And the winner is … DigiLocal

Huge thank you to Tech South West and category sponsors BoostCo for our award for Commitment to Diversity.

Our purpose is to give underrepresented young people the opportunity to discover and develop their digital talents.

All of our community based clubs start with … a lead community organisation. This ensures that we are genuinely addressing local needs, and not simply dropping in a ‘cookie cutter’ solution dreamt up in a focus group. Our communities are as diverse as the people within them and what works in one location may not work in another.

At the core of our clubs, and our whole purpose, are our young people. We want to support them on their journey of developing their problem solving skills and building resilience. That journey isn’t a single point of contact; we’re in it for the long haul. Most of our clubs start at age 8 years and some of our young people have been attending for over 4 years. We’ve even begun to place young people with paid internships.

Some of our young people are into developing narrative games and flourish with the BAFTA Young Games Designer competitions, others are more data-driven and excel in the NASA Space Apps Challenge.

As long as they are enjoying themselves and moving on to more challenging projects, we’ll keep finding cool challenges for them.

One of the major barriers for greater diversity in tech is the opportunity to access resources from home. Since the first COVID-19 lockdown we have worked with a wide range of partners to source, repurpose, and onward gift over 1,000 laptops to young people and families. This work is ongoing and represents a vital component of our support for underrepresented young people.

In parallel to the laptop repurposing, we launched DigiLocal Online and have hosted an online coding session every night of the week (and two sessions on Saturdays) since March 2020. Those sessions have provided a vital point of stability for some young people over the pandemic and will continue to support young people into the future.

As an organisation we also want to be a place that celebrates diversity, and everyone is present because of the value they bring to our mission.

Our trustees bring a range of vital knowledge, skills, and experiences to ensure that our clubs address the needs of young people from diverse communities, as well as the diverse industries they will eventually find themselves. Having a diverse Board of Trustees is vital to building a resilient and purposeful organisation and I’m grateful to all of them for their time, support, and critical friendship in building DigiLocal.

Beyond our Board of Trustees, we also host a Youth Advisory Board and a Community Advisory Board. These advisory boards report directly to the Board of Trustees and their suggestions shape our strategic business planning for the charity. Each advisory board is chaired by a named Trustee and has an open agenda to consider anything that may help DigiLocal better support underrepresented young people to discover and develop their digital talents.

We rely completely on our fantastic volunteer STEM mentors to deliver club sessions. Many are developers and engineers with companies in Bristol and around the UK, but all are committed to supporting young people and nurturing a passion for problem solving and working with tech.

In addition to the Commitment to Diversity Award, we are thrilled to have been the Bristol and Bath Cluster Winner as well. We work closely with the tech cluster champions such as TechSpark and many of the amazing firms in the region so it’s fantastic to be recognised by them specifically.

If you’d like to be part of our journey, please get in touch.

Thanks again to Tech South West and all involved in the awards and the tech scene in the region.

DigiLocal celebrates after receiving £10k from the National Lottery to support local young people developing their digital talents

DigiLocal is today celebrating after being awarded £10k in National Lottery funding to support its work with young people. The Bristol based charity will use the cash to expand it’s range of free clubs supporting young people in developing their digital talents.

DigiLocal has been running since 2015 and is staffed by nearly 40 volunteers. It was founded by John Bradford after talking to the Somali community about lack of provision in supporting their young people into the tech industry. Since then it has grown to 14 weekly clubs across the Bristol region.

Clubs provide safe, structured spaces for young people to develop their problem solving skills and build resilience. Each club is provided with access to laptops, project guides, admin support, and additional challenge opportunities. Volunteers are supported from local firms to mentor the young people and provide positive role models into tech careers.

For many years my daughter has used [DigiLocal] at her local youth centre and she enjoyed every moment of it. While other children opted for other activities she was more interested in coding. She is now set on being an architect when she’s older (she’s currently 9).

