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Creating Centres - overview

Community resource centres are recognised as one of the most important ways to ensure everyone has access to the benefits of the Internet. They are now part of UK Government policy.

We hope this section will help those planning bids for funding - see in particular the business plan pages which include a template for your plan. These pages are being developed in association with the DirectSupport consortium assisting centre development in the UK.

On these pages and through links:

Centres overview

Centres provide the vital ingredients that people need to get going and feel comfortable with computers and communications technologies:

  • Access. In the short term, at least, it’s unlikely that everyone will be able to afford a good personal computer with fast internet access. Add to this the rate of technology change, the cost of just keeping up-to-date, and it’s clear that the need for public access to ICT (Information and Communications Technology) is not going to disappear in the immediate future.\ \
  • A face to face meeting place. People need people. We are sociable animals, and online communication is just another way of talking, learning, trading and exchanging ideas. It won’t replace face to face. That’s one reason why the video hasn’t killed off cinema, Public Houses are still just that, and local ICT centres are popular.\ \
  • Support. There is little as frustrating as struggling with new technology and software by yourself. If you can turn around and ask for expert or informal help, the barriers begin to fall.\ \
  • Learning. Informal support and learning-by-doing are the best ways for many people, but there is still a place for more formal training courses. Especially when they are local, affordable and matched to what the local community wants.\ \
  • Relevant content. On the Internet as elsewhere, one person’s junk is another’s treasure trove. Electronic publishing is not just for experts: individuals, clubs, schools and local communities can create information that is relevant and useful to them, and find other like-minded people doing the same, somewhere else - with a little help from a local centre.

A short history

The idea of a Community IT Centre has undergone several incarnations since the ‘telecottage’ came out of Scandinavia in the late Eighties. The Government’s latest commitment to LACs (Local Access Centres) is great news - but also a new name and new support for a concept that has been evolving for over a decade. Everyone wants to invent the best and latest recipe, and there are as many names as there are flavours of community resource centre:

  • Telecottage or telecentre
  • Electronic Village Hall or EVH
  • Local Support Centre
  • Innovation Centre
  • Technology Centre
  • IT Hub
  • Business Resource Centre

Existing IT centres may be rural or urban, aimed at the community or businesses (or both), grant funded or trading, purpose-build centres - or facilities housed in an existing school, library, business or community centre. The common thread is the provision of computers and public internet access, with training, support and work space - and maybe other services.

Different models range from fully grant-funded centres where most support and training is free, through to privately owned businesses, where you’d expect to pay the market rate. But this is a new concept, using new technologies to deliver new services (who knows what ‘information products’ people will buy in 2010?), so don’t be afraid of trying a new variation. Go with good practice, but don’t stick to stereotypes.

The most interesting centres - and, arguably, the most sustainable - break the mold. These are the centres that mix community with business and business with leisure. They are charities that trade; or businesses run by ‘social entrepreneurs’. They are projects which focus on local needs in a global market. They do things differently. They are run by people who not only say “why?” but also “why not?”.

There is no “magic” blueprint: because every community is different every centre will be different. Ideas and technologies are developing too fast to set things in stone. But there are useful processes to follow, plenty of past experience to tap, and lots of wheels that don’t need re-inventing.

Jane Berry, Project Development Manager, National Rural Enterprise Centre and Carolyn Reily, Business Advisor, have been developing these pages with Partnerships Online to provide guidance to those planning new centres. Content is based on NREC experience of WREN Telecottage (one of the earliest public IT centres - set up in 1991) and of many other similar projects which NREC and its partners have either worked on or researched. Where possible, we link to the latest sources of support and funding: the New Opportunities Fund and DfEE Learning Centres Initiative are an important new source of help, referred to throughout these pages.

Next steps

See the menu on the right of this page for a lot more on this site about starting and running a centre, particularly developing a business plan.

NGFL Scotland’s Guide to Getting Communities Online also has advice on centres and community grids for learning.

For US material on centres see the Comunity Technology Centers Network, particularly their excellent start up manual and other publications.


These pages developed by Jane Berry \«j.berry@ruralnet.org.uk>> http://www.nrec.org.uk/

mtnw/centres/index.txt · Last modified: 2017/06/12 15:20 (external edit)