Getting IT together and connecting people

“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

That’s one of my Dad’s sayings that sort of make sense if you don’t take them too literally….or if you tweak them slightly. I’ll come back to this.

The other week I met someone I’d been trying to catch up with for a while. His name is Vic Berry. Rumour had it he was a ‘digital outreach worker’, someone this ‘meaning maker’ had to meet. On meeting, Vic conceded to being a mere ‘project co-ordinator’ for Citizens Online in Leeds.

I wanted to meet Vic and hear his story as it’s easy to assume that the world is all shiny tech; everyone is ready and up for ‘channel shift’ and the whole city is connected and socially networking thank you very much. It isn’t.

There is a digital divide and in the so called digital by default transactional world, we risk increasing social isolation for those not connected or without access to the Internet. They may not be able to access services others take for granted.

Citizens Online is a national charity set up to tackle the issues of digital exclusion, to make sure that the Internet is available to everybody and to help individuals and communities understand and gain the benefits of being online. They have been delivering projects that enhance social inclusion, communication and connectivity in some of the most deprived communities in the UK for over 12 years.

In Leeds, Citizens Online is working with Leeds City Council and BT to ensure that digital inclusion remains at the forefront of one of the fastest growing cities in the UK and Vic helps people find out for themselves how being online can make life easier. The Get IT Together programme involves a 3-year community development process, managed by a full time project co-ordinator. Whether you are helping others become digitally included or you need a little more support yourself, check out the resources on the Get IT Together website.

I met Vic in the cafe at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. I didn’t know what he looked like and likewise for Vic. I eventually spotted him via his Get IT Together bag, having previously dismissed him as my target as he was in deep discussion with someone else. I offered to buy him a drink but he was having none of it and bought me one instead. And that sums Vic up nicely.

We sat and talked for an hour and he told me about what he did; how the first co-ordinator had left the project and it had struggled to get going and find venues with adequate training facilities for people to meet. He explained how difficult it had been to get people to come to places not familiar to them and to pretty much admit they were IT illiterate. He also explained how it had been hard to encourage volunteers to come forward to help train people.

As he talked he gradually sat further back in his chair and was more at ease. I could tell he would be good at his job as he had a calm manner and was telling me a chronological tale. He didn’t include irrelevant information and he had a knack for dropping in the odd anecdote that kept me interested.

Things eventually got moving for the project and Vic mentioned the good relationships he now has with the Digital Lounge at LS14 Trust in Seacroft and the work he does with the Educational Achievement Academy in Meanwood, and with Leeds Library Services.  The satisfaction he obviously gets from sharing what he knows for the benefit of others was clear to see. All the above are great examples of people creating sociable spaces for others to learn new skills and make new friends.

There is no set curriculum on the Get IT Together programme, it is about people getting confidence to do what they want to do, be it learning how to search for a job, order shopping on line, learn how to send email and get and keep in contact with friends and relatives. Things that many of us take for granted as easy to do because we know how and have the kit.

Some people don’t and we shouldn’t forget that.

And it’s not just about getting people connected, the programme offers the opportunity to become a trainer and volunteer. There are resources available for people who help get people online with hints and tips to coach them.

I’d contacted Vic to ask if I could meet him as I was looking to promote similar initiatives that were linking people up and which sort of fit under the Sociable Organisation/City concept. He was initially a little sceptical about what he perceived as someone playing about with WordPress blogs and social media and what they would want from him. I’d explained that he could use social media to promote his project further. Fortunately, Vic is a good listener too so I’m hoping there’s more than a little coincidence that Vic is now on Twitter.

Getting back to my Dad’s saying and after having heard what Vic does for people; for some, it is what you don’t yet know that can make all the difference. Knowing Vic has definitely helped them.

More information about Citizens Online can be found here.


About Phil Jewitt

Comms guy and meaning maker, living in that place between personal and professional. Home is Leeds, Yorkshire. I work in communications for Leeds City Council, the 2nd largest council - with a lot to talk about and a lot to listen to.
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