Bootle-based organisation is teaching digital skills to young people and is one of five groups competing in the North West for a potential £50,000 of National Lottery funding. Jennie Lewis reports.
Bootle-based children’s club that teaches digital skills to young people is bidding for a “game-changing” Lottery grant that could significantly boost its impact.
Little Sandbox, run by Helen Stephens, is one of five groups competing in the North West for a potential £50,000 of National Lottery funding in the People’s Projects competition.
The idea for Little Sandbox came about in 2014 when Helen, an experienced web-designer, identified a gap in technical learning for children and young people in Liverpool.
“The world is changing everyday with advances in technology,” says Helen, “but we’re still not great at arming children and young people with skills around digital and tech. It’s absurd.”
The right timing
Around the same time, changes were announced to the national curriculum that meant that children as young as five would be educated in computer programming.
At first, Helen thought she had missed the boat, then realised that the timing was ideal. Little Sandbox would supplement what children were learning at school and give those with a particular interest or talent in tech the opportunity to continue their learning and really develop their skills.
In September 2015, Helen was finally able to launch Little Sandbox running Saturday morning tech sessions with a few iPads, a couple of Chromebooks and the help of a small grant from BBC Children in Need.
A sense of belonging
Helen continues: “We were amazed by the response we got when we launched Little Sandbox and the amount of children with a passion for technology.
“We quickly found that as well as an opportunity to learn, Little Sandbox also offered an inclusive and nurturing environment for groups of children who don’t necessarily fit in at school because their interests are different.
“I feel incredibly proud that we have been able to provide a place where all the children who attend our clubs feel they belong.”
Since the club launched, some additional funding from the Liverpool One Foundation has allowed Helen to develop some of the activities at Little Sandbox, but there’s still a lot more she would like to achieve.
“The funding available from the National Lottery would be so important for Little Sandbox and would really help us to take the club to the next level.
“It would enable us to expand and improve activities for the children and develop workbooks to formalise learning. We’d also like to put in place an achievement system to help motivate young people to want to continue to learn as they get older.
“We’d also like to work with parents and adults – upskilling them so they can play a part in the advancement of their children.
“If we could achieve those things, there would be no stopping Little Sandbox and we’d have a blueprint to take into other cities.”
Helen’s ambition is for Little Sandbox to become a national initiative as she says there is a real need for better learning in tech.
The funding available from the Peoples Projects would provide a small allowance to pay existing and additional workshop leads but in the main would go towards new equipment, namely a laser cutter, interactive white board and 3D printer.
Helen adds: “Currently, Little Sandbox exists on the good will of our staff and our equipment has, by and large, been donated.
“This funding would make a real and lasting difference at Little Sandbox – it really would be game-changing.
“Children are the future and so is technology, Little Sandbox brings the two together.
“Digital skills are no longer optional – they are essential. Many of the jobs that we take for granted now will not exist in 20 years. We are now entering a new industrial age.
“Kids take to technology like a duck takes to water. We need to nurture that because when they come to enter the workplace they will be expected to quickly adapt to technological change and be able to innovate.
“We can’t predict what kind of technology will be around in 10 or 15 years but what we can do is prepare our young people for a future when constant change will be the norm.”
The Big Lottery Fund, ITV and The National Lottery have teamed up to give the public the chance to decide how £3 million of National Lottery funding will make a difference in their local area.
The three projects with the most public votes will receive grants of up to £50,000 to help them develop their work even further to improve the lives of people in their communities.
Dawn Austwick, Big Lottery Fund Chief Executive, said: “We are proud to support 12,000 projects every year that use the knowledge and ideas of local people to strengthen communities. The People’s Projects is a chance for you to decide how National Lottery funding can benefit your local community, so make sure you have your say on who you think should win.”
The People’s Projects is an opportunity to celebrate some of the incredible projects the Big Lottery Fund has supported over the past year. With 95 shortlisted across the UK, the public can now decide which groups should win up to £50,000 develop their project further.
Voting closes at noon on Monday 3 April 2017. People can vote once per region and will need an email address to vote*.
To support Little Sandbox please visit www.thepeoplesprojects.org.uk
Since 2005, around £36m has been awarded through the Big Lottery Fund, National Lottery and ITV/STV partnership to 770 Good Causes across the UK.