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The RSA is proud to support A Year of People Doing and Making; an innovative partnership between three organisations that tackles issues relating to education, mental health, and the future of the work. It’s a testimony to the power of networks and a more collaborative way of working fit for the 21st century. The story below outlines how it came to fruition, and why being an RSA Fellow can be a catalyst for real change.

Karen Scott first met Zoe Tipler - a digital storyteller from agency Muddle Up - at an RSA Ideas event back in 2016. They were both there to pitch their respective ideas to the group, but after talking, found there was a natural synergy between their skills, values and current projects. 

One-time software developer, Karen had been working in further education and apprenticeships for the past 25 years. She started her social enterprise futureCodersSE after realising that young people who left full-time education without plans to go to university, were finding it very difficult to get into the software industry. 

“This is often because they lack experience, confidence and a network of contacts in the industry. After over 20 years of teaching some talented programmers, I decided to set up futureCodersSE to help students to gain that experience, confidence and a personal network. This can be much more effective when delivered outside the education setting.” 

The inability to develop sufficient software skills in an education environment not only affects the potential of individuals, it plays out in the national economic landscape - a fact that Karen is acutely aware of:  

“There’s a skills gap and it’s being filled by people from all over the world. We need more UK educated people going for those jobs in tech so that we can compete in the marketplace.” 

One of the biggest challenges Karen faced with futureCodersSE, was finding software programmers to work with her students. Programmers who could help on a voluntary basis were naturally short on time, but it was proving difficult to get funding to pay for someone permanent without proof of concept. She needed a project to showcase their abilities first. 

This is where the Fellowship collaboration came in. In Spring 2017 Karen got back in touch with Zoe, who brought in Laura Drysdale, Director of The Restoration Trust - a charity that works with heritage/arts and health/social care bodies to provide ‘culture therapy’ for people with mental health problems. The conversation led to the start a three way collaboration that would support the objectives of all parties involved. This was at least nine months after they first met, highlighting an important point about the nature of the network model of working - Just because it doesn’t happen quickly, doesn’t mean it won’t happen or isn’t worth pursuing. You have to be patient with differences in time/resources 

The result of their collaboration is A Year of Doing and Making – a digital report that features audio interviews with participants on Restoration Trust projects as well as staff and partners. Participants speak freely about what they enjoyed about the project and the impact that it has had on their lives. The audio files play throughout the report. 

Laura said we wanted our annual report to embody our values, so it is inclusive, accessible, and pleasurable.

The report was built by the budding developers at futureCodersSE - Anthony Funai and Jamie Knott, with some mentoring from Google volunteers. They have created a web-based, digital interface that makes use of browser-based programming and implements extensive photo galleries, audio playlists, video and evolving graphics. It gave the students an opportunity to work on a software project from start to finish, to take part in Agile project planning, team-based code development and review, and a variety of testing methods, including unit and regression testing. 

Muddle Up was the glue that linked The Restoration Trust’s content with the fledgling talent at futureCodersSE. 

“In constructing A Year of Doing and Making we sought to address participants’ concerns that so often people with a mental health diagnosis are not listened to. Audio interviews have ensured that people’s stories are told in the way that they want them to be. Their words have not been changed, or taken out of context.”

Muddle Up typically work with charities and NGOs with the goal of creating content that bridges the communications gap between donors and beneficiaries. In this case they were able to do it for two organisations in one. 

The Restoration Trust has projects at Stonehenge, Norfolk Record Office and Norwich Arts Centre that are co-produced with participants. It made sense that they describe their experience directly to the public and funders who support the charity’s work through the report. It suited their needs perfectly. 

The project also showed Karen what she would need from charities, companies and developers working with her students. 

“This isn’t just about software development, it’s about improving their professional skills. Good communication is key. It’s really part of the buy in that the people involved communicate with the students and ensure they have an understanding of the whole project right from the start. I’m looking for people that take a real interest in the students, who are willing to mentor them.”

Karen hopes to develop relationships with more companies open to taking on students. She is now piloting a model where companies are loaned student developers for three months and is aiming to grow this into a franchise model with students across the UK becoming part of the futureCodersSE community. 

Can you help?

  • Spread the word – share their report with your networks. 
  • Are you part of a company that could partner with futureCodersSE to try out their model – get in touch at karen@futureCoders.org.uk

 

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