21 October 2015, by Jiang Yingxin
At Softwire, we’re committed to educational outreach because it’s important to give children from all backgrounds the same opportunities, particularly in the tech sector. So we’ve been pretty excited by Code Club Pro, a new opportunity to contribute really efficiently to how coding is taught in every UK school.
A new primary school curriculum introduced last year requires children to learn coding from the age of 5. But most teachers don’t know how to code, so Code Club (a non-profit organisation running coding clubs in schools) set up Code Club Pro to help fill that gap. Code Club Pro recruits volunteers with computing skills (that’s us!) and gives them the training and materials they need to deliver training sessions to teachers. Essentially they teach us how to teach teachers to teach computing. The volunteers then organise sessions with schools through Code Club Pro.
Our own Jamie Humphries championed the cause internally and encouraged people to get involved, successfully persuading a large number of the company to sign up as Code Club Pro trainers, starting them off on the process.
Our first session was in April at a primary school in Manor House. This was slightly intimidating; we were trying to teach a class full of experienced teachers, and teaching is after all what they do all day! A guy from the local authority showed up to see how it went, which didn’t help with the nerves either. But we shouldn’t have worried – everyone was really nice and seemed very engaged with the session, and we got lots of encouraging feedback.
One lady in particular said she’d been worried by how difficult and tiring this session might be, especially after a long day at work. She wasn’t very comfortable with technical ideas, but during the session was clearly taking things on board. Afterwards she came up to us and thanked us for making the topic less scary to her.
We realised that despite not being teachers ourselves, we could genuinely reach out to children by sharing with these teachers our expertise and, just as importantly, our enthusiasm for coding. We hope that some of that passion will be passed on to lots of children, many of whom would otherwise never have learned to code!
28 September 2015, by Zoe Cunningham
I’ve been volunteering with Ghanaian charity Ashanti Development for nearly 7 years. Ashanti Development was started when Martha Boadu came to England from Ghana. Her plan was to save money that she earned for working so that she could personally pay to install clean water into her home village of Gyetiase. She teamed up with her neighbour in London, Penny David and they quickly found that this was achievable. Luckily lots of people believe in this as a goal and so they raised the money and put in a piped water system.
Following on from this they continued to received grants and expanded their work to include building latrines, hygiene training, health and micro-credit and economic development. They also expanded geographically to help the villages surrounding Gyetiase. In 2013 Softwire sponsored the local village of Bonkron and we continue to provide support to them. (We just built a kindergarten.)
This year Penny asked me to become a Trustee of the charity. As a trustee, I attend board meetings and help make the executive decisions of the charity, to make sure that it is fulfilling its objectives and delivering as well as it possibly can. Like being a director of a private company, I am now (jointly with the other directors) responsible for ensuring that the charity is complying with the law and completing any necessary paperwork.
It’s early days for me, but I’m delighted to be able to contribute more to the charity, using skills that I have developed in my business career. As a trustee I do of course continue with all my other activities to support the charity – Softwire are going on a trip to visit Bonkron for the first time in January 2016.
14 July 2015, by Jiang Yingxin
We sponsor a village called Bonkron, in the Ashanti region of Ghana. This is done through a charity called Ashanti Development, which our MD Zoe has been volunteering with since 2009 and is now a trustee of. We’ve raised money for our village predominantly through regular Charity Saturdays, but also other exciting events such as our annual stand-up Comedy Night and our birthday party.
Last April, with an initial donation of £19,000, we provided latrines, sponsored hygiene training and started a £300 hardship fund to take care of the elderly and disabled.
With water and sanitation taken care of, this year we faced a choice: what to build next? We were quite keen on getting internet installed, to enable all kinds of support and improvements over Skype – healthcare, teaching English, even perhaps teaching coding? However this turned out to not be super easy and was held up while Ashanti Development talked to Vodafone.
We decided to start exploring other options. The village had been asking for a kindergarten ever since we first sponsored them. As our contact Penny at Ashanti Development explained,
“In Ashanti, the parents often work on their farms all day. There’s nowhere for the pre-school children to go – probably no building large enough to house them – and they are left to their own devices. They play outside and you often see very young children who are badly injured in consequence […] So all the villages want kindergartens and are happy to employ village women to look after them, and since the little children have the worst time (they are the last in line for food, clothes, anything) I think kindergartens are a good idea.”
So in early April we gave them the go-ahead to spend another £12k on building a kindergarten! They were really excited about this, and very quickly started work on it – they hoped to get sand, blocks and roofing done before the rainy season starts. We got running updates about the work, and the building isn’t looking too bad as you can see.
We also spent £250 on sending two people from the village to a bee-keeping course. They’ve built two hives, and were each given a hat and veil, a boiler suit and bee gloves, and a smoker.
We’re really excited by this opportunity to help a whole community. Penny from Ashanti Development recently remarked: “I’m told that Bonkron is changing in leaps and bounds and is even beginning to look a bit prosperous. It’s amazing the effect that sanitation has on health and energy supplies.”
Where in the UK £25,000 probably wouldn’t get you a Central London parking space for the year, out in Bonkron it has gone so far towards helping the prosperity of an entire community. It’s been great to watch the changes in Bonkron take place and we can’t wait to see how they progress, as we push towards introducing the internet and bringing more positive changes to their lives.
2 January 2015, by Chris Harris
We’ve set ourselves some goals for 2015 to try and make the world a better place. I’ve listed some below and I’ll let you know how we get on in a year’s time. If you have any other suggestions, please let us know – we’re always trying to improve our CSR efforts!
- We love what Tech City Stars are doing, and we got involved in their mock interview process in 2014. This year we want to help them to prepare their students for technical interviews too, so they can find more apprenticeships.
- We believe it’s important to make people aware of the opportunities available to them in the tech sector, so I have set us a goal of giving 200 young people a positive experience of the IT industry this year.
- Jamie has managed to get 28 of our developers signed up to be Code Club Pro trainers. His goal is for at least 13 of them to deliver a session in 2015.
- We’ll also be aiming to run a weekly code club session at a local school throughout the year.
- Now that we sponsor a village in Ghana (Bonkron) through Ashanti Development, we want to do loads for them, including providing beekeeping training and getting the internet installed.
- Our Charity Saturdays were a great success last year – this year we want to raise at least £25,000 through the scheme.
- Iain wants us to achieve the Payroll Giving Gold award. As part of this he hopes to persuade 10 employees to sign the Giving What We Can pledge.
Using our skills
- Alex has had some great experiences being on the board of trustees for various charities, and thereby providing them with invaluable technical advice, and wants to persuade at least one of his colleagues to do the same.
- We use open source software so much, we feel a duty to give something back. Tim wants 50% of our developers to have contributed to an open source project by this time next year.
- We’ve written a few small websites for charities – we’d like to make sure we do so again this year.
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.