Wrapping up 2018 for Good Things Foundation

Tis the season to look back at the year we’ve had at Good Things Foundation. Earlier this month we celebrated our seventh birthday, and I’m so proud of our teams on both sides of the world. Seven feels like such a turning point, and what a good year we’ve had to show it.

Good Things Christmas

My Good Things UK colleagues cutting the annual birthday cake


Here are my top five of so many wonderful moments:

  • Celebrating English My Way’s successes

In February we usually host a smaller digital inclusion campaign – think of it as Get Online Week’s little sister – but this year we decided to do something a bit different and we hosted a campaign called Hip Hip Hooray for English My Way. This one focussed on our big social inclusion project which helps people who live in the UK and who can’t speak any English to learn to speak and read English and help them to integrate more into their local communities. The fab titled Hip Hip Hooray for English My Way campaign asked members of the Online Centres Network who are delivering English My Way to host parties and celebrate their learners’ successes, using a special party pack provided by us. There was bunting! I visited an event at Zest for Work in Sheffield and was blown away by the dedication of both the team running the course and the learners themselves and all of the food the people had brought along representing dozens of countries from around the world. It was an inspirational time.

  • Welcoming new faces to the Good Things Foundation family

This was a year of growth. We’ve expanded right across the digital and social inclusion sphere and that means we’ve welcomed lots of great new people into the Good Things family. And what a great bunch they are! I’m delighted by the enthusiasm and commitment they all have to our aim of a world where everyone can benefit from digital. Once again, to all the new people, we’re delighted to have you on board. To all of the not-so-new staff members at Good Things, you’re brilliant and fabulous, and passionate and committed too, thank you once again for another year of hard work.

  • Hitting 2,000 network partners in Australia

In 2017 we ventured out to Australia, establishing a new Australian subsidiary and winning a contract to run the Be Connected Network, supporting older Australians to use computers and the internet. There has been a crazy amount of hard work gone into getting everything set up, recruiting our team in Sydney, and persuading thousands of organisations to be part of the Be Connected Network. We had a target of 2,000 Network Partners and at the end of October, we did it! And of course, that number is still rising. What a huge achievement by the teams on both sides of the world. A big congratulations to everyone who made this happen and here’s to the hundreds of thousands of older people who will now be able to benefit from using the internet. Find out more about Good Things Australia here.

  • Get Online Week is 12 and goes global

This year may have seen the UK celebrating it’s 12th annual Get Online Week but it was very exciting that we also went global to bring the campaign to Australia as well. Not only were people being supported to #Try1Thing new online through 2,298 events in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but 768 events were also held across Australia by 570 community organisations to support people there too. Incredible achievements from both Good Things teams and all of the organisations that hosted events to support learners.

  • Awards, awards and more awards

We have been very lucky on the award front this year. Not only did we scoop a Women in IT Award, a Charity Times Award and a Connected Britain Award, in the last few weeks we won two awards at the Learning Technology Awards – the bronze for Best Blended Learning Product and our Learning Team won the gold for Team of the Year. The work that we do is very rewarding in itself but it’s been brilliant to receive this recognition. Congratulations to all.

On top of all of this, we had our amazing Digital Evolution conference; we continued to support people to learn digital skills through our FDI programme; we’re working on a brilliant project with DCMS to create a ‘Playbook’ for local digital skills provision (if you’d like to contribute, you can do so here); we ran a wonderful programme to support women to find their voice and participate in society and democracy, called Voicebox Cafes; we’re working on the local, as well as the global level, in Leeds, Salford, and Stockport; our NHS Widening Digital Participation project has been testing even more innovative approaches to tackling health inequalities in hyperlocal digital and human health systems with medical practitioners, CCGs, and Online Centres, and talking about our findings in the open on our digital-health-lab; of course we’re also working with partners in Kenya; and so much more. (No wonder we’re all looking forward to a rest this Christmas!)

We have continued to work with fabulous national partners who share our vision at Lloyds Banking Group, Mind, Homeless Link, TalkTalk, and Google, as well as new partners too.

And there are even more super exciting things in the wings that I can’t tell you about yet!!!

Thank you to everyone who has worked to make good things happen over the course of 2018.

I can’t wait to do it all again – and more – in 2019.

Digital. Social. Global.

