FEATURE: Breaking silence on IT exclusion
In this digital age it is easy to forget that for some, keeping up with new technology or just having the means to get online, is a luxury they can't afford. When being able to get online is becoming more and more essential to living, many people are getting left behind.
A local award winning social enterprise Silence Breakers Media is doing its best to put a stop to that. Based in Kelham Island Quarter, Silence Breakers is run by founder and managing director Jay Baker, 39, who alongside a small team keeps the enterprise on track, supporting disadvantaged people.
Jay Baker said: "Before starting this up, I had dropped out of my media degree and starting doing youth work with a local council, when the department faced cuts I managed to raise funding to keep it going through a social enterprise model and I kept on with that work. Through my experience I found that there is tendency for community projects to lack a sense of legacy, going into an area, working with local people, then just leaving. I founded Silence Breakers back in 2010 and the idea was to create a community media organisation that was sustainable in all meanings of the word, including environmental. Which is why at our base we are always surrounded by what looks like junk. It is all used computers which have been donated to us which we either recondition for reuse or recycle if they can't be used."
The social enterprise runs free training sessions across South Yorkshire to teach basic and more advanced skills in computing, social media and using the internet. They also recondition used and old computer equipment until they are almost good as new, and sell them on at a price as low as £15. This approach enables them to make computers available to those on a low income as well as being environmentally friendly. Since its foundation Silence Breakers Media has saved 3521 KG of waste and reconditioned 78 computers.
Jay continued: "Our training is about giving people the skills and tools they need to run their own media activities, become more media literate and also to tackle digital exclusion. A lot of people are getting left behind as we become more and more digital. Some people aren't really computer literate and we help them get online and more with the computers we have fixed up."
"One lady we worked with in some of our training sessions recently, who was about 72 said to me 'You know, I didn't realise how easy it is to install RAM.' and I just thought that was awesome. Then she was on her phone ringing around and telling people what kind of hard-drive she needed for her computer and that was just, wow.
"I always love working with local libraries, we have been doing training to help older people better understand technology and it's been particularly rewarding when they have been able to continue the sessions after we're finished, by skill-sharing and socialising as a group too. I like technology to make people more sociable not less!"
Local grant making charity South Yorkshire's Community Foundation (SYCF) recently funded Silence Breakers to run IT courses in Thorne Library in Doncaster as well as to help young people develop key employability skills during work experience at the Silence Breakers base in Sheffield.
Ruth Willis, chief executive of SYCF said: "Silence Breakers is quite a unique project and is meeting a need which I think is largely unrecognised. It has been fantastic to support them and to witness the difference they are making the lives of so many people. We funded their recent training sessions from our Tween Bridge Wind Farm Community Benefits Fund for Doncaster and the sessions have clearly been successful and helped a lot of people become more confident with computers. We always encourage community groups to get in touch with us and to see if they can get funding for their projects and our funding pot for Doncaster is currently open to applications."
Jay added: “We do a lot of work with disadvantaged communities across the county. Above our Sheffield base there is a half way house for people recovering from the effects of homelessness and there is the Moorfield flats nearby, where there is 40 flats which people are living in and they all share one computer. They all have to use it register for social housing and get back on track with their lives.
“There is clearly a need for easier access to technology, so we are working to develop our centre to make it more accessible to people in these kinds of situations and also make it into a place where they can get support from us too."