Working in rural North Yorkshire

17 Aug 2016

Written by Tanya Cook, CEO, A1 Community Works Ltd

Teaching digital skills in a rural area can often be a bit of a challenge, but overcoming the obstacles can be a very rewarding experience. Tanya Cook is the CEO of A1 Community Works Ltd, delivering training in rural areas on a daily basis, and here she tells us why it's all worthwhile.

Tanya with our CEO Helen Milner and Rishi Sunak MP at the launch of our Doing Digital Inclusion: Rural Handbook last year


A1 Community Works is a charitable company in the north of North Yorkshire. Think “All Creatures Great and Small” - there are no cities, only market towns of varying sizes. Technically the City of York is outside of North Yorkshire and outside of our delivery area - just think more sheep than people.

At the moment we are between offices as we prepare to move to a lovely location called Crabtree Hall Business Centre. We will not be on a bus route and very few people will just drop in. But we believe this is a good move because as employment has increased we’ve found that delivery means taking our laptops, tablets and chromebooks out into the community and finding learners where they live, work and socialise.

There are problems using this model.

Despite what we're sometimes led to believe, broadband in rural areas is often neither super nor fast. We tried a collaboration with a community pub in a small village with free WiFi but if more than 2 machines connected to the signal the WiFi died. We still use pubs but make sure we test the WiFi first before we put a programme of workshops together.

The thing that has made a difference - a big difference - is MiFi and the ability to use a smartphone as a hotspot, accessing the internet using a 3G or 4G signal. That allows us to go places that would otherwise be inaccessible. But we still struggle in some areas as it is difficult to even get a phone signal.

We target hard-to-reach parts of the community. An example is the supported housing we visit every Wednesday. When we approached the scheme manager she thought there would be little interest. We arrived to start the first session with kit for people to use but we didn’t need it, as residents brought their own laptops, tablets and smartphones - some had all three! And all had questions about how to use their equipment. We find that often younger family members give relatives kit but struggle to show them how to use it. Now we just need to convince the Housing Association to install free WiFi in their communal lounge to make good outreach great.

So if you are working in a rural area:

  • Do try different approaches and venues, take the learning out into the community. Don’t wait for learners to find you.
  • Do build networks and get others to help you get the word out.
  • Don’t be frightened to try your outreach ideas out even if others don’t think they will work.
  • Sell yourself and the service and celebrate when people no longer need your help.
  • Challenge yourself to think outside the box and have fun!

A1 Community Works is a member of the UK online centres Specialist Rural Network and is our Specialist Rural Network Champion Centre.