Are there ways in which your church is using the internet to help those in your local community? At the recent Church and Society Conference in Motherwell, we heard about one such project, the Strutherhill Work and IT Community Help (SWITCH) project.
John Currie is one of the team of volunteers who helps run the SWITCH project on the church premises. Along with Rev Andrea Boyes, who has been minister of Chalmers Church in the Strutherhill area of Larkhall since January 2013, he presented to the workshop some of the details of what they have been doing.
On a very small budget (less than £500), using mostly second- hand equipment and a dedicated team of volunteers, the church has been providing free internet access to anybody in the community since April. In addition, as this is one of the poorest areas of the country, they have been running specific programmes aimed at helping people find work and tackling poverty by providing guidance on job searching. In this way they are helping people to comply with Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) requirements, and thus avoid benefit sanctions. (Those claiming Job Seekers Allowance are required to prove that they are actively searching online for work several times every week. Failing to comply can result in all benefits being stopped.)
Rev Boyes said: “Additionally, we have been able to provide assistance to many people in preparing CVs, and in filling in online job applications: to those unfamiliar with how to actually use the internet, these can be daunting challenges. To help in the longer term, we have also been offering training in the use of IT, so that people will be able to do things for themselves”
She continued: “Service users include people who have never used a computer, and some with literacy and numeracy problems, who of course require special assistance.”
SWITCH is open every Tuesday and Friday, with volunteers there to help. Every month they have about 60-70 visits by service users. Since the project started in April, at least 15 people have been helped into employment. There may be others, as the team suspects that some of the service users who have stopped coming are now working!
In addition to the Work Club which forms much of their focus, the volunteers at SWITCH also provide assistance in accessing online services (government and commercial), and also for accessing the best online deals for utilities and purchases.
As John puts it: “It’s a simple formula: Chalmers Church + Volunteers + Computers = Success!”
Do you think your church could do something similar to help people get online? Did you know that there are Scottish Government funds available to help with various aspects of this? Perhaps your church is already doing something similar in your area and is willing to share stories of successes and challenges? For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org