Connecting the dots - Get Online Week at Destinations@Saltburn

21 Oct 2014 |Written by James Richardson

The Tinder team like to visit as many centres as possible during Get Online Week, and I was lucky enough to get out to the seaside to visit Destinations@Saltburn, on the beautiful North Yorkshire coast.

Run by husband and wife team Paul and Sue Davies, Destinations is a fantastically welcoming centre, not least because you enter through a bustling community cafe, which helps to fund the centre’s wider activities. Heading back into the learning zone I found a hive of activity, with learners looking for work, learning how to use email, getting to grips with their own devices, or taking advantage of the free access offered by the centre. There are no restrictions on learners bringing food in from the cafe, and they can even order and be served without having to get up from their computer.

I spent a lot of time talking to Sue, who attends the centre regularly with small granddaughter Freya in tow, and joined local MP Tom Blenkinsop in presenting Online Basics certificates to fledgling learners Pauline and Lynne. I also met John, one of the centre’s Digital Champions and a certified counsellor and youth worker. As well as providing face-to-face advice and guidance to young local jobseekers, John has created a dedicated job site for Redcar and Cleveland, a ‘one stop shop’ featuring everything from interview tips to advice on cloud storage. Some of John’s learners drop in for help, but others are referred from the Jobcentre and other local services for young people in difficulties, and the emphasis is on deep, broad-spectrum support for those with little or no experience of how to promote themselves and get into the labour market.

Destinations has developed a powerful model for successfully engaging those who need help the most. It’s friendly and informal - and that makes a big difference for learners who have had negative experience of formal education and government bureaucracy. But it’s also well-connected, and with the remaining offline population increasingly socially excluded, hard to reach - and facing a range of obstacles to achievement - it’s essential that the UK online centres network integrates with other support services for adults in their area and across the UK. Establishing formal referral and signposting processes to ensure that local people get support tailored to their needs means that nobody slips through the net.

Paul wrote after my visit to say that none of their Get Online Week activities would have been possible without the support of Good Things Foundation. Which is very kind of him, and I like to think we’re doing all we can by working hard to advocate for centres with partners and stakeholders at a national level, and developing our Specialist Networks so that centres are able to offer even better tailored support to specific groups of learners.

But without the expertise, dedication and local knowledge of centres, Get Online Week would be a lot of hot air. Thanks to Destinations - and to all the centres who participated - for making it such a success.