Below is a blog by the team at Lairg and District Learning Centre, and their experience of theDigital Participation Charter Fund:

“It’s been a whirlwind of a year at Lairg and District Learning Centre, with our team of fantastic tutors delivering a huge range of community based learning opportunities – everything from patchwork to grow-your-own; from upcycling to job-searching. Our annual report took us all by surprise – over seventy students through the door a week, and more than a hundred different workshops and classes. Sheesh. We live in the least populated county of the UK- and so it is wonderful that so many people are coming to join in!

“We applied for the Charter Fund last year, keen not only to support our tutors with their own professional development but, vitally, to support those who attend our courses with basic digital skills. Of course, as a learning space, we offer beginner’s courses for those getting started with digital – but this project was different. We wanted to embed digital in all of our learning opportunities and we knew that to do that, we’d have to help our own team understand why basic digital skills are vital for everyone, and also to help tutors, many of whom struggle a wee bit with digital themselves. We wanted to support them to try things out in a supportive peer environment, to share their own learning and challenges, and to help them build their confidence and encourage them then to pass on that knowledge.

“We held a series of training days, with lunch thrown in (always a great motivator!). During these sessions, we talked about our own issues around digital- wee things like not knowing how to download apps, bigger issues such as security and privacy in our own Facebook use. Then we discussed the challenges in community teaching environments which aren’t necessarily obvious spaces for digital skills (gardening and upholstery, for instance) and about ways we could embed digital- using portable devices, for example and encouraging folk to use theirs when they come along. We also were creative around our thinking about what things might motivate people to get online for the first time- with suggestions such as Ravelry, Etsy and YouTube coming into their own. There was a lot of excitement as people shared their favourite websites, and we started to understand that showing our own favourites in class might just encourage someone else to give it a go.

“After the workshops, tutors then started handouts for those coming along to class – with online resource suggestions to compliment the skills they were sharing. Tutors also built in digital to the classes, making more of our fancy whiteboard. We’re also very chuffed that Lorna, our magic Plarn and Tarn tutor, set up a wee Facebook group thus enticing folk into having a go with digital; and Diane- our vibrant patchwork tutor- opened up learning to people unable to come in person by using appear.in .

“In all, we’ve supported 113 students with basic digital skills so far – but this number will steadily increase. Our plan is to continue adding digital into all that we do, and to continue upskilling our tutors and staff: the online world can offer so much to people if they know how to access it.”