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Demonstrating how computers can work for the community

by Sara Gowen

More and more community groups are using computers and some are finding that the latest technology - including the Internet - is useful to their work. But it is important to get beyond the hype and make the technology work for us and meet our needs! Sounds good but how can we do it? Here is one idea that worked well in Leeds in March 1996

How and why we ran the day

'Making Computers work for the Community' emerged as an idea in discussion between two community organisations, Community Links and the Burley Lodge Centre at our national conference - the start of the networking! We are both members of BASSAC (the Urban Community Network) and are committed to community development is all aspects of our work. Using the experience of information technology learned through our everyday work, in producing publications and running training courses for community groups, we decided to share the knowledge!\ \ The day was designed to give community groups 'hands on' experience of a range of information technology, from word processing through to the potential of the internet. We set up six workstations (e.g. computer and printer or modem) each with a 'tutor'. People came from community groups with no computers through to those who were thinking about going online. The mixture of skills and experience of the participants enabled them to share their own knowledge and form contacts which will provide local support and advice.

What participants said!

After the first hands on session participants formed small groups and brainstormed two questions: what have you learnt and what questions do you have? The response was interesting in revealing the wide range of attitudes and experience of IT for community groups. Looking for example at the responses to these questions for those who had been at the internet workstation:

  • There is too much information - how do you manage it?
  • Some good, some bad information
  • There is a problem of access - getting the skills
  • It is like a big library or encyclopaedia - but what about the interactive stuff?
  • It's not very fast
  • There are a lot of hidden costs
  • Incredible!
  • How do you find relevant material quickly on the net?

The general comments are equally revealing:

  • It is useful to find out what others are doing
  • Cheap day but expensive equipment!
  • Need - what do I need? and
  • Cost - what can I afford?
  • Where does servicing/backup come from?
  • Communities are empowered by access to IT
  • It has given me encouragement for further study
  • You still have to use your brain!
  • How do you find out which packages will be most useful for each group?
  • Where do you find out about courses and costs?

At the end of the day, participants came together to discuss how to get access to resources. This final session was an attempt to answer some of the questions raised in the day - particularly what support, courses, etc., were available in and around Leeds. The main themes to emerge were sharing and collaboration, from sharing information, providing training for each other to collaboration in purchasing.

Why not organise your own?

\ 'Making Computers work for the Community' was a success, we could have had more computers, more time, more space but the basic format for the day works. It is easily transferable to other parts of the country - so why not think about organising a similar day in your area.

What was involved

A budget for the day is difficult to calculate as much of it came as gifts in kind which we have broken down to give real indication of cost. True costs worked out at £50 per participant @ 50 attending with 6 computer workstations, based on a staffing rate of £10.00 per hour.\ \ The following is a guide to the time we took to organise the day, taking the organisation over six months, divided up as:

  • Month One: Discussion and initial planning
  • Month Two: Arrange venue, catering and facilitators
  • Month Three: Plan publicity and continue arrangements
  • Month Four: Publicity out, prepare advance information for participants
  • Month Five: Prepare programme pack and inform facilitators/participants of details. Check all necessary equipment will be available
  • Month Six: Confirm catering, final arrangements and send out press release.

A full report of the event has been published and is available for £1.50 (including post and packing) from Community Links, 237 London Road, Sheffield S2 4NF.\ Email:

partnerships/articles/demo.txt · Last modified: 2017/06/12 10:20 (external edit)