Online Centres Foundation wins bid to run UK online centres

This is one of the best days of my career, so I want to share some exciting news. In June this year, the Skills Funding Agency launched a tender process for the management of the UK online centres network currently managed by Ufi/learndirect.

The UK online centres team set up a new organisation called Online Centres Foundation to bid for this contract and we’re delighted to announce that we’ve been successful in our bid. Online Centres Foundation is a social enterprise and staff-owned mutual and will take over the management of UK online centres from 1 December 2011. I’m really proud that the team’s expertise and experience has been recognised through the process led by the Skills Funding Agency.

This is a very positive time for us and I’m keen to share our new vision and all our new ideas with you soon, so watch this space. We will continue to have a strong emphasis on partnership and we’re keen to hear about your ideas.

Thank you to all our partners including community partners and centres, as well as individuals and national partners, so many of you have helped us to get this far – sorry that there’s too many  people and organisations to mention here.

The future is definitely looking very shiney although we know that hard work and collaboration is required to keep it that way. We look forward to working with you.


How Vicky gave her hour for Go ON Sheffield

At the start of Go ON Sheffield week, I was intending to give an hour to show people how to get online, but I’ve ended up giving a few more as it’s proved to be a hugely enjoyable and rewarding thing to do. It’s been fantastic actually sitting down with people to show them a few things about the internet, but the best thing about the week has been finding out why people want to get on the internet. The answers are as varied as the people are and every time led to an interesting conversation about how the internet could enhance what people already do in their lives, rather than being a pointless time-waster as some seem to think.

Over the course of this week I’ve met Jimmy who wanted to be able to email his son in Australia, Felicity who wanted to be able to use a computer so she could start a distance learning course (an easier option for her due to her limited mobility), and an artist who wanted to eventually be able to build her own website to showcase her art.

Today I spent a couple of hours at Wetherspoon in Sheffield city centre. Although the session is run regularly every Friday morning by staff from UK online centres, this week seemed to be especially busy with some of the regulars bringing their friends along to have a go, as well as a few who had heard about the Go ON Sheffield event and wanted to find out more about taking their first steps online.


I sat with Myra who, after a few weeks of attending these sessions, can now quite happily email her daughters and search for missed episodes of her favourite TV programmes. Looking for something different to show her, we got topical and after searching for Christmas presents online we ended up looking at online photos of the Remembrance Day March which she attends every year. Myra even spotted someone she knows in one of the photos!

The one thing all the learners I met had in common was that they wanted to know how they could carry on learning more after the taster session was over. Even those who had initially seemed doubtful that the internet had anything to offer them were reluctant to leave by the end without finding out where their nearest regular sessions were. I have a funny feeling that the centres of Sheffield will be very busy over the next few months. 

How Sarah gave her hour at Go ON Sheffield

I’ve had a really exciting week helping out at Go ON Sheffield events for Get online week. I’ve met lots of interesting people that have taken the first step in giving the internet a go and those with internet experience who have been giving an hour to help others get online.

My week started off at Firstpoint in Sheffield, the one-stop shop for council services.  I spoke to lots of people about the benefits of being online and demonstrated how the internet could help them.  Lots of people were interested in the Plusnet offer of 50 free broadband packages for Sheffield residents and signed up whilst waiting to deal with their housing queries. You can find out more abot this here.

On Tuesday, I visited Castle Market where I met a really inspirational Digital Champion from Plusnet.  JoJo is Plusnet’s social media guru and was really keen to share her experience of the internet with others.  She spent her time wandering around the market, speaking to stall holders and the general public and discussing with them how the internet could help them.  Lots of people agreed to go along to our Go ON Sheffield events as a result.

I spent some time researching Vitamin B12 with 90-something Jeff who was keen to improve his diet after taking his doctor’s advice.  I showed him how to use the mouse and we use Google to find the information he needed.  Jeff thought he was too old to learn but we soon tackled that and he took one of our leaflets to encourage his friends from sequence dancing to give it a go too.  After our session I directed Jeff to the fishmongers stall so he could purchase some salmon (rich in vitamin B12) for tea!


