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Facebook donates £1 million to help save UK’s WWII code-breaking center Bletchley Park

Facebook donates £1 million to help save UK’s WWII code-breaking center Bletchley Park


The site has lost millions because of the coronavirus

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Enigma relives secret past
A former Bletchley Park employee, Jean Valentine, handles part of the Turing Bombe — an electromechanical computer used to crack Nazi Germany’s Enigma code during WWII.
Photo by Rui Vieira / PA Images via Getty Images

Facebook is donating £1 million ($1.3 million) to Bletchley Park, the UK center for Allied code-breaking during World War II that now operates as a museum.

The Bletchley Park Trust, a registered charity, announced in August that the site was facing a revenue shortfall of £2 million because of falling visitor numbers caused by the coronavirus. Because of the drop in revenue (amounting to 95 percent of annual income), the park announced it was considering 35 redundancies, constituting a third of its workforce. Facebook’s donation will save some of these jobs, but it’s not clear how many.

Bletchley Park was home to the world’s first programmable digital computer

Facebook said it made the donation in recognition of Bletchley Park’s “ongoing legacy as a birthplace of modern computing.” The park’s code-breakers and mathematicians not only cracked the Enigma codes used by the Nazis, an achievement that some historians say shortened the length of the war by two to four years, but they also made key theoretical and engineering breakthroughs. These include the creation of Colossus, the world’s first programmable digital computer, and the work of Alan Turing, the English mathematician who is seen as the father of modern computer science and artificial intelligence. At its height, the code-breaking operation at Bletchley Park included some 10,000 employees, with women constituting roughly 75 percent of the workforce.

“The historic achievements of Alan Turing and the Bletchley team have benefited all of us greatly, including Facebook, and we’re thrilled to help preserve this spiritual home of modern computing,” said Steve Hatch, Facebook’s vice president of Northern Europe, in a press statement. The UK is Facebook’s biggest engineering hub outside the US, home to more than 3,000 employees, with more than half working in engineering roles.

In a press statement, Bletchley Park CEO Iain Standen said the site was “very grateful to Facebook” for its donation. “With this significant support, the Bletchley Park Trust will be better positioned to operate in the ‘new world’, and keep its doors open for future generations,” said Standen.

The Verge has reached out to the Bletchley Park Trust to ask how many jobs may be saved by Facebook’s donation and will update this story if we hear more.