Cyberskills open new opportunities in South Bristol

by Sally Abram,

South Bristol Learning Network is one of the pioneers in bringing the benefits of new technology to communities lacking jobs and opportunities to develop new skills. Sally Abram, their Head of Information & PR, reports on some of their successes - some with businesess, some in education, some in the voluntary and community sectors. She wrote this article in 1997.
Since launching as a TEC Challenge winner in 1993, SBLN has moved from a government-funded organisation to a sustainable company with a permanent staff of 16. Whilst still an organisation which works as a grass-roots level with local communities, interest in the awareness raising model of CyberSkills has led to national and international interest.

National Federation of City Farms

As part of SBLN's contribution to the local community, SBLN invited members of the four Bristol-based City Farms and National Federation of City Farms to CyberSkills to explore the potential for this sector. One of the attendees from the NFCF, Maurice Atkins, saw enormous potential and his subsequent enthusiasm for the concept has been instrumental in establishing a web presence for the NFCF.

An ex BT employee, Maurice joined the National Federation of City Farms in March `95. "I regard myself as fortunate to be able to bring my skills to the Voluntary Sector," he says.

"The NFCF need to have access to a technology which provides a new medium of communication, and which may prove to be as important as, for example the printing press and broadcasting. It could be a matter of survival. There is also a need for access to the new medium to be truly affordable or indeed free to everyone - like there still is to books in public libraries. This is one benefit which I will have by working at the NFCF, but I am concerned that the economically-deprived do not get left further behind by being the technologically-deprived."

In addition to the training, SBLN sourced six 386 PCs and has provided additional IT training in some of the software packages and information management. Each of the four city farms is required to identify sufficient funding to purchase a modem and for online costs. However, CompuServe is supporting the project with the provision of sponsored accounts for each farm.

Bush Resource Centre

Based in south Bristol, the Bush Centre caters for people with learning difficulties. In the past, the Centre, which is co-funded by Social Services and the Rowntree Trust, has bought a number of BBC and Master computers but most are now defunct.

Problems of security, staff turnover, adequate training plus space and equipment reliability have severely hampered any real development of IT.

SBLN began dialogue with the Centre over a year ago when the Centre agreed to host an a multimedia Roadshow. Since then, the centre has established an IT steering group which is identifying a number of areas where IT can support staff and students including literacy, numeracy, speech development and communication.

In addition, several students have attended the CyberSkills Workshops together with a number of Support Workers.

Redwood House

The centre is a sanctuary for homeless men and over the past few months, SBLN has been supporting some of the Development Workers and residents by providing no-cost training via the CyberSkills programme.

The workshops have been the first exposure to an informal way of learning new skills; creating new opportunities to access technology and new applications and leading to the development of new skills that will make them more employable. The centre has now purchased a modem from their education and training budget and has signed up to a service provider for three months. They are currently working with residents to produce a format for a web site and negotiating with SBLN to provide basic training on web authoring. As part of our commitment to the community, SBLN will be hosting their information our community server.

Stockwood Library

SBLN has been working with Bristol based Stockwood Library for 18 months providing consultancy and advice on the implementation of new technology within the library. Multimedia Roadshows which SBLN have taken out to the Library, have proved a successful formula in giving local residents of all ages hands-on experience of the Internet, sending email and CD-Roms.

Earlier this year, Stockwood Library invested in a multimedia PC to support library activities. The service - which is free - is primarily used by library members and staff for wordprocessing and accessing educational CD-Roms.

Not only is the implementation of an IT strategy adding value to the services which the library offers, but also provides an opportunity for Library staff to develop new skills.

SBLN are currently assisting the Library Service plan a Roadshow at the Library as part of celebrations to mark the 500th Anniversary of the John Cabotís sailing to Newfoundland. SBLN sponsors - CompuServe have provisionally agreed to sponsor the event which will enable local children to send messages to schools in Newfoundland.

Rhino Communications

For the past few years, Neil Murray and his business partner Jean Batchelor have been running a home-based business selling quality reproduction and costume jewelry. It was a realisation that his son knew far more about the potential impact of technologies such as the Internet which finally inspired him to attend a CyberSkills Workshop soon after the workshops were launched in November 1994.

Excited by the market potential for their business activities, they invested £20,000 in hardware and software, including a server, built an online catalogue and launched their web site. Realising the potential for other small businesses in south Bristol, Rhino Communications have now diversified into the market of communications training and consultancy.

With an annual turnover of £500,000, their initial start up costs have already been recouped and they can now boast a world wide customer base which includes clients in China, Russia, Canada and Paraguay which is growing by about 100 per annum.

They describe their business as "an early learning centre and an Internet creche" for local companies in the area to find out more about the business benefits of communication tools such a Email and market opportunities presented by the Internet. "The real investment that businesses need to make is not just in the technology, but in time. It is not difficult to market your company effectively on the web because their is so much information to help you."

Schools project

SBLN and Bristol City Council's CREATE Centre are jointly proposing to run a local environmental world-wide-web project which will involve schools and pupils from South Bristol. SBLN will train a number of teachers, together with CREATE's education officers, in the skills necessary to design and build websites. The teachers will then be able to use SBLN's materials to cascade this training to their colleagues and pupils.

A number of environmental projects will be started by the schools, supported by CREATE's staff with their extensive database of local environmental information. However, instead of producing their project work in written format, the pupils will produce it as web pages which will be accessible to the whole world. In this way the pupils will gain not only curriculum-related knowledge and skills from the project work, but also a wide range of skills necessary to participate fully in the information society.


Based in south Bristol, Andrew Price attended CyberSkills at end 1995. As a result of attending CyberSkills, Andrew set up Artweb - a new Internet directory for artists which offers instant access to a world wide market. Partners Richard Davis, Andrew Price and Rob Ryder are confident that artists will recognise the potential of the scheme. The beauty of the project is that it is adaptable to any form of artwork that can be photographed and screened.

As well as being an artist, Andrew is a competent marketeer but not very technical. Frustrated by hefty commission charges that Gallery Owners and Agents have traditionally charged artists to display and promote their work, Andrew decided to carry out much of his own marketing to Japan and North America.

Artweb started as a virtual gallery with Artists paying a small annual subscription to have work displayed. In exchange, an Artist is offered free web pages which include images of their work, art supplier discount, business cards, flyers and a chance to increase their profile to a wider audience via the Internet . Artweb also aims to develop a gallery service offering galleries the chance set up a domain name, possibly for a specific event.

Sally Abram
Head of Information & PR
South Bristol Learning Network
Tel +44 (0)117 946 5403 Work
+44 (0)1761 453961 Work & Home
Fax +44 (0)117 964 1021
Compuserve 100335,3033
The CyberSkills Association
The importance of lifelong learning

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