\ by Mark Walker \<firstname.lastname@example.org>\
Mark Walker, Communications Officer for PACT Community Projects, offers a personal overview of what the Internet can offer one particular community organisation.
1. PACT Community Projects
PACT develops and manages projects in communities across East and West Sussex. It currently runs 22 projects, which work with a variety of people, including young people; older people; children; people with disabilities and mental health needs; and general community development. We have a turnover in excess of £1 million, 75 staff and hundreds of volunteers. Our projects are mostly small, with a couple of staff providing a very specific set of services to local people.
2. Why get on-line?
We started investigating the potential benefits of the Internet in summer 1995 and identified three key opportunities:
We are working towards every project being on-line and using e-mail for administration, news and sharing ideas and resources. Web-based resources can be shared - such as policy documents and publicity materials - and the raw material is already produced on computers in the first place.
We have supporters and partners in organisations of all sizes and types across the community and currently spend a large proportion of our budgets on postage and telephone calls, and can see ways to cut these costs. The Web provides a cost-effective supplement to traditional print media.
Most exciting are the possibilities for developing the services we offer. For example:
Information and counselling for 13-25 year olds in Brighton and Hove.
Staff and volunteers provide information and guidance on a variety of issues, including sexual health, drugs, benefits advice, housing and education. The Internet offers a new source of information and interaction with other agencies.\ Being on-line can also improve accessibility: opening hours are restricted by the limited funds available to run the service, whilst some young people will not be able to travel to central Brighton easily.\ \ The On The Level web-site and associated resources could make use of its extensive experience in sourcing and presenting information which young people want - yet be available 24 hours a day to a much wider audience.
Working with older people in Hove
St. John's Outreach Project provides a focus for social activities for older people in the Brunswick area of Hove. Many older people feel isolated and can easily lose touch with their social circle and the project actively supports activities which help overcome these problems.\ \ Access to the Internet - especially in a communal space - will help bring together many different people in the community. Many older people are familiar with computers, and have the time and inclination to explore and share what they know. They may wish to contact family or friends, or simply indulge their curiosity on a particular subject. The Internet will also help with new adult education services being developed for older people.
4. Looking ahead
We lack the skills and resources to implement such a broad-ranging project very quickly, but we do have e-mail in some projects, and it is growing in use. We have web pages, which has produced results in terms of attracting on-line supporters, and by being active have built many valuable contacts.\ \ We include Internet-based ideas in our bids for funds and continue to review and update our the plans. This is a fast-moving field and - as anyone does - we struggle to keep up with the latest ideas.\ \ Several staff participate in the Sussex Community Internet Project - a local initiative looking at the ways that the Internet can benefit community development. Networks such as these help to keep up with what's going on in the area - and provide practical support.
PACT stands to gain as much from the Internet as it would from full implementation of any IT-based systems. However, we are always balancing the potential value of any new idea against our commitment to our existing work and the other demands on our resources.\ \ The Internet provides an opportunity to work more effectively as an organisation, and to develop our services for the people we serve. As the use of the technology gains pace in the wider community we will seek to keep pace with change and take advantage of the opportunities it offers.