3 December 2014, by Anne Blanchflower
What happens when you combine an enthusiastic bunch of techies, nine teenagers, four volunteers and three Lego Mindstorms? Total chaos, but lots of fun!
We invited a group of kids and a few volunteers from Youth Moves to spend the evening of November 13th in our Softwire West office, learning to programme Lego Mindstorms. This involved quite a bit of forethought and preparation on our part, but was very worthwhile.
Who are Youth Moves?
Youth Moves is an organisation that works with young people aged between 8 and 19 years old. Based at The Park Centre in Knowle West, over the past five years, they’ve worked with over 1,000 young people. They provide a range of services to support young people ranging from running youth clubs, providing a mentoring service, outreach programmes and a number of activity programmes.
What are Lego Mindstorms?
Lego Mindstorms are a series of Lego kits also containing software and hardware from which you build your own robot and programme it. The hardware comprises a programmable ‘brick’ computer to control the system, which communicates with the relevant software programme on a laptop via Bluetooth. We bought three of the Mindstorms 31313: EV3s, which come three interactive servo motors, a remote control and 3 sensors (colour, touch, and infrared).
How did we mix the two?
Thanks to a couple of the more technical amongst us, (who also built the Mindstorms), we downloaded the software onto three laptops and paired them all with a specific Mindstorm via Bluetooth. We nominated a couple of the more technical Softwire team members to design some tasks of increasing difficulty, culminating in a maze. This meant resorting to ‘old school’ paper, card, scissors and sellotape to lay out suitable mazes on the floor of our chill-out area.
We divided the nine teenagers from Youth Moves into teams of three and assigned them to a Mindstorm and a couple of Softwire mentors. We explained the basics of how the Mindstorm worked and what they needed to do for the first couple of tasks, then handed the Mindstorm and laptop over to them. We were amazed at how quickly they picked it up, given that they had little previous knowledge of coding or Mindstorms.
They sprinted through the first few tasks, which taught them how to make the robots turn left and right and how to use logic to make the Mindstorms sense different coloured card and react to it in a specific way. From there, we waited for all three teams to be ready and then held a race to see how fast they could get their Mindstorms around the mazes. All three mazes were identical.
It was a tense and exciting couple of minutes, but there could only be one winning team and they managed to pip the others to the post by a good few seconds! Naturally, after every race there must be a prize-giving ceremony, so the winning team was awarded with a very large tub of chocolates. All the kids participated really enthusiastically however, so we had to reward all of them with pizza, cup-cakes and donuts with some fresh fruit, vegetables and hummus to balance it out a bit!
The evening was a huge success for both Youth Moves and Softwire. For us, it was a pleasure to work with such an enthusiastic bunch. The Youth Moves volunteers and the kids thoroughly enjoyed the experience and were really appreciative. One of them was so impressed he thanked his Mum several times for letting him come, said he wanted to come and work here and persuaded his Mum to ask us about work experience when he reaches 15/16. Two of them even came up with an idea of how we could expand our outreach programme with Mindstorms – our own YouTube channel! Whilst that’s definitely given us something interesting to think about, in the short term we’re already thinking of repeating the evening, but with some even more challenging tasks next time!
14 November 2014, by Anne Blanchflower
As most of you will hopefully already know, Softwire is very active on the charity front. In addition to our main corporate fund-raising events such as Charity Saturday, and outreach programmes such as ICT Code Club, we also encourage employees to champion certain causes or events that are important to them or their local community.
On October 16th, a team from Softwire West took part in just such an event in Bristol; the Rotary Club’s Annual Brains of Bristol charity quiz night, in aid of the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB).
Who are the RNIB?
The RNIB supports everyone who is affected by sight loss, both the blind and the partially sighted. The Institute provides a wealth of different services from emotional support to practical advice, where possible enabling people to stay in work.
Who are the Rotary Club?
The Bristol Bridge Rotary Club that ran the event, was founded in March 2008 for people either living or working in the city centre to play a more active role in their local community. The club does this in a number of ways, from volunteering and fundraising through to networking and social activities. One of their annual fundraising events is the Brains of Bristol Annual Charity Quiz.
The Brains of Bristol!
This year’s quiz was held at The Kitchen on Silver Street in Bristol and hosted a number of teams of varying ages and occupations. Amongst these was the Softwire West team, appropriately named ‘Like software, but with an i’, comprising Anne Blanchflower, Conor O’Neill, Martin Thorn, Ellie Belcher, Dani Mew and Adam Nichols.
The quiz followed the usual format with a number of different rounds dedicated to specific categories from Science and Geography, to Literature and Music, interspersed with food and drinks. In addition to the quiz itself though, there were a number of extra games to play for ad hoc donations such as trying to balance a coin on a lemon in water. This sounds easy, but after several failed attempts and the loss of a number of 5p coins, we were compelled to give up!
Although we were defeated in this and a number of other ad-hoc games throughout the evening, it meant that we managed to raise/donate a total of approximately £120 for the RNIB. We were further rewarded for our efforts though by our surprising triumph in the quiz itself! (This may have something to do with Ellie’s epic, one-woman answering service for the literary round). Regardless of how we did, we’re very proud to be the ‘Brains of Bristol’, but even prouder to have taken part in such a worthy event.
16 September 2014, by Anne Blanchflower
On June 25th we celebrated the two-year anniversary of our Bristol office, by moving from the 4th floor of Colston Tower up to the 13th floor. Ric Hill, General Manager for Softwire West, opened the office in 2012 with 5 Softwire employees. By the beginning of 2014 however, it was clear that we were about to outgrow the half-a-floor we occupied in Colston Tower.
