A social enterprise set up to tackle digital exclusion in Blaenau Gwent by providing IT support to local businesses and residents is branching out into helping the next generation cope with future challenges.
SWITCH.uk.com, which is based at Llanhilleth Miners’ Institute, has been able to expand to a more educational role with local schools – thanks to awards of more than £36,000 from the EU-funded South East Wales Community Economic Development (SEWCED) programme towards the creation of two new posts.
Supported by the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government and run by a six-Valleys local authorities’ consortium of Merthyr Tydfil, Bridgend, Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly, Rhondda Cynon Taf and Torfaen, SEWCED has invested £7.3m in 106 social enterprises since it began in 2010, helping to create 22 social enterprises and 110 full-time jobs.
SWITCH was founded in 2009 to offer low-cost IT technical support to community members, SMEs and third sector organisations across South Wales and recently expanded into working on innovative school computer projects. The business also recently began offering professional graphic design services.
Pupils at Abertillery School took part in a project in which they were taught how to code, design, manufacture and market a toy using computers, following which they went head-to-head in a Dragons’ Den-style competition.
And in an initiative funded by Communities First, sessions were run in local community centres where Key Stage 2 and 3 children learned how to code and design a basic computer game and character using programming language Scratch.
“SWITCH is now carrying out a more educational position within the community, engaging younger members in coding classes that combine technological and design knowledge,” said Graphic Designer and Marketing Officer Madalen Dixon.
“Both projects were a huge success, and the sessions would often run well over as the kids just didn’t want to leave!”
SWITCH has had three awards from SEWCED, including contributions of almost £30,000 towards funding of the IT project manager’s role over two years, and £7,000 towards funding Madalen’s post, IT equipment and marketing materials.
The business is planning to further expand by employing another two members of staff in the new year.
“The SEWCED funding has helped create two posts which are now helping to make us self-sustaining,” Madalen added. “It’s a very exciting time for SWITCH. We’re in our fifth year of business and entering a period of growth.
“We are trying to prepare the next generation in Blaenau Gwent for the challenges that IT will present in the future, while continuing to offer support to remaining community members.”
Article submitted by South East Wales Community Economic Development.