Seeing IT is believing

by Sara Gowen,

IT and the Internet don't make much sense to newcomers unless there is an opportunity for 'hands on' experience. Early in 1997 Sara Gowen wrote this article describing how Community Links and the Burley Lodge Centre ran a demonstration about 'Making Computers work for the Community', and the lessons they learned.

Below she adds some 'personal musings' about using the Internet with community groups since writing the article.

The day was designed to give community groups experience of a range of information technology, from word processing through to the potential of the Internet. We set up six workstations (e.g. computer and printer or modem) each with a 'tutor'. People came from community groups with no computers through to those who were thinking about going online. The mixture of skills and experience of the participants enabled them to share their own knowledge and form contacts which will provide local support and advice.

What people said

After the first hands on session participants formed small groups and brainstormed two questions: what have you learnt and what questions do you have? The response was interesting in revealing the wide range of attitudes and experience of IT for community groups. For example, those who had been at the Internet workstation said:

The general comments are equally revealing:

The main themes emerging from discussion at the end of the day were sharing and collaboration - from sharing information, providing training for each other to collaboration in purchasing.

Why not organise your own?

'Making Computers work for the Community' was a success. We could have had more computers, more time, more space but the basic format for the day works. It is easily transferable to other parts of the country - so why not think about organising a similar day in your area.

A budget for the day is difficult to calculate as much of it came as gifts in kind which we have broken down to give real indication of cost. True costs worked out at £50 per participant @ 50 attending with 6 computer workstations, based on a staffing rate of £10.00 per hour.

The following is a guide to the time we took to organise the day, taking the organisation over six months, divided up as:

A full report of the event has been published and is available for £1.50 (including post and packing) from Community Links, 237 London Road, Sheffield S2 4NF.

My Personal Musings on the use of Email and the internet in the community sector by Sara Gowen, Publication Worker, Community Links

Having published our main publication; the Ideas Annual on the internet for over three years - I would argue that uptake and use of the net is progressing very slowly within the community sector. I now get ideas sent to me by Email but mostly it is phone and post. Community Links Youth Team is developing its own site and this is where some of the more interesting IT development work is happening within communities - as young people use the medium to put their own message in their words and images.

I think the current value of the new technology to many local community development organisations is limited. At best it is one more tool of communication but it is certainly not the bees knees that some people make it out to be. There are a lot of issues about getting access to the equipment, the language used, the cost of telephone calls and just finding your way around the internet once you get hooked up - all of which will slowly be overcome but many of the small, unfunded, and often isolated, groups who would most benefit are likely to be the last to join up.

Yet to be positive, it is possible to be interactive and I hope that is what will eventually happen with the Ideas Annual web site. People will read an idea and click a button to send back their ideas, comments, etc. This sort of immediate response just doesn't happen with a book. It is still early days for the Ideas Annual web site and there are plans to pilot it with local community IT projects in South Yorkshire to see how well it works.

As for Email &endash; it is instant communication but until more people have Email boxes within our sector then it can only be one more tool, alongside stamps, telephones and faxes.

Ideas Annual website at:
Youth team website at:

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