St Austell Community Kitchen (STAK) provides meals and social support to the homeless and vulnerable in its local community. It has operated as a charity for more than 25 years and its team of volunteers have created a sense of community among the many people that frequent its café each day. STAK recently teamed up with organisations like Superfast Cornwall to encourage its café goers to learn new skills, specifically basic computer skills. The volunteers hope to encourage learning, build confidence and improve their chances for finding employment.
Volunteers at STAK realised very early on that that their customers had little or no experience of working with modern IT systems, which effectively precluded them from engaging with formal accredited learning modules. The charity invited Unite the Union, Citizens Online and Superfast Cornwall to develop a bespoke workshop for its clientele.
“An initial group of six learners took up the 13-week course. Attending the course itself, and in a location that was unfamiliar to them, was a big step for them, as was the presence of new volunteers; all part of the confidence-raising element of the learning initiative,” said Gill, a volunteer from STAK.
Internet skills and online safety became popular areas of interest, with one learner exploring the possibility of publishing poetry and another looking to place adverts to sell items in local journals. Social networking sites, and the many facilities they offer, were also explored, as were word processing, spreadsheets, email, using the Internet for research and, crucially, writing C.V.s and applying for work.
Brendan Parkinson from Unite believes the trick to engaging learners is about working in topics that interest them. Once they’re engaged, students will begin to share their knowledge with others.
Brendan believes teaching the homeless and vulnerable is become ever more important with the new Welfare Reform Act looming. He says “The Act will require people on benefits to have competent I.T. skills and computer access. We’re keen that our learners feel empowered to assist others in similar situations. Support groups will be needed to assist people through these legislative changes and we hope that former learners will feel confident in engaging with these groups as support tutors.”
At the suggestion of Citizens Online, the group visited St Austell Library where they learned how to source and use research materials. Those that were not already library members signed up in order to capitalise on these opportunities.
Feedback from some of the learners shows that they recognise the importance of gaining I.T. skills and just how much they value their new-found confidence:
“I feel that there will come a time when computer skills are going to be needed more and more. I enjoyed doing all the different things that can be done on the computer [and now] feel more comfortable going on the Internet and using email.”
“I tried to get a poem published in a magazine and I had to use my email address when submitting the poem. I had great fun doing it and feel more comfortable using the Internet now.”