Building the capacity of community organisations, training staff and volunteers to support their local areas and promoting technology as a tool to stimulate social impact have all been major aspects of the work done by UK online centres during the past year.
Over 1,100 volunteers have been trained by the UK online centres training team in the year to March 2012, learning the skills they need to support people in their community to get online. This training has been provided face-to-face and over webinar free of charge as part of our commitment to supporting our centres to become sustainable organisations.
A volunteer's journey from homelessness to supporting his community
When British-born Roger Hamilton returned to the UK after 35 years in Jamaica, he found himself homeless, part of an unfamiliar culture and without the skills he needed to find work and improve his life. Thanks to getting online, two and a half years later Roger is not only living independently but is also sharing his skills to help others find their way out of social isolation.
Returning to London was a shock for 48 year old Roger, and it soon became clear that making a life for himself in the UK wouldn't be easy. He says, "I was in an unfamiliar society and had no idea what kind of opportunities were available to me. It was frightening to realise that not only did I not have the skills I needed to enter the job market, I didn't even really know what those skills were or how to gain them."
Roger also came up against another significant barrier - finding housing in London - which left him homeless, living in a series of hostels. He says, "As I'd not been a UK resident for such a long time and social housing waiting lists were long, hostels were my only option."
"The first one was particularly daunting and I was determined not to spend all day in there. I knew I had to try and make things happen for myself. This was when I visited my local library at Holborn. It happened to be a UK online centre and they introduced me to some online learning courses that really set me off in the right direction."
Roger had already vowed to get online after seeing just how important IT skills were to finding work, and so finding his local UK online centre was a stroke of luck. He says, "As soon as I came back I was amazed to see just how many things needed to be accessed online, from email to finding and applying for work. In Jamaica, computers were a luxury even for most businesses, so I was essentially starting from scratch."
After several months of living in homeless hostels, Roger came across local homelessness charity St Mungo's, who offered training courses to quench his new found thirst for learning. He says, "St Mungo's referred me onto further free online training resources and I eventually completed my level 2 ECDL, an advanced computer competency course. I was so proud of these achievements, and I really felt like they were helping me move forward and that I was changing my life."
Roger was motivated and inspired - and was soon looking for opportunities to use his new skills to give something back. He began to take on various voluntary roles - at St Mungo's and elsewhere - and found the perfect use for his skills in sharing them with others. He says, "I'd begun to notice how many other people were trying to engage with learning and complete courses like Online basics, but were struggling. They were losing motivation, weren't completing things and so weren't moving forward. I felt in a position to help."
And he was able to - with the support of St. Mungo's. He says, "The team at St. Mungo's was great, and supported me to complete further training so I could share the skills I'd recently gained. I'd had so much support, I wanted to give back as much as I could, so I applied for a formal volunteer role which eventually turned into part-time paid work, alongside my volunteering."
For Roger, his new skills have been the key to moving from homelessness to employment. He says, "It's clear that new skills lead to a more independent person and that's what I strive for with my clients - for them to recover from homelessness and become independent and self-sufficient. Digital skills especially are a big part of getting back on the route to employment."
And it's the satisfaction of these clients that continues to inspire him. He says, "Seeing my clients learn is such a pleasure and makes me very proud. It's such a reward when a client says 'I don't feel afraid of computers anymore'. I try to inspire them with my story because I've been where they are now, but mostly it's them who inspire me!"
A community-focussed training offer
This year also saw us develop a range of Community Development training courses, available to both UK online centres and other community partners outside of our network via our website. These courses cover a number of subjects, including Funding and bid-writing, volunteer management and using social media to raise the profile of their centre.
Community outreach grants with Nominet Trust
In August 2011, we undertook our first joint funding round with Nominet Trust when we administered the Community outreach grant. A grant of £5,000 was provided to over 170 centres, enabling them to set up unusual, innovative and sustainable outreach locations in their community. Projects ran in pubs, cafes, on buses, in football clubs, churches, mosques and even in a launderette.
The project saw almost 10,000 new learners register on our Go ON learn website. Capacity building of these organisations was one of the most important aims of the project, and following its closure 176 of 179 centres are still fully active, demonstrating just how successful it was.
Domestic violence victims empowered by technology in Preston
A project which aims to give new skills and confidence to those who have suffered from domestic violence has flourished, thanks to a Community outreach grant from UK online centres and Nominet Trust.
