Success stories from South Bristol Learning Network

by Sally Abram

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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, particularly through their Cyberskills training programme. 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.


Since launching as a TEC Challenge winner in 1993, SBLN has moved from a government funded organisation to a self-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.

The staff are constantly learning new skills based around IT and cascading these skills to others via CyberSkills initiatives. Staff like Lee Fenton have gone on to take new skills into the media workplace. Having joined SBLN with no IT skills, Lee left to join General Cable in London and is playing a major role in the provision of Internet service to their franchise areas.

Community and voluntary sector

Community New Publishing

David Onamade attended CyberSkills under the Multimedia in the Community programme. Educated in London / Nigeria / USA / Sweden David is self employed and very enthusiastic to explore how new technologies can impact on the publishing of his Bristol-based magazine. FREEnews is a free semi-literary magazine for the inner city of Bristol. Having been introduced to the Internet / WWW and multimedia at CyberSkills, David and his partner are developing ideas of how to publish the magazine electronically to encourage a broader contribution of readership.

National Federation of City Farms

As part of SBLN's contribution to the local community, SBLN invited members of the 4 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.

Maurice shares a strong belief in the NFCF philosophy that City Farms and Community Gardens are not the solutions imposed on communities - the communities are encouraged to "own" the projects themselves and the equality of access eg. there are generally no charges for admission to the projects.

"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.

At a later phase, the NFCF hopes to use their new purpose built which was officially opened by David Bellamy, to demonstrate all types of online resources relating to the activities of the Federation. It is also the aim to use one of the kits as a public access terminal for online information, with a second machine sited in it's offices for updating home pages, emailing and word processing etc.

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. Chris Miller, Support Worker, has been instrumental in encouraging closer involvement with the Centre and is keen to explore sustainable ways of access to IT with the support.

CyberSkills has highlighted the sense of isolation from mainstream community that some clients feel and SBLN are keen to identify opportunities for building links with other similar centres where groups feel equally isolated, primarily through use of the Internet and video conferencing.

Whilst developments are at an early stage, SBLN is hoping to lever resources to fund the targeted development of a CyberSkills which are co-delivered by adults with learning difficulties to their own sector.

"It is not often that our clients manage to get access to mainstream IT activities so the CyberSkills Workshops were quite special for them."

The plan for IT use at the Bush is progressing slowly. They hope to have 3 multimedia PC machines early in the New Year and to be on the Internet by the summer. "The CyberSkills Workshops were important in raising awareness amongst staff of the possibilities of PCM and how quickly the technology was progressing."

"We are now seeing our clients move into office jobs where they need some computer skills. CyberSkills have increased their confidence and IT awareness amongst this group. Many Bush students are familiar with computers but the BBC machine is still the equipment they are most at home with and for which there is most special needs support. This is changing quickly but more needs to be done if profoundly disabled people are to have access."

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.

Public Sector

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.


Lesley Farley, P/T Project Worker, Mature Student

One of the original 50 unemployed people from south Bristol, Lesley first joined SBLN as a Development Worker with the Community Development Unit. In September of 1994, Lesley left to persue a degree in Time Based Media at the University of West of England, focusing on the production of multimedia programmes.

Earlier this year, Lesley rejoined SBLN, initially involved in developing an Internet presence for the National Federation of City Farms. An important aspect of the project is to train the people at the NFCF in Web page production. Many of these people have no previous knowledge of the new technologies.

"To me, this project epitomises the work of SBLN - empowerment of ordinary people not only to understand the new technologies but to use them to communicate on a global level.

'Students at college have access to the Internet and are familiar with the new technologies unlike the community as a whole. The NFCF project emphasises SBLN's important role within the community."

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.



Andy Ryan, Information Technology Services

Andy Ryan was one of the original team members who joined SBLN in October 1993 and focused on training in digital video production and editing. In 1995, he left SBLN to start up his own company "Information Technology Services" specialising in Internet Training, Multimedia Presentation, and CD-ROM Authoring.

Within the first 12 months, Andy had secured contracts with a number of blue chip companies such as ICL and Post Office Counters and with the public sector.

"I feel these opportunities would not have been presented to me had I not been lucky enough to have been part of the SBLN project. The one thing that really strikes me watching SBLN continue to grow is the enthusiasm of the people behind it.

"I think it has shown that if you give people from all walks of life, the chance to have access to this type of technology they really do want to learn. Back in 1993 I could not see myself doing what I do now. I strongly feel the CyberSkills Workshops present an excellent way forward in a world that is becoming more and more reliable on the skills of the Information Society."

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.

A year ago, preparing mailshots, newsletters and product launches tended to take up the majority of their time. Today, Rhino completes these activities electronically in a fraction time.

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."

The garage-based business houses a mini training suite where they deliver hands-on sessions to small, local businesses. The suite also doubles up as an Authoring facility for publishing on-line catalogues for local companies which to date, has resulted in generating business leads as far away as Japan and Australia. Over 50% of those clients who take up an introductory consultancy session, go on to subscribe to a service provider. The company provides a total service from simple advise on 'What is the Internet', through to a fully managed web service.

Robbins Timber, based in south Bristol,

Robbins Timber generates an annual turnover of £3million with 40 staff based on 3 sites. Despite the lack of IT skills in the company, the company is not deterred from investing in the potential of Emailing and the WWW as a communication medium to be exploited.

Established in 1881, the company is an importer and distributor of timber to both the trade and DIY, but specializes in marine timber. Their product range has evolved over the years from steaming bent timbers for the wagon and coffin trade, and developed to accommodate market demands and conditions.

As a result of attending the CyberSkills Workshops, Company Director Richard Bagnall, has introduced Emailing facilities to the company with an immediate expansion of their customer base to include new clients all over Europe. The company is currently designing their web site which they hope will not only be a showcase for product information and offers, but will drastically reduce marketing and printing expenditure.

John Marsh, Total Quality Partnership

John Marsh formed Total Quality Partnership 4 years ago, initially as a one-man business. Working as a Consultant and with Associates in Britain, Europe, South Africa and America his work crosses both the public and private sectors, helping to implement mutually beneficial changes through the facilitation of strategic planning and process involvement.

Primary market: business, education, health, training and Enterprise Councils. 80% UK-based & 20% abroad.

John is also a prolific writer. One of his books, The Quality Toolkit, is in its second edition and has been translated into Slovak as a reference book to assist with to assist with the privatisation process in that country. John Marsh has also collaborated with a colleague to develop a computer based version of The Continuous Improvement Workbench. The development of this software is one of the reasons that he has invested in the production of a web site.

It is hoped that the marketing of such a specialist tool will be made easier through the website, eradicating expensive advertisement and wide mailshots, saving precious efforts and resources in a small organisation.

"One of my aspirations is to do more international work and the Net seems to be a great way of increasing the company's profile. I want to be seen using the latest technology and hope that that the Continuous Improvement Workbench can be drawn down via the Internet. I doubt that I would achieved what I have, without the excellent support from SBLN."

Although it is still early days, he is already using email extensively to send out company literature and to communicate with new clients in the US and Korea.


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.

"I knew when I went along to the CyberSkills Workshops that there was a potentially explosive and creative opportunity waiting to happen but I just couldn't see what." Robert hopes that Artweb will become a key strategic marketing space for the Art world. "The project is not just an Internet site but an art promotion company using the Internet."

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