A bus to nowhere sees many journeys

16 Dec 2014

Four hours. On a bus. Going to nowhere.

Probably not anyone’s idea of fun, and as it was my first centre visit, fun had been the last thing on my mind. I’d planned it all according to what I imagined would happen: very formal questions, taking notes, evidence gathering, reports and much more along the same vein.

Instead, what I saw was people - just people doing what they could, to play what part they could in aid of a cause they all believed in. It was the first thing I realised and the big lesson I took away: every movement that matters is built not by resources, strategies or means alone, but by people who simply choose to believe in a cause and play whatever part they can for it.

The event took place at social housing development in Leicester managed by housing provider Affinity Sutton. Cooke e-Learning - a UK online centre based in the city - brought together a whole host of partners to encourage tenants to stay healthy and get online. And all of this took place on a double-decker bus brought in for the occasion!

Coming away so inspired, I wanted to tell you a little bit about Cooke e-Learning, and like many of the best stories, the story of Cooke e-Learning can best be told through the stories of its people.

Hitesh: a man who has taught himself to speak six languages (including English, by doing it through online courses). After doing a basic online skills course he felt it was his duty to help other achieve the same. So he volunteered at the same centre he did his courses and is now a paid tutor helping over 500 people a year gain basic online skills and English. Although I only joined Good Things Foundation team this month, some of you might remember Hitesh’s story from this year’s Get Online Week campaign.

Then there’s the man who helped start a movement by donating a laptop to a village school in Arusha, Tanzania. A friend heard what he’d done. They had three laptops they weren't using… Others heard the story, and paid for free internet access for the school for a year, with plans for more computers and internet access. All this with no formal structure, or support. Why? “I couldn’t keep waiting for someone else to do it, without asking the same of myself.”

A lady who couldn’t read or write, even in her native tongue, Guajarati, only a year ago. She enrolled on an English My Way course. She completed that, a Basic Online Skills course, and is now a volunteer, tutoring both English and computer skills.

And an elderly lady whose boiler had been down for a week. She hadn't called anyone because she couldn't speak English. After she’d told Hitesh her story it took less than 15 minutes for him to report the fault and get an emergency appointment for someone to come out and fix the boiler. “We could have helped her with her language skills had we known.” Hitesh told me when it was all done. He offered her outreach English My Way lessons on the spot. She accepted.

All of these stories, Cooke e-Learning’s stories, were a timely reminder, and confirmation that what I’m doing, What WE’RE doing - what Good Things Foundation and the UK online centres network is doing - really matters, and makes a difference to people’s lives.

Best. Four hours. On a bus. Going to nowhere. EVER.