Last week we hosted our Digital Evolution conference in the BT Centre. It was great to have tech evangelist and Desert Island Discs superstar, Professor Sue Black chairing the day. I have known Sue for a long time and knew she would be an exciting and engaging addition to our line-up. She did not disappoint. Sue, you did an excellent job chairing the day and we were so happy to have you there. Thank you.

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Me with Dr Sue Black and Victoria Rodney of the Mercy Foundation in London. Image courtesy of Victoria Rodney.

There were so many brilliant speakers who all set out to inspire the audience and share their experiences to bring new ideas and learning to the delegates.

A definite highlight of the day for me was meeting members of the Online Centres Network, as always. You might have been inspired by the speakers but you all inspire me. What you do every day, helping disadvantaged people to make the most of everything digital has to offer, to find work, to make new friends, to build their confidence … that’s just to name a few things, you are amazing and it was so brilliant to speak with you. If I didn’t manage to catch you on the day, I’m always happy to chat. Tweet me at @helenmilner.

Some delegates even came from as far as Australia, Belgium, and the Netherlands! The conference was called Digital. Social. Global after all, and it was great to welcome faces from afar. And it was great that Jess Wilson, our National Director in Good Things in Sydney was there and shared some stories and experiences from Australia.

For those who couldn’t make our conference, you can catch up on the different sessions below. I’m already looking forward to next year!

A big week for politics (and football)

I’m one of those people who listens every morning to the Today Programme (even when I’m in Australia), follows political commentators on Twitter, and who in general feels up to date with politics. However, this week it’s been hard to keep up both on the national level but also here in Good Things Foundation world.

A very French outing

At the end of last week, I sat on a panel at the Local Government Authority conference in Birmingham with three other people, including Debbie Brown, Transformation Director at Salford City Council – a key player in our Digital You project.

From Birmingham, I zoomed off to Paris to attend the France UK Digital Colloque, a meeting of the UK and French digital ministers where they agreed to join forces and share expertise on AI and research, working together to improve digital services, collaborating to develop tech talent. I sat on a panel with some very inspirational women in tech where we discussed inclusion and diversity. It was a great event and I appreciated being invited by Matt Hancock, though this ended up being my last outing with him as Digital Minister.

Digital Colloque

At the France UK Digital Colloque with Debbie Forster and Claire Calmejane

 

This leads me on to…

Following the resignation of some of the Conservative Cabinet the then Secretary of State for DCMS (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) Matt Hancock became the new Secretary of State for Health, with Jeremy Wright replacing him as SoS at DCMS.

Welcome to Mr Wright and I hope he gets the importance of driving digital inclusion and basic digital skills as much as his predecessor did. The team here at Good Things Foundation are very excited to develop our relationship and work together to help the country reach its digital potential.

And of course we’re keen to keep working with Matt Hancock – our work on Health and Digital/Social Inclusion is now in its second phase and we’re innovating with CCGs and others around the country – something I’m sure the new Secretary of State at Health will be interested in.

And finally…

I was one of those people who on Wednesday night sat on their sofa and shouted at the telly to encourage our football team. We were all a little blue in the Good Things Foundation office yesterday after England’s defeat to Croatia in the World Cup semi-final.

Luckily, we were holding a workshop in the office for the Online Centres who are delivering our Voicebox Cafes project – that’s giving women a voice in democracy – being run with Helen Jones MP, the Chair of Parliament’s Petitions Committee. This cheered everyone up, as we’re always happy to meet the amazing people who work in Online Centres and we were honoured to have Helen Jones in our offices working with us and the centres.

The workshop was going great… then it got even better when Sheffield Lord Mayor Magid Magid and comedian and actor Rufus Hound turned up with some ‘World Cup commiseration’ sweets to cheer everyone up on their Sheffield #SweetTweetTour. Magid even managed to come in and speak to the people in the workshop and meet Helen Jones.

Workshop

Magid meets Helen Jones MP

 

It was good fun and great to see members of the Green Party and the Labour Party getting along so well!

An interesting week in politics – which has moved onto the Donald Trump visit (which I won’t comment on here).

A slightly surreal rollercoaster of a week but one that ended with the Good Things Foundation team posing for a great photo with Magid and Rufus Hound, and eating Skittles and Haribo. What more could we ask for?

SweetTweet

An unexpected surprise

Becoming a Group: One Team, Two Offices

Pinch me. It’s all of a sudden become real for the whole team and our two Boards at Good Things that we’re a lively, committed Group of real people working hard to make a better world for excluded people in the UK and in Australia.

