and it's great to see them recognise and support the work of cultural and heritage organisations that have seen very much the opposite.

"The Centre for Computing History is hopeful there is another tech giant with as big a heart as Facebook."

Meanwhile, The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC), located in Block H on the Bletchley Park estate but a completely different entity to the trust, has managed to open its doors once again.

A spokesperson told us that it had managed to score £68,000 of funding from the Arts Council's Culture Recovery Fund, which, though welcome, "will help us through the winter but still leave us very short of funds by the Spring of 2021".

While paying tribute to the sterling efforts of its staff in securing donations to keep the lights on (although some way off the trust's good fortune), the spokesperson noted that reserves were being depleted, meaning that future development projects would be postponed.

Naturally, it would welcome some of those sweet, sweet social media pounds to keep its collection of functioning computers ticking over. The spokesperson added that TNMOC would be very happy if its landlord "were to share some of their good fortune with us in these perilous times".

In the meantime, for those who are inclined, you can make a donation or two to one or both museums (if going for that Friday pint is no longer an option) here or here. Both are irreplaceable cathedrals to IT nerdery. ®


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