Same aim, different place – my time with the Be Connected Network

Our Network Development Manager Jonathan Bradwell recounts his experiences working with the Be Connected Network in Australia for five weeks.

Working at Good Things Foundation comes with amazing opportunities. Highlights so far include a cultural lunch at Wai Yin Society, an Online Centre in Manchester, to help shape the way we communicate with the Network. But none more unexpected than finding out I’d be spending five weeks with my colleagues in our Sydney office. With the support of my wife Samantha I packed my suitcase and embarked on this once in a lifetime opportunity.

Twenty four hours later I was at my apartment in Surry Hills. Opting for sleep to avoid jet lag, it wasn’t until the following day that I got to experience the city. It was clear from the variety of cuisines available how culturally rich Sydney is. Sushi, Chinese dishes, Australian classics and much more are all readily available, and the hospitality culture is second to none (as is the wildlife roaming freely around the urban park areas).

After a weekend spent adjusting to the timezone and heat, I headed to The Hub, a co-working space in Darlinghurst. I received a warm welcome from the team, and it instantly felt like Good Things Foundation. Within a few days I’d already spoken to some amazing Network Partners who were supporting older Australians to get online, echoing some challenges our Network in the UK are facing.

The Be Connected Network stretches all the way across Australia, including a number of Network Partners in Tasmania. There are currently over 2,000 members who are all committed to supporting people over the age of 50 to learn the benefits of life online. Partners are as varied as they are in the Online Centres Network, including libraries, community centres, and organisations like the popular Men’s Sheds, and all organisations are entitled to apply for an Activation Grant of $2,000 to help them get the program up and running. From there, more funding opportunities open up as part of the $20 million grants program from the Australian Government.

Although at opposite ends of the world, both Networks are supported by Good Things Foundation, meaning there’s quite a few similarities. In the UK, the Online Centres Network is made up of all shapes and sizes of organisations. It’s the same in Australia too, from ‘one man band’ volunteers to larger more corporate organisations, the Network is extremely varied. The passion these organisations have for helping people overcome barriers to being online is also identical.

However, the most apparent difference to me was the considerations the team has to make when supporting a Network spread out across such a large country. As Sydney is based on the east coast, you can’t really call Network Partners on the west coast until at least midday, as they’re three hours behind. That’s something you need to keep in mind on a daily basis when making outbound calls. Also, some Network Partners are in such remote locations it’s highly unlikely that the team would visit them. One example would be ‘MacDonnell Regional Council – Docker River’, based in Kaltukatjara, Northern Territory. Even by plane, it takes around five hours to travel the full length of Australia.

In my second week, I went along with Cassandra, National Partnerships Manager, to visit the Ethnic Communities Council New South Wales. This organisation, based in Waterloo, is one of thirty-seven Be Connected Capacity Builders. That means they’re funded to support other organisations to provide digital skills provision. I had the pleasure of meeting Mariette, their project manager, who told me they’d helped over 200 learners. What was even more impressive was that these learners speak up to ten different languages. To be able to provide this type of support they have Digital Mentors who speak the native languages of the people in the communities they reach.

Before I knew it the time had come to head back home. I had a fantastic time at Good Things Foundation Australia speaking with and visiting many organisations. One of the main aims of my trip was to share the experience I’ve gleaned from working with the Network in the UK. The important thing now is to ensure that all of the nuggets of best practice I’ve learned from the team in Sydney are shared with my colleagues back home.

It’s goodbye for now, but I’ve every intention of visiting this spectacular part of the world again sometime soon. I’m enthusiastic about the future of the Be Connected Network in Australia – with such a dedicated team in Sydney and so many fantastic Network Partners like Mariette, the Australian branch of Good Things Foundation is bound to go from strength to strength.

A profile photo of John smiling

Jonathan Bradwell

Network Development Manager

Jonathan has the pleasure of talking with Online Centres on a regular basis to understand how we can support them better, as well as speaking to those who are interested in joining the Network. He's regularly out and about talking about the benefits of joining our big club.