Today I had the chance to help out at the flagship event at Sheffield Town Hall. I met Mr Gul who was an ex-serviceman for the Royal Air Force.  I loved listening to his stories about all the countries he’d travelled to – he’s certainly had an exciting life!  Mr Gul was keen to learn more about using the keyboard, and wanted to learn what all the buttons do and how he could increase his speed when typing.  We worked through the Online basics keyboard course and then did some practice typing.  Mr Gul is an active member of Sheffield pensioners’ group 50plus, and is keen to raise current issues across the city for his fellow pensioners.  He’s now going to set up an email account so he can keep in touch with his old colleagues and email his queries to the council!  He went away very happy with his session, wishing me a Merry Christmas! Arghhhh, a reminder that there isn’t long to go now until Christmas Day!

How Chris gave his hour at Go ON Sheffield

Well we’re only three days into Get online week but what a week it’s been already!

After stopping by several events over just a couple of days I feel like I’ve managed to get a pretty broad insight into the diverse ways the internet can have an impact on the life of someone who doesn’t  yet take it for granted. It’s also been great to see how important Digital Champion volunteers are in making sure the digitally excluded don’t continue to miss out.

My week started at the Sheffield Pensions Action Group (SPAG) where Go ON Sheffield volunteers from Heeley Development Trust and Sheffield Hallam University were working with older members of the community to give them a taste of life online.

Here I managed to have a chat with Jackie, the SPAG secretary who told me how great it would be for her to be able to speak easily and cheaply to various siblings around the world, especially as some of them were struggling with ill health. Although much of Jackie’s family has spread out from their home town of Sheffield they are clearly still very close and it was lovely to see how excited Jackie was at the prospect of getting to grips with something like Skype.

From SPAG it was off to a stall in Sheffield’s Castle Market. A volunteer here, from the Broadband provider Plusnet proved to me how a generation that has grown up with the internet is essential in making sure that the previous generation don’t get left behind. Joanne had managed to make a real difference to her mother’s life by inspiring her to get online, and after a year of encouragement and support she has gone from a complete web sceptic to tracing their family history back almost three centuries online, and has even got in touch with a distant branch of her family who were able to share photos of her own great-grandfather.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to visit an intergenerational session at King Ecgberts School in Totley, in the south of Sheffield.  It’s in a more affluent area of the city, where you might assume more people were online, but the hard work of local councillor Keith Hill and Charlotte, who works at the school, soon turned up a group of locals who were absolutely missing out.


The school had invited residents of local sheltered accommodation to sit with A-level students who had never known a world without the web. This opportunity to share their expertise with an older generation brought out the very best of the students who without exception were enthusiastic and patient. It was wonderful to see them realise that because the internet is so integral to their own lives, they could make a huge difference to someone else’s by helping them take their first steps online.




How Greg spent his hour for Go ON Sheffield

This week I’m sharing my blog with the team at UK online centres, so you can read what they’re getting up to during Go ON Sheffield. Today, Greg – our Training Delivery Officer –  tells us what he’s been up to today during Go ON Sheffield. 


“I was really excited to a part of Go ON Sheffield because I have spent the last 6 years living in Sheffield and it is great to be able to give something back to the city which has given me so much!

“My day started off very busily, as my first task was to make sure two of our events at Castle Market and the Firstpoint both had laptops with dongles so they could deliver taster sessions to people who wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to get online.

“Once Neil from Heeley Development Trust had arrived at Castle Market and I had got some laptops up and running, ready to be used, I headed over to the other side of Town to Firstpoint, Sheffield Council’s ‘one stop shop’,  where I met (another) Neil, a volunteer from Plusnet. Before I was even able to get the laptop set I was approach by Mohammed. Mohammed is originally from Algeria, and he was really interested to find out more about internet safety. He was specifically interested in this as he’d had a bit of a bad experience before, previously having opened up some spam email which resulted in his computer being infected by (in his own words) ‘pesty’ Spyware!


“I showed Mohammed around the Go ON website and he was really keen to start learning. We got him registered for Online basics and he got part the way through the internet safety module before he had to rush off for another appointment.  Luckily, we were able to use the centre search on Go ON to find a UK online centre near to him – and he couldn’t believe his luck when we found a centre in Gleadless just 0.1 miles away.  It turns out Mohammed has been walking past the centre every day without knowing that he could go there to find some help. He’s promised to pop in over the next few days to find out more.  

“After an exhaustingly satisfying day, it was fantastic and a real privilege to be part of the starting point in someone’s life-changing internet learning journey. I’m sure that with the help of Gleadless UK online centre, Mohammed will be able to surf the web safely, and have a great time doing so in no time at all!