Mum, North Bristol

Charity CEO John Bradford commented “The COVID-19 pandemic forced all of our activities online. This funding allows us to expand our physical club provision. Our communities are key to giving more young people the opportunity to discover their digital talents and develop the problem solving skills that will be vital in their future career choices”

About Digilocal

DigiLocal® is an independent registered charity (Reg: 1185746) for the public benefit, to advance the education of young people in the UK from groups that are under-represented within the technology industry, in particular but not exclusively, by supporting free technology clubs. It supports communities to run free tech clubs for their young people. Its mission is to support a tech club for young people with every community in the UK that would like to provide one. The charity was founded in 2019, having previously operated as part of the High Tech Bristol and Bath CIC since 2015.

About The National Lottery Community Fund

We are the largest community funder in the UK – we’re proud to award money raised by National Lottery players to communities across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. National Lottery players raise £30 million each week for good causes throughout the UK. Since June 2004, we have made over 200,000 grants and awarded over £9 billion to projects that have benefited millions of people.  

We are passionate about funding great ideas that matter to communities and make a difference to people’s lives. At the heart of everything we do is the belief that when people are in the lead, communities thrive. Thanks to the support of National Lottery players, our funding is open to everyone. We’re privileged to be able to work with the smallest of local groups right up to UK-wide charities, enabling people and communities to bring their ambitions to life.

The Benefits of Coding for Children

We’re delighted to be featured in Twinkl’s recent blog – The Benefits of Coding for Children. Read the full article on their website with contributions from other leading organisations that are supporting young coders.

We also contributed to their Q&A, with the following contributions:

Why is it important for children to learn to code?

A good coder is able to take a complex problem, and clearly describe a solution. They learn how to break large impossibles into manageable challenges. When things don’t go as expected, they review those expectations against what actually happened, and devise how to reconcile the two. It is these core problem solving skills and internal resilience that learning to code can develop in young people. Those skills are vital to being a good coder, and almost any career today or tomorrow.

What interests you the most about coding that can encourage children to get involved?

Coding is about making stuff happen. So we build games and other cool stuff. We start with Scratch, which is drag’n’drop coding, and work up to python which is a full coding language.

Coding is also about expressing who you are as a person. So we encourage young people to take our projects and make them their own. That could be changing a few colours and sprites, through to imaging a whole new world to explore.

What are some benefits of coding that can improve a child’s development?

Coding requires good reading, comprehension, and functional maths. All our projects have companion guides to follow, so young people can learn at their own pace but have to read and follow instructions. Our guides are written for young people and explain concepts clearly, but use technical language so that it becomes familiar. Coding also encourages teamwork and idea sharing. Many challenges are simply too large for anyone to tackle alone, so forming a team is the only solution.

Check out their other educational resources on Coding here.

1001 laptops gifted to young people

It wasn’t until I did the final check and paperwork for the batch of laptops I was about to take to the Bristol Somali Resource Centre, that I realised we were about to deliver our 1000th laptop (and our 1001st) as part of the re-purposing activity that we launched in 2020!

No achievement like this is the result of any one individual. From a friend-of-a-friend connection back in July 2020, we were introduced to Cllr Cleo Lake and her initiative #GiveNTech. She had already secured a batch of laptops, and negotiated with the Avon Fire & Rescue Service to use their permanent Stations as public collection points. Vaughn Jenkins and the extended team at Avon Fire & Rescue have been amazing partners ever since; collecting, storing, transporting, and promoting the initiative.

Cleo was looking for a partner to help setup the laptops suitable for young people and that was where we joined in. Having run coding clubs for young people over the past 5 years, I like to think we have some experience of that topic.

We already had our own smaller initiative where we had loaned out our 30 club laptops to young people impacted by COVID and the digital divide. However, this was a slightly different operation, significant in that we were accepting public donations and onward gifting their ownership. We needed to make sure this was conducted in a legal manner.

One of our Patron’s at DigiLocal is Dr John Manley, at the time High Sheriff of Bristol. He was launching a new initiative of his own, Asking Bristol, to pair small charities with the wealth of experience across the city. We put a request together an received some fantastic advice and draft documents from Nick Williams (DAC Beachcroft). We’ve used those forms on all +1000 laptops that have gone out to ensure a proper legal chain of ownership.

