Giving the gift of digital skills 

Giving the gift of digital skills - The Giving Shop

Penzance is the most westerly major town in Cornwall. Like many other places, it has suffered over past decades from economic decline and as such unemployment levels are relatively high leading to significant levels of poverty.

‘The Giving Shop’ was established to help those in poverty in the Penzance area during Christmas 2012. The concept was initially founded by Churches Together in Cornwall Missioner David Smith who recognised a need to bring the nativity scene, and the Christmas story, from the church into the heart of the community. A venue was needed, and discussions with the Wharfside Shopping Centre identified that there would be a vacant shop available over the Christmas period. This soon evolved to become the basis for the Giving Shop, with the premises being provided rent free for the period 26th November - 24th December, the original timescale for the project.

The Giving Shop provided a place for people to visit and donate gifts or make financial donations that would be distributed to a number of local charitable projects. Managed by local grouping Churches Together in Penzance Area (CTIPA), 80 volunteers were mobilised to run the shop and by what was expected to be the last day, 24th December 2012, 3,497 gifts had been given with over £2,000 in donations.

The success achieved during that initial 4 week period means that, more than a year on, the Giving Shop is still open for business. In addition to managing and distributing charitable donations the shop also hosts the Kernow Credit Union and acts as a hub for a number of different activities including knitting and crafts.

This also includes a computer internet café which provides computer lessons to older members of the community, also know as ‘Silver Surfers’. The sessions were inspired by a ‘Beginners’ IT course’ that was organised by Get IT Together’s Jay Chapman at St John the Baptist Church in Penzance.

Jay says: "David Smith approached me in early 2012 as there were several members of the church congregation who were keen to learn how to access the Internet but there was no suitable training provision available to them locally. David managed the process of getting broadband installed at the church hall and we then organised a five week training course in beginner’s IT. It was a great group to work with, everyone was really keen to learn how to get online safely, and how to make the most of what the Internet has to offer’.

At the end of the course it was clear that the group was motivated to continue their learning, and there was also interest from other members of the local community who wanted to develop their IT skills. ‘Whilst we weren’t able to organise further training straight away, as the Giving Shop became on ongoing project it was clear that this could be the perfect venue for more computer courses.', says David. 'Its location in the heart of the town’s shopping centre means that it is more accessible and also more inviting for those that may not normally be inclined to attend a church venue.

Jay was able to signpost CTIPA to a funding opportunity managed by Cornwall Community Foundation, and a successful application led to the purchase of laptops to support the computer sessions. The Superfast Cornwall Volunteer Network manager, Gavin Bolton, worked with David also to help identify and support volunteers to run the computer sessions. Demand has proven to be so high that the computer sessions are now being held three mornings a week, with the training continuing to be provided by local volunteers.

David summarises: ‘Having access to the Internet is becoming ever more important, and it’s essential that we support those members of our community who have yet to develop online skills. The Giving Shop operates on the basis of partnership and volunteer support, so working with Jay and the Superfast Cornwall programme has been a natural process for us that enabled us to access equipment and expertise to continue providing this important training. Many of the Silver Surfers find that because the learning process is carried out at a pace they can cope with, in a friendly sympathetic environment with the availability of tea and coffee, the learning occurs in a happy atmosphere and many friendships are also made. The fear factor of being a student again is dispelled’.

The innovative partnership approach between CTIPA and the Wharfside Shopping Centre was recognised when the Giving Shop was awarded Best Business Partnership at the Cornwall VSF Awards 2013. And the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby also praised the shop during a visit in November 2013, agreeing that it is an ideal model that could be replicated elsewhere in the Country.

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