How did we get here?

Today Jess, our National Director in Australia, boarded a plane to head back to rejoin the team in Sydney. She followed Allison, Dur-E-Shahwar, and Robert, who had left at the weekend, and Greg, our Chair of Good Things Australia who left on Friday. They had all been in the UK to take part in a week of Good Things Foundation Group working, team building, and celebrations.

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A photo of Dur-E-Shahwar, Jess, Allison, Greg, and Robert, with me in our Sheffield office, shortly after they arrived last week

Last Thursday it was, coincidentally, exactly a year since we got the news from the Australian Government that we had won a big contract to establish, recruit, and support a pan-Australia digital inclusion network as part of their Be Connected programme. And wow what a year we’ve had! As well as helping 320,000 excluded people improve their lives in that year in England, and much, much more (see the Annual Review here) – we’ve set up a new office on the other side of the world, recruited a new team, and started our work with such energy and expertise that we’ve established a network of almost 1,400 hyperlocal partners in just 10 months.

The day after our first Group Board with both Jess and Greg in physical attendance, we had our first Group workshop – a morning of collaboration, joint planning, developing ideas, and importantly getting to know each other. The words I’ve heard from my colleagues since are words like pride, vision, enthusiasm, impact, and about not just knowing we’re a Group but feeling like a Group.

How did we do this?

We’ve reflected on this and something that comes through strongly is that we had a vision, we have clear values and we stay true to our core purpose, and then we just believed in one another (in the UK and in Australia) and used our energy, experience, and can-do attitude to make it happen.

This isn’t all about the UK experts exporting our knowledge and passions to another country, it’s about recruiting a great team in Australia and it’s about reflecting and listening and adapting and evolving for a new context. And doing this at pace.

It’s about having an amazing team of people who believe in the vision but who are also committed to collaboration and to working hard (very hard) for what they believe in, and in parallel to growing and doing amazing things in the UK at the same time. A colleague coined a great phrase for this last week “One Team, Two Offices”. Two offices on opposite sides of the world and in very difficult time zones (especially hard in the British winters!).

What else did I learn last week?

Being in the same room instead of being on Google Hangouts is different, is better sometimes, and now we’re a Group something we know we’ll be doing again.

I can’t wait to see what we get done between now and when we meet as a Group same time next year.

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Team selfie taken by Jess, our National Director of Good Things Australia and includes some of our great UK and Australian Team Members as well as our Group Chair, Liz Williams

It just keeps getting better

I recently visited our colleagues at Good Things Foundation Australia in Sydney, where you might know that we’ve also established a new network called Be Connected. Everyone over there is so enthusiastic about digital and social inclusion and part of the reason for that is seeing and hearing about our impact in the UK – and our latest annual report provides a great overview of the past 12 months.

It’s been a good year for Good Things Foundation

The title says it all – another year and another truckful of incredible achievements. From supporting 320,000 excluded people to improve their lives through digital, helping 7,700 people to learn English language skills through the English My Way programme, to training 5,888 Digital Champion volunteers, the list goes on and we really couldn’t have achieved it without our extensive list of partners big and small and, of course, the Online Centres Network.

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The 5,000-strong ‘big club’ continues to go from strength-to-strength and I just want to thank you for all your amazing work over the past year. You are a true inspiration to me, to the team, and to our Be Connected network in Australia, and you are important pillars of support to the people in your communities.

I’m so proud of this organisation and all of our amazing staff. I’m looking forward to continuing our work together over the next year and achieving even more great things.

Our annual report has much more in it, do have a read. It’s at https://annualreview.goodthingsfoundation.org/#its-been-a-good-year

Creating a supportive and more inclusive society

Civil society is defined as a community of citizens linked by common interests and collective activity. In February, the government launched a consultation to inform a new strategy setting out how it can work with and for civil society to tackle challenges and unlock opportunities to build a stronger society now and in the future.

We’re big advocates of civil society at Good Things Foundation, and together with the Online Centres Network, we have a keen interest in supporting people who are socially excluded to live fulfilling lives and to help strengthen the communities they live in. This means we’re keen to ensure that the new Civil Society strategy represents, and takes into account, the views of those who are ensuring its success.  

The inequality gap in the UK is huge, with 14 million people living in poverty, 9 million people lonely or isolated and 11.3 million lacking basic digital skills. Everyday staff and volunteers from Online Centres work to make sure those most in need can play a full role in society. With funding becoming more and more scarce, consistent support – from government and others – is vital.