The initial donation that Cleo secured was a fantastic start, but we knew from the outset the challenge was larger than any one donor could address. Since then we’ve received laptops from over 500 individual and corporate donors. The people of Bristol responded amazingly to the need of those in their city, with generosity and enthusiasm. In addition to the Fire Stations, we’ve had a fantastic engagement with a number of churches that have included laptop collections as part of their community response activities.

The business community has also rallied round the initiative. With strategic support from Business West and James Durie, several regional firms are now planning their IT refresh policies to include re-purposing through DigiLocal, rather then disposal.

We also knew that no one organisation is working with every young person suffering from digital poverty. Through the amazing community networks of Bristol, we’ve gifted laptops through over 40 charities and community partners across Bristol. Each one is directly connected to their immediate community and knows the individuals and families that are in need of digital equipment for their young people. This has allowed us to quickly and confidently distribute laptops.

Thank you for the beautifil(sic) precious laptop, its really helping me doing my home school.

Saad BS1

Perhaps unseen, but very much a vital part of the story are the nearly 40 volunteers that give their time over the past year to re-purpose the laptop for young people. Several were already volunteering for DigiLocal as Ambassadors for our coding clubs, but many were new to volunteering. They are still giving their time and I am personally hugely grateful to them.

Getting the word out is a vital part of this kind of operation and I’m no expert in media comms! Fortunately we started working with the team at Bristol 24/7 who ran several articles about the initiative. In January we picked up some interest from the BBC as part of their #MakeADifference campaign and that was my first real experience of what national media coverage can do! We quickly grew the number of repurposed laptops distributed to over 650!

The story isn’t over yet. Digital poverty didn’t start with COVID-19, and isn’t going to end in the summer ’21.

We still have communities and young people without home access to a laptop for their education. There are great plans for catch up tuition and provision, but they all rely on digital connectivity and access. Digital inclusion has been recognised by Bristol City Council as a strategic imperative within their One City Plan.

We’re still re-purposing laptops and onward gifting them through our community partners.

If you have a laptop that could be reused by a young people, please do consider our re-purposing. If your business is refreshing your IT provision and thinking about disposing of ‘old’ kit, please have a chat with us.

It really could transform a young person’s life opportunities.

Over £325k worth of laptops distributed to disadvantaged young people to tackle digital poverty

We passed a significant milestone with distributed over 650 laptops to disadvantaged young people in the Bristol region. This represents over £325,000 worth of donated equipment!

In response to young people in digital poverty, DigiLocal has been coordinating a laptop repurposing initiative. Laptops have been donated by members of the general public and businesses local to Bristol. DigiLocal then repurposes them by data cleansing and installing a new operating system and software. They are then gifted to disadvantaged young people by charities and social organisations working directly within key communities.

“My name is Sajid and my experience with the laptop has been great. It has helped me with my schoolwork a lot at home. It’s very fast and efficient and is easy to load websites on. Thank you very much.” Young person in Redcliffe

Charity CEO John Bradford commented “The COVID-19 pandemic has crystalised digital poverty as a widely recognised issue for young people across the UK. We were able to quickly address this in our region by working with key partners. The generosity of the Bristol public and businesses has been fantastic. We’re now building a sustainable system to ensure that no young person is excluded from education through lack of digital access.”

Digilocal has been operating in the West of England for the past five years, becoming a charity in 2019. It seeks to bring digital skills to the heart of communities, operating free to attend coding clubs for children within over 14 local community centres.  Since the outbreak of the pandemic, Digilocal has been hosting sessions online every weekday evening for children who want to learn coding skills.

This work was kindly supported in part by the Quartet Community Foundation.

Two young people from DigiLocal succeed at NASA International Space Apps Challenge

Since 2012 NASA have sponsored the annual International Space Apps Challenge. The event runs over a weekend in October where teams from across the globe address challenges set by NASA. They have unique access to NASA expertise and offers from selected Global Collaborators.