The project teams local UK online centre INTACT up with Preston Domestic Violence Service (PDVS), a local service which supports those suffering from domestic violence, to help women in abusive relationships to grow both their skills and confidence.
The initial grant meant INTACT could set up regular sessions at three different venues in Preston, including at a local refuge and a drop-in centre in the town centre. Being able to use these venues for computer and internet courses has helped them fulfil one of the most important aims of the programme - that women can gain the skills they need in a safe and supported environment where they feel comfortable.
Helen Dixon, Project Leader says: “The women that come to us are often going through a big cycle of change, and some of them are still in abusive relationships. That means we need to work closely with them, build up their trust and introduce them to the benefits of using the internet slowly, at a pace that is right for them."
Helen has already seen some of the great benefits the project is bringing. She says: “The internet is such a fantastic tool for them - it’s something they can do at home without any money, and they can do it without having to leave the house as for some women this can be problematic. They can even access forums for people in the same situation so they don’t feel so alone.
"Not only are we providing computer skills, but we can also identify other needs. Often the women don’t have English as a first language, but once we have started helping them we can identify these literacy needs. One lady didn’t speak English, and so we arranged for an interpreter to help her out. By taking this language barrier away, she was able to pick up the skills she needed, and could contact her sister who lived in Pakistan. This was a real lifeline for her."
"We couldn’t have done this without the funding from Nominet Trust and UK online centres - it’s meant we’ve been able to buy laptops and dongles so we can help people wherever they feel comfortable, and have been able to train up staff to help them. It’s early days in terms of the project, but its already had a real impact. The women are able to become empowered while maintaining their privacy, and its been fantastic to see them build up their self esteem and identity."
Community Capacity Builders
The Community Capacity Builders programme ran from April 2011 until March 2012, with 63 centres given grants to deliver large-scale projects in their communities. The focus of the programme was on building local partnerships as well as recruiting and training Digital Champions, creating sustainable networks to get whole communities online.
The model was a great success, with centres building up solid networks in their communities that will extend far beyond the life of the project, with organisations including Jobcentre Plus, Mecca Bingo, the Post Office, Asda and many more, getting whole communities talking about the benefits of being online. Through the Community Champion website, projects all over the country were able to share their ideas and experiences, building a network within a network which has sustained the projects and built a real community.
The project saw 2,000 new volunteers supported, 2,500 new partners involved and around 10,000 people engaged with over the course of the programme.
Local people shopping for learning in Middleton
Groundwork Oldham and Rochdale were funded as a Community Capacity Builder (CCB) in 2011/2012 to run the Get Online Middleton project. The project transformed an empty unit within Middleton Shopping Centre into a vibrant, welcoming environment for partners, Digital Champions and local residents.
The team approached the Middleton Shopping Centre Manager, and by selling the benefits of being able to stimulate growth in a shopping centre with a number of empty shops, they were offered the space they wanted for free. They also managed to secure free broadband for a year to support the project, as well as unwanted tables and cut price laptops.
With their centre all set up, the project got off the ground and they went on to engage other partners, including traders in the shopping centre. Getting partners on board was an important way of getting learners through the door, and the project ran specific events with the borough’s Health Trainer team promoting the NHS Choices website, as well as a ‘Then and now’ event for a local Alzheimer’s group. These partnerships not only helped get people online, but secured long term connections that will support the community for years to come.
Robert Glynn who ran the Get Online Middleton CCB project said: "The one major success of our project was the Digital Champions. They co-ordinated our weekly sessions and were a real inspiration to our learners, and we couldn’t have done what we did without them. To a large extent, we let them do what they wanted, whether that was to share their knowledge or use certain skills to help out the project. I’d recommend the flexible approach to anyone getting involved in a similar project.
Eileen was one visitor to the project who really saw it turn her life around. She says: "I was severely depressed due to bereavement, no enjoyment in life, could not see any light at the end of the tunnel. The project has been instrumental in helping me see my life in a more positive way, the guidance, support and encouragement has been invaluable. The Digital Champions have been very supportive to me and have made my Internet learning skills a very enjoyable and practical experience. I will continue using and developing my Internet skills and possibly help others do the same."
Since completing the courses, Eileen has become a Digital Champion, and is now passing her knowledge onto others.