Critically, any Civil Society Strategy needs to marry the huge benefits digital can provide, with the importance of community, and of face-to-face support, in building a strong civil society that benefits us all.

Our recommendations

We worked with Online Centres to develop a response to the Government’s consultation, which you can see in full here, along with a number of recommendations, which I’ve shared below.

DCMS, Good Things Foundation, charities and the tech sector should work in partnership to grow the understanding of the role of digital in driving impact across all social outcomes. This is not just about digital skills but also leadership. We should aim to deliver culture change, where digital is no longer a bolt-on but is understood and used as a core element of any public benefit delivery.

DCMS, central Government, local Government and businesses need to connect the power and the money with the voices that need to be heard, involving excluded people and hyperlocal organisations to co-design public services and public benefit solutions.

DCMS needs to understand that policy often undermines the efforts of civil society. Central Government rarely prioritises civil society when considering the key players who will help policy succeed. The Civil Society Strategy should commit DCMS to not just convening other Government Departments to ensure that core public benefit programmes succeed but also intervening where it is clear policies from other Departments are ignoring or negating the needs of civil society’s efforts to deliver public benefit.

DCMS and all partners should develop a Partnership Charter that all organisations working in partnership can commit to. The government could further develop the face-to-face and digital systems and structures which enable hyperlocal civil society organisations to connect and tackle problems together, through network organisations like Good Things Foundation and others.

The government, large funders, businesses and local authorities should work together to ensure we have a funding environment that can support a strong civil society. Funding isn’t always reaching the organisations, and the people, who really need it. Through a cross-sector working group, the government should work with large funders to ensure that funding actually reaches those who can use it for greatest benefit.

Civil society is a term that probably few people have heard of – after all it is a term popular with government ministers, academics, aid workers and the likes – but it’s so vital in ensuring we thrive as a nation. I really hope Government will consider our response in helping to shape a stronger civil society, working with partners like those in the Online Centres Network, to create a better world for everyone.

Love Good Things, Love Sheffield, Love Digital

This blog is written for anyone who loves digital (especially developers), for anyone who wants to do a job they love, for anyone who loves Sheffield (or loves the idea of Sheffield), and for anyone who is struggling to recruit developers.

I love living in Sheffield. It’s a proper city but it’s known as a village city – it has great theatres, great galleries, great pubs, and it’s only 10 minutes from the city centre to the Peak District. There’s so much going on, especially in the creative and digital space, and those working in this space are all so generous in passing on ideas and tips and linking you to the next person who might share your ideas and passions. House prices are cheaper than the South. (And I don’t work for the Sheffield Tourist Board!)

I love Good Things Foundation – we do such amazing work. Our vision is a world where everyone benefits from digital – and one of the best bits of working at Good Things is visiting the Online Centres and meeting the people who have been supported by our programmes – they may have now got a job, or said hello to a neighbour for the first time, or they are in contact with grandchildren far away, they always feel more in control of their lives, and as one man told me he “no longer feels like he’s at the bottom of pit of despair”. The hard lives people sometimes have get a bit easier – as they can now use the internet or speak English or manage their health – due to the work of Good Things and the Online Centres Network. And we’re now doing this in Australia and Kenya too. We’re mission led but we’re a staff led mutual and a great group of people – we support each other, we like each other, the team are incredibly talented, and we have great benefits, are family friendly, and have good holidays. All this and we’re also doing what we think is really exciting and interesting stuff with our technology stack! And we’re based in Sheffield.

So here’s the rub! We can’t always recruit developers. We have a Digital Team of nine people (plus one in Australia), and we’re growing. I know similar organisations to ours have a similar problem. It’s the pointy end of being a digital first charity based in the North I guess, but I’m sure it doesn’t have to be like this.

If you’re a developer and live in Sheffield or would like to live in Sheffield – at any level, with any set of skills – then we’d love to hear from you. We’d love to have a chat and a coffee and just see how you could fit into our growing team. Do get in touch, don’t be shy – if you’ve got 30 years experience or if you’re just about to graduate, really, we want to find great people with great digital skills who want to join us.

Check out our work and then email me helen@goodthingsfoundation.org and we’ll fix up a chat, and a chance to meet the team. Really you’ll love working for us and you’ll really love making great things happen.