DigiLocal has taken part since we hosted 15 young people at the 2019 event, in partnership with the UWE Space Exploration Society.

This year the Challenge topic was ‘Take Action’. It was also the first fully online and virtual event because of the Coronavirus pandemic. This meant that while we would be co-hosting the Bristol event again with the UWE Space Exploration Society, we would also be participating with the rest of the UK (and global) participants.

The event is not run as a ‘young persons’ event. There were two challenges designed for younger participants but there was no age bracketing for the judges when considering the final submissions.

Everyone joined the Discord server on Friday evening on the 2 Oct and began swapping ideas for which challenges they’d like to take part in. As teams began to form we made sure that all our young people were able to engage and participate, offering occasional ‘translation’ services for the acronyms and technical terms being used.

At 9am on Saturday 3 Oct the event officially launched in the UK with a special live stream video with the NASA Global Organisers.

From then it was a near constant stream of activity from idea storming with online collaborative whiteboard tools, to setting up and testing cloud computing resources, to producing the final presentation packs used for the judging. Teams had access to some fantastic offers from the Global Collaborators that included free credits on Google Cloud Platform, Amazon Web Services, Azure, and IBM.

At 5pm on Sunday 4 Oct we had 4 teams from DigiLocal presenting their ideas to the Bristol judges. We were honoured this year to have Prof Chris Toomer and Dr Yaseen Zaidi from the University of the West of England. Dr John Bradford from DigiLocal was the third judge.

View of demo BioEnterprise App

Space Racers addressed the ‘Create a Mascot’ challenge with Gilda the Astronaut (coded in Scratch). A fun flamingo to introduce nebula, black holes, and other space phenomena! The Trapz built a game in roblox for the ‘Orbital Scrap Metal Game’ challenge. You were a stranded astronaut on Mars who had to clear a safe passage, and build new items, for an incoming rescue ship from Earth. Project Mars build a communications app to simulate the challenges of communicating with people on Mars, as part of the ‘Can you hear me now?’ challenge. This featured a variable time delay on messages so you could train how to react to situations, and experience the psychological challenges of a conversation with delays of between 4 and 24 minutes (depending on the positions of Earth and Mars).

BioEnterprise addressed the ‘Scanning for Lifeforms’ challenge. They proposed a game that would use satellite data to build a model of biodiversity change over time for different regions of the plant. They would then overlay this with business data to develop a model of how business actives impacted biodiversity. Players of the game would be able make business choices in a traditional business building game, but would see the predicted impact of those decisions on the biodiversity.

This would help inform them of how local decisions have global consequences.

Data was drawn from NOAA website and analysed in IBM DataPak, with visualisation using NASA’s own panopoly package. The plan was to work with the Watson Studio to develop the machine learning package but they ran out of time.

AerosOx were the fifth team from Bristol, comprising 2 post-grad researchers, a post-doc academic, an NHS Innovation Lead, and a business consultant. They tackled the ‘One Health Approach’ challenge by mapping air quality satellite data to prescribing for respiratory illnesses.

AerosOx and BioEnterprise were put forward for the Global Judging, with the final announcement in January 2021!

We wish both teams (but especially 13 yr old Thomas and 12 yr old Primrose from BioEnterprise) the very best of luck in the global judging.

Note:

Running a national, indeed an international, event online raises some serious safeguarding issues but in the months leading up to the event we discussed how to configure the Discord server so that we could provide young people with private and secure channels to use. We also ensured we had DBS cleared volunteers present and online throughout the event. A specific document was sent to all parents of potential young participants on how to configure the privacy setting on Discord. Finally, we issued a very clear Code of Conduct as part of the UK server that, while not specifically mentioning young people, made it very clear what was considered acceptable (and not acceptable) behaviour online.

DigiLocal @ St Pauls Carnival 2020

The global COVID-19 pandemic closed the street party, but couldn’t stop Carnival!

Since its beginnings back in 1968, St Pauls has grown in size and reputation to become one of Bristol’s biggest attractions. Crossing generations through a celebration of Afro Caribbean culture, it is an event where every float, every stage, every performer and every person tells a story – and that story is how music and dance and community can bring people together.