After visiting a number of options with our newly appointed Office Manager, Antonia Reynolds, Ric finally settled on the 13th floor of Colston Tower. We then set to work remodelling the space to reflect both the professional and playful sides of the Softwire West team.
A number of companies were invited to visit the new office space and to submit quotes for fitting out the 4,200 sq. ft. space. Following a considerable amount of deliberation however, we selected OEG Interiors, a local Bristol-based company. Their enthusiasm and vision was obvious from the start, and the resulting light, spacious, yet functional office with its relaxing chill-out area, is everything we had hoped it would be.
We’re already growing into our new office. From the 5 people we started with in 2012, we’ve quickly grown to over 20 and have several more signed up to join us this year! This growth was initially made possible by continuing to help out on projects run from the London office. Latterly however, Softwire West has become largely self-sustaining by taking on local projects for companies based in the South West and Wales.
We’re not just about business though. We’re also finding ways of giving back to the local community through our involvement in a number of local initiatives such as Home Start, Sefton Park Primary School’s Code Club, and Youth Moves. Aside from devoting our time to these causes this year, we also donated much of the furniture from our old office on the 4th floor. The call went out to charities across Bristol, and we had 4-5 different charities coming to get our stuff, including Youth Moves, before the remainder was taken by the Sofa Project.
We’re always on the lookout for how we can add value to the community, from providing top quality Developers to companies in the private and not-for-profit sectors, getting involved with local charities and sponsoring or speaking at local events such as Bristech. If you haven’t met us yet, we’re always happy to give people a guided tour of our new surroundings! For a taster of what our new abode looks like, here are a few photos to whet your palette!
4 August 2014, by Anne Blanchflower
Softwire is proud to announce that we are now sponsoring Bristech. Founded in 2013, Bristech provides a Meetup Group for like-minded people in Bristol to get together once a month for informative talks about new and innovative things in software development, followed by informal food, drinks and networking. Aimed at a technical audience, meetups were originally held at The Island in central Bristol. Thanks in part to Softwire’s sponsorship however, they have now relocated to the Engine Shed, next to Bristol Temple Meads station.
You can find more information about Bristech (and join) on their Meetup page: http://www.meetup.com/bristech/
28 July 2014, by Anne Blanchflower
In November 2013 we were successful in our application to be accepted onto the G-Cloud 4 Framework. Such a great achievement however, did not mean that we could just sit back and wait for business to roll in.
In February this year, the Crown Commercial Service published the tender documentation for the G-Cloud 5 Framework. Final submissions were due in April and the intention to award notification was issued at the beginning of May.
Once again it was good news for Softwire! On May 23rd, we received final notification that our application to be included on the latest G-Cloud Framework was successful. Existing and prospective clients can find us by searching on the CloudStore under Specialist Cloud Services (SCS).
What does this mean for existing and new public sector customers?
For existing customers with call-off contracts under G-Cloud 4, business will continue as usual on the G-Cloud 4 Framework until it expires in October this year. All call-off contracts with new governmental customers however, will be on the new G-Cloud 5 Framework.
What’s the difference between G-Cloud 4 and G-cloud 5?
The only real difference between G-Cloud 4 and G-Cloud 5 relates to minor changes in the Terms and Conditions of the Framework Agreement. The Framework will be ‘refreshed’ at regular intervals (every six to twelve months) in order to on-board new suppliers and services.
What’s the uptake from SMEs on G-Cloud 5?
According to the Government’s Digital Marketplace blog, the number of suppliers included on the Framework has increased by 10 percent. Of particular interest to us is the increase in the number of SMEs accepted on to the Framework. 92 percent of suppliers new to G-Cloud are SMEs. If you combine the total number suppliers on the CloudStore under G-Cloud 4 and G-Cloud 5, 88 percent are SMEs.
For Softwire, it means that we have the ability to continue working with existing clients in the public sector, such as Companies House. It will also enable us to tender for larger projects within the public sector going forwards.
14 January 2014, by Anne Blanchflower
We are thrilled to announce that as of November 2013, not only have we been accepted onto the G-Cloud 4 Framework, but we have also won our first piece of business through it! You can find us on G-Cloud under Softwire Technology Ltd where we are listed for the following services within Lot 4: Specialist Cloud Services (SCS):
- Bespoke Software Development
- Software Consultancy Services.
The G-Cloud procurement framework system, part of the Government Procurement Service (GPS), was developed to promote the adoption of cloud computing amongst government departments. A new framework is issued approximately every six months. When the new frameworks are released, potential suppliers to the government can apply to have their services included on G-Cloud. Buyers (Government departments) can then search the G-Cloud catalogue to find and place orders with suitable, accredited suppliers under standard terms and conditions, at agreed rates.
For more information on the G-Cloud service, please click here.
Being accepted onto the G-Cloud framework enables Softwire to participate in any tender process initiated by a government department that is relevant to one or more of our core competencies. It also enables Government departments, ‘buyers’, to engage with us directly on smaller pieces of work for which a full-blown tender process is not required.
It is hoped that G-Cloud, along with the Government’s aim to do more business with SMEs, will increase the amount of business between HMG and SMEs. Thus far, this would appear to be the case. Posting in a guest blog on the G-Cloud website, Stephen Allott, the Crown Representative for SMEs, confirmed that:
“as of the end of October 2013, 56% of total public sector spend by value through the G-Cloud framework had gone to SME suppliers”. 
At Softwire, we’ve already experienced the benefits of being on G-Cloud first hand, as we were subsequently approached by Companies House to perform a technical review of their architectural design. You can read the details here.
We are looking forward to doing more business through G-Cloud in 2014!