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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

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Holy Smoke! Why I thank Sheffield for my divine DIY events trinity

Are you familiar with the idea of the power of three? Don’t worry, I’m not getting all mathematical on you.

I’m talking about the generally well-accepted principle that when it comes to effective communications, our brains are best at grasping information as a trio.

Of course, most of the time we aren’t conscious of the fact that many of the most inspirational speeches and phrases of our age are peppered with examples of this oral ‘trick’; ‘I came, I saw, I conquered’, ‘hook, line & sinker’ and (here comes that crucial third point) ‘signed, sealed, delivered.’  You get the idea…

Well over the last three weeks, my calendar’s certainly been shaken up (in a fantastic way) by three great events, which have definitely left their mark in my thinking.

The first one was self-generated, born out of a casual chat a few months ago, over a drink with my self-employed illustrator friend Richard Smith. ‘Why don’t we hold an evening business social, inviting contacts from the creative and commercial sector?’ we asked ourselves.

Before you can say ‘How hard can it be?’, the venue was booked, invites sent and the night was upon us. Held at Henry’s bar in Sheffield city centre, the 130-something guests we’d invited duly turned up in their droves and created an incredible buzz, no doubt buoyed by a free glass of bubbly and some complimentary nibbles.

On a serious note though, both myself and Richard were completely blown away by the response we had from our guests – and judging by the string of enthusiastic comments I had on the night and since (‘You got exactly the right vibe going – it felt friendly and inclusive which is a rare thing indeed. Best networking bash I’ve ever been to!’ Justine Gaubert, founder of social enterprise Silent Cities) it looks as though another one may well on the cards…so watch this space!

Yours truly at our event at Henry's. Photo credit: Justine Gaubert

Roll call of special thanks goes out to AV events firm CVC Event Services, who provided the PA equipment FOC, and the following local businesses who kindly donated a prize to our raffle and helped us raise £61 in ticket proceeds, in aid of Weston Park Hospital Cancer Charity – We Love Sleep, Integrate Nutrition, Richard Smith Illustration, The Heavenly Cheesecake Company, PJ Taste, Tender Loving Care (TLC) and Check out their links at the bottom of this post…

Back to that trinity again and the following week, I was invited to another free Sheffield event, which perfectly encapsulates the DIY ‘can do’ spirit of the city’s business and creative community – the launch of The Blue Shed, a 1,500 sqm arts venue (with performance space and fully-licensed bar), which has been converted from an old workshop by engineering firm Ekspan.

Paul Scriven Sheffield Council leader with Ekspan CEO Matthew Dronfield

Sheffield Council leader Paul Scriven officially did the honours with the unveiling of this new brand – the space was previously up-and-running under the name of the Brightside Project – and again I found myself with bubbly in hand and an unexpected spring in my step.

I was struck by the energy and goodwill – and dare I say it excitement – palpable in the air in respect to this forward-thinking enterprise. Here’s a video snapshot of the night, created by Richard Bolam Digital Media:

My trio of positive experiences – in the very same weeks when the deep government cuts were slowly trickled out – ended this Friday morning, at a fantastic networking event, organised by Time2Network (, held at probably the most famous eaterie in Sheffield right now (thanks to their well-deserved success in becoming semi-finalists in Gordan Ramsey’s Best Restaurant TV show), The Milestone.

Three elements (of course!) made the meet work well in my eyes – there was a diverse mix of proactive people, the venue suited the informal format and as you’d expect the breakfast was spot on. Hats off to organisers Alan Fenn, of Compass Distribution and Jon Covey of Sponduly.


yes, the cuts are here

yes, our financial belts are set to get pinched like nobody’s business

YET there’s still spirit to the power of three in this city I’m proud to call my home.


We Love Sleep:

Integrate Nutrition:

PJ Taste:

Richard Smith Illustration:

The Heavenly Cheesecake Company:

Tender Loving Care (TLC):

CVC Event Services:

Weston Park Hospital Cancer Charity:

Silent Cities:

Henry’s bar:

Richard Bolam Digital Media:

The Milestone:

Compass Distribution:


Welcome to Silent Cities – a new social enterprise in Sheffield

Ladies and gents, let’s partake in a virtual drum roll please. Last week, after a good few months of hard renovation graft by volunteers, family & friends, Silent Cities (a fresh creatively-charged social enterprise) finally started getting its feet under the table of its new snazzy space.

We’re bang in the heart of Sheffield’s very own BoHo-style district, Neepsend, and have decked out our new space with an eclectic mix of reclaimed and characterful furnishings.

What’s more, we’ve even bagged a retro tea trolley, which I’m sure will become a vital cog in our wheel of non-profit fortunes.

There’s still a bit of work to do, but it felt fantastic for myself and the other directors to be able to hold our fourth board meeting there last Thursday.

Now our vision has a home. And a kettle. Now all we need is some decent biscuits!

To view more photos please click the link below, which will take you to a Silent Cities photo album on my Facebook page:

Silent voices speaking out

Sometimes it’s hard to see qualities in yourself which might seem obvious to others. In my working life, I’ve met plenty of fantastic journalists – people who have spent their careers crafting and weaving text to educate and entertain – who visibly balk at the mention of the ‘c’ word. As soon as it’s uttered, I have watched them recoil in horror. ‘No, I’m not like that,’ they shudder. ‘Not one of those…’

And no, before you think I’m being horribly rude, I’m not talking about that ‘c’ word. Dear readers, I’m actually waxing lyrical about what is too often regarded as an ‘airy fairy’ aspect to our characters. It’s a natural human trait, elevated to a higher value before we hit adulthood, why does the idea of creativity get a pretty raw deal in ‘grown-up’ sectors of society?

I can understand why the phrase ‘creatives’ induces this indifferent attitude. But I don’t buy into the idea that there are some people will never have this ‘gift’ – that only the elite, certain sophisticated souls, can possibly be creative.

Everyone can harness this capacity if they are given the opportunity and space to let their imagination and confidence grow. So when my inspirational friend Justine Gaubert ( asked me to become a voluntary board member of a new social enterprise she was setting up, which builds creative environments where silent voices can flourish, I jumped at the chance to be involved.

So, drum roll please, may I introduce you to Silent Cities –

As Silent Cities has just been born, I’m all too aware we are at the beginning of a long rollercoaster journey but as a board we are full of purpose, hope and commitment…. and of course creativity! Watch this space for more news about Silent Cities – we are starting off by piloting the scheme in Sheffield, so if you are in or live nearby the Steel City and would like to get involved as a volunteer in any capacity please register your interest on the website.

And keep those imaginations flowing!