In the weeks leading up to Carnival we put out the invitation for young people to design their own dancers and floats for St Pauls Carnival 2020. Working with Elisabetta (our graphics intern from City of Bristol College) we developed some original templates and new backgrounds for the parade.

We had loads of great submissions and the final projects were played as part of the community films between the main music sets. It was great to see how different young people interpreted Carnival and included images and flags from their cultures. The young people also had great fun animating their dancers!

It was a fantastic experience working with the Carnival team and we’re really looking forward to an even bigger and better virtual component to next year’s St Pauls Carnival!

You can find our dedicated Scratch channel for the carnival with the project file.

The whole event was streamed live on twitch.

To make these movies available for everyone we’ve also saved them to our YouTube channel.

Bristol young people on the International Space Station!

Every year the European Space Agency, with the Raspberry Pi Foundation, sponsor a challenge for young people to write a short python programme to be run on the International Space Station (ISS).

Two specially hardened Raspberry Pi’s have been flown up to the ISS and are in orbit around the planet. The code that young people write is checked to make sure it runs, lasts for less than 30 seconds, and makes use of the various sensors on the Raspberry Pi. It is then sent to the ISS where it is run for the astronauts to see and learn from.

Between January and February BC (Before Coronavirus) we had 18 teams from DigiLocal clubs across the region taking part. They joined nearly 6,500 other teams from across the EU region.

Last year I printed out certificates and awarded them to young people at their clubs. Obviously we can’t do that this year, so I’ve emailed the parents with their child’s certificate.

Each certificate includes their name and their team name, and on the reverse an image of the Earth with the path of the ISS showing the exact location when their programme ran!

And, yes, I’ve checked and the maps are all different.

This year’s teams included:

  • Red Saints
  • Potato People
  • BACON
  • Gryffindor Hogwarts
  • Team Wilburtron mk9
  • epicspaceyesokcoolmeow
  • Space Smiley Face
  • Space Girls
  • Apples
  • yeetfest
  • Potato Squad
  • M&M’s
  • Time Stones
  • epic gamers
  • space
  • Cool Guys On Devices Engineering
  • Team Girls
  • Space Potatoes

Congratulations to everyone that took part and had their code on the International Space Station!

DigiLocal to deliver computers to disadvantaged children during pandemic with funding support from Quartet Coronavirus Response Fund

Digilocal, a Bristol charity charged with supporting young people in learning digital skills, has been awarded a £2,500 grant by the Quartet Coronavirus Response Fund. The grant will support its work to supply laptops to families within Bristol, so that children can have the digital equipment to engage in home learning. 

Rishita on her DigiLocal laptop

Digilocal has been operating in the West of England for the past five years, becoming a charity in 2019. It seeks to bring digital skills to the heart of communities, operating free to attend coding clubs for children within over 14 local community centres. The clubs are run by a team of volunteers, with equipment which is usually transported from site to site throughout the week. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, Digilocal has been lending its computers out to children across the region to use for home schooling. The charity has also been running sessions online every weekday evening for children who want to learn coding skills. 

Charity CEO John Bradford commented “Many of the young people who attend our clubs show enormous talent, and develop digital skills really quickly, but with the lock-down many of them have become digitally excluded, not just from our sessions but from the wide variety of online resources available. We instantly recognised the need to get computer equipment out to those households and we are delighted to have helped dozens of local children. We would love to do even more, it’s fantastic to have Quartet support this work.”

The laptop Digilocal provided to Rishita has made a significant contribution towards Rishita’s progress through Python coding and Scratch.’

Rishita’s father

The Quartet Coronavirus Response Fund grant programme aims to support local activities that are helping communities affected by the Coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak. It offers local charitable and community organisations emergency funding to support emerging challenges faced within local communities as a result of the continuing threat of Coronavirus.

