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Social enterprise collaboration brings results for old & young

Image provided by Justine Gaubert

Three new Sheffield social enterprises have recently celebrated the success of a digitally-focused collaboration project, which brought together young volunteers to train older people how to use the internet, in Maltby, South Yorkshire.

The project aimed to bring together the old and the young generation to reduce isolation and increase independence amongst older people, by teaching them how to use the internet.  The three social enterprises: Neighbours Can Help Ltd, Silent Cities Ltd, and SilenceBreakers found another partner in Maltby Academy, who generously welcomed the older people into their school and provided the young volunteers.

“Older people are a group who have a lot to gain from technology and yet they are one of the groups least likely to have either the equipment or the skills to use it,” said John Pickin from Neighbours Can Help. “We felt we could bring even greater value to the project by recruiting young volunteers to deliver the training to older people, so there would be the intergenerational benefits too,” said Justine Gaubert, Founder of Silent Cities who delivered the training element of the programme, along with Steve Hatherley, a teacher at the Academy. “Learning the IT skills isn’t the end of the story,” added Jay Baker from SilenceBreakers, the third partner in the project. “People also need access to the technology in their own home.”

The training ran from November 2010 to March 2011 and led to many successful results, including: 20 young 11-16 year olds volunteering their time after school for this project, nine refurbished computers being installed into older people homes for free as part of the project, and because they are refurbished, over half a tonne of waste being saved, 83% of the older people in the project now feel less socially-isolated.

The project came about through collaboration, not competition…

When three emerging Sheffield social entrepreneurs met at the School for Social Entrepreneurs, they had more in common than just their names beginning with the letter ‘J’.  Justine Gaubert (Silent Cities Ltd), John Pickin (Neighbours Can Help Ltd) and Jay Baker (SilenceBreakers) were about to launch their own social enterprises, each with a focus for bringing communities together using technology.

“When we met, people assumed we’d be in competition with each other because we shared such similar aims,” said Justine. “Thankfully, we opted for collaboration instead!” “There was cross over between each of our businesses, and as we were all starting out, we thought it would be great to pilot small parts of our business in a joint project” explained Jay.

“My business is about bringing a voice to the voiceless, and part of my project is to refurbish unwanted computers and supply them to community projects. Part of Justine’s project was to supply technology training to disadvantaged communities, and Neighbours Can Help is about bringing individuals together online so they can help each other.”

“So Neighbours Can Help applied to Rotherham Council for some funding for our collaboration, and we were very proud to be selected from a shortlist of 20 others,” said David Child of Neighbours Can Help.

Councillor Doyle, Cabinet Member for Health and Social Care said of the project at a recent celebration event: “What makes this project special is that it was selected from over 20 others by a panel of customers, carers and Council Officers. The panel was able to see, from speaking to the project leads, what I see today; the potential to bring a community together. This project has started to bridge the gap between generations, facilitated the transfer of important skills between residents, and brought the local community and statutory services together.”

View video footage of project here

Join Silent Cities on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/silentcities

Follow Silent Cities on Twitter (PR/news/board views):

http://twitter.com/silent_cities

Follow Silent Cities founder Juastine Gaubert on Twitter:

http://twitter.com/silentshe

Join Silencebreakers on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/silencebreakers

Follow Silencebreakers on Twitter: http://twitter.com/SilenceBreakers

The world wide egg: How do you share yours?


My initial courtship with what’s now a significant other in my life had the most mundane and ordinary of beginnings. For one thing, our first date wasn’t in a swish location – ‘we’ started in a stuffy and crowded office.

Neither did I have the thrilling luxury of a one-to-one, intimate encounter. Instead I had to sit at a special computer, within the buzzing features desk of the busy weekly magazine where I worked.

Back then, in 1998, no-one I knew expected anything different. The doorway I was about to open wasn’t the swing one we now take for granted, forever at the tips of our click-ready fingers. In many ways, this 24-hour culture was still the stuff of science fiction – a mere technological twinkle in the eyes of the Geekarati.

Yes, dear reader, I’m talking about the first time I set up my first private, web-based email account. Of course, I already had a virtual address, provided by work and strictly used for business.

Only once I started my personal, pleasure-based relationship with email, another tantalising world opened up to me. Keeping in touch with friends, ordering gig tickets, shopping, sharing photos (or as back then, a never-ending supply of silly jokes)…all this and more seemed so much simpler, quicker and…well, fun, than ever before.

You can guess how the rest of my email relationship has developed. There are times when I love its capacity for brevity, others when I curse the reams of messages I inevitably sift through, but really could I give email up? Would I want to? Never!

Other later communication milestones in my life also started out in this similar, nonchalent manner – YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook were once optional amusing extras in my life but now I couldn’t imagine my future without them.

Still, while I’m devoted to social media, I can understand the bewildered reaction many people still have to this vital part of my life. ‘Why,’ they might ask, ‘do you Tweet about an event you’ve just been to?’ Maybe I’d watch their confused faces when I tell them I share photos of the latest cake I’ve just baked with those I’m virtually connected to.

My answer to such bemused protests would be simple. My online presence works for me because I enjoy feeling connected and sharing with others. My life feels richer for it. I’d like to think the effect of my internet comings and goings is a two-way street.

Of course, the internet is a double-edged sword. For every person who gains connections, there’s one who loses their grasp on their close tangible, relationships. You know the scenes so well they’ve become well-worn cliches. The teenager playing video games until his thumbs bleed, the lonely married virtually cruising for company…

As a journalist, I’ve written endless ‘internet love cheat’ stories. On the other hand, I think of another batch of articles I’ve brought to the world – the ‘online reunions of long-lost mum/dad/sister.’

All in all, I look at the internet in a positive light. For me, it’s not a ‘faceless’ world but one founded on freedom.

Whether that means sharing knowledge, information and opinion or building friendships beyond physical boundaries or pioneering modern ways of balancing careers with home life – just like the Easter eggs being devoured this weekend – the world wide web was made for sharing.

So am I right? Do you think the internet is friend or foe?

Let’s share!