Sheffield Community Network (@sheffcomnetwork)

As I continue my exploration into the feasibility of returning some kind of public festival as part of Games Britannia in 2014 I approached the Sheffield Community Network with an expression of interest.

The SCN prospectus and website is clear about it’s objectives – “A new programme to promote active participation and increase employment opportunities in the knowledge economy by:

1. Establishing a series of Digital Media Centres and support to Social Enterprises.

2. Using funding to promote digital participation in order to enable and empower citizens.

3. Helping deprived communities and disadvantaged social and economic groups in Sheffield to access and use ICT.

4. Giving tools to start enterprises and generate new jobs.”

I hoped that proposing funds to be used to deliver workshops as part of a public festival would certainly tick points 2 and 3 and would hopefully inspire children to consider careers in the “knowledge economy” especially in games.

My initial expression of interest was met with a wall of silence, but after some further enquiries I spoke with length with Rob Walker (who was very friendly and forthcoming) at SCN who explained their position. Unfortunately, and contrary to the prospectus blurb the SCN funding that the project administers is solely designed to support and generate business and job growth across Sheffield. Whilst being supportive of any public festival and its aims it would not be able to support expenses of workshop providers or hire charges as I’d suggested.

It seems utterly ridiculous to me for SCN to state that using funding to promote digital participation and helping communities to access and use ICT as main objectives. it seems that the main objective is to create another layer of social enterprise and fragment further the funding delivery mechanisms that education has. Sheffield already has a plethora of venues with equipment that could be utilised to fulfil this remit without the waste of funding more businesses. We have City Learning Centres, Community Centres and Civic Centres that all could be handed funds in extend their remit. CLCs have been scrabbling around for cash for a couple of years now and do an excellent job supporting local schools and their communities. Sheffield’s own LoveBytes festival, though perhaps targeting the wrong type of community, has also had to scale-back its remit because of a lack of funding.

It seems daft to have a pot of funding, that gets reduced by the overheads of the administration of SCN (salaries, websites, marketing, etc.), is further reduced by the additional overheads of enforced “enterprise creation” (more salaries, websites, marketing, etc.). The pot left at the end to actually attain the objectives 2 and 3 from the mission statement is highly depleted.

Most “social enterprises” I have seen exist to generate cash from education. Cash that could be better spent directly. Of course there are some that buck the trend, but it would be great if government cut-out the middlemen and handed as much money as possible to those that make a difference. GB2012 did just that – it didn’t make a penny, the entire team gave their time, hard work and expertise for nothing (as did most of the educators and speakers), and the revenue was used directly to make the event as big and as effective as possible. Aside from the venue costs, it was delivered at just a few pounds per person – which was unbeatable value for money. SCN would be better handing the cash to schools, with the cash ring-fenced to pay the exorbitant training costs faced by education. It’ll do far more to empower children,create jobs and in future benefit all of us.

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