About Digilocal

DigiLocal® is an independent registered charity (Reg: 1185746) for the public benefit, to advance the education of young people in the UK from groups that are under-represented within the technology industry, in particular but not exclusively, by supporting free technology clubs. It supports communities to run free tech clubs for their young people. Its mission is to support a tech club for young people with every community in the UK that would like to provide one. The charity was founded in 2019, having previously operated as part of the High Tech Bristol and Bath CIC since 2015.

Download .txt Press Release

Download image of Rishita

Fifteen young people reach new heights with NASA data!

Over the weekend of 19/20 October 2019, fifteen young people from 6 DigiLocal clubs took part in the NASA-led International Space Apps Challenge.

Since its inception in 2012, NASA’s International Space Apps Challenge has become the world’s largest global hackathon, engaging thousands of citizens across the globe to use NASA’s open data to build innovative solutions to challenges we face on Earth and in space.

Space Apps inspires local communities to come together, think intensely, and create solutions to important problems. Each year, Space Apps engages thousands of individuals in cities around the world to work with NASA’s open source data in a 48-hour sprint. Teams of technologists, scientists, designers, entrepreneurs, artists, and others collaborate to answer some of the most pressing challenges on Earth and in space.

A special thanks has to go to Alex (President, UWE Space Exploration Society) for welcoming us to the Student’s Union building and hosting some very excited young people (and a few very excited volunteer mentors)! It was a great honour for our young people to join the UWE students and industry participants in this 2-day challenge.

Our young people tackled the challenges of how to;

  • spot and communicate wild fires in remote parts of the globe,
  • get cheap internet to the remote oceans,
  • gamify the clearance of space junk,
  • gamify deep space data through a ‘build a solar system workshop’,
  • explain and demonstrate the issue of marine pollution from plastics, and
  • use NASA earth data to educate people about our planet!

In the true spirit of hackathons and codejams, 5 of our young people stayed over night and were still coding into the early hours of the morning! The last laptop was turned off around 4:30 am. I don’t think the parents that came in to mind the overnight portion were expecting such enthusiasm and staying power from their 10 year olds.

Sunday morning found the young people up and coding at the break of dawn. Those that hadn’t stayed overnight returned at 9am eager to catch up and complete their projects.

By the official close of the event (4pm Sunday, 20 Oct) we had a range of fantastic projects, accompanied by presentations and live demo’s!

Team Space Potatoes presenting their project

All the young people did exceptionally well and many were awarded their Green or Orange LINKS Award wristbands in recognition of their achievements. Green wristbands are awarded for exceptional performance on an individual project, and Orange is awarded for exceptional performance in a group project.

Two teams were put forward to the global judging, and two special awards were made locally. The first Special Commendation went to Team Space Potatoes (Dean, Jane, and Milly) “Create your dream solar system” in the Build a Planet challenge for their creativity and the original music score that they had composed to go with their game. The second went to Team Super Code (Zane) “Journey of the other kind” in the 1UP for NASA Earth challenge for his very confident presentation and knowledge about how he’d like to develop his game further.

Aarush (Team Ember) with his Certificate and some of their planning diagrams

The two nominated projects from Bristol for global judging were The Magic Music Box from Digital Bad, and Team Ember (Aarush, Alex, Ben, and Rishi) “Wildfire tracking in Indonesia” in the Spot that fire V2.0 challenge. With three young people from three different DigiLocal clubs, this was a great example of what can be achieved in a codejam environment.

Team Ember receiving their Orange LINKS Awards from DigiLocal CEO Dr John Bradford and Prof Chris Toomer (UWE, Judging panel)

Much of Saturday morning was spent planning how they would tackle the project and setting up their resources. Github and Discord were heavily used by all the teams, along with quite a bit of Stackoverflow!

Team Ember were also notable that they mostly used C# and php, two languages that aren’t part of the ‘normal’ projects we use at DigiLocal. Aarush and Rishi did exceptionally well to translate their python knowledge to these new languages in a remarkably short period of time.

Alongside the young people we had a fantastic team of 10 volunteers supporting everyone with advise and guidance. We also had parents invited for the presentations and awards ceremony.

It was a real honour to have been a small part in bringing this event together and we’re already planning for Space Apps Challenge 2020!