Getting with the programme: Code Clubs and the digital challenge in Brent Libraries

Sarah Smith, Libraries Development Manager at Brent Libraries, tells us what the organisation is doing to offer more Code Clubs for local young people, and how her Code Club Regional Coordinator has helped her organisation take steps forward.

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Sarah Smith shares the success of Brent libraries with attendees at a recent London Code Club meetup

We launched our first Code Club in January 2016. It was a service we always wanted to get up and running, and the opportunity presented itself in autumn 2015. We got an offer from Neil Benn, a local Code Club volunteer and software engineer at a West London tech company.

Neil’s own journey into the world of computer programming began during his teens through writing simple “Hello, world”-style programs in languages such as BASIC and Pascal. This was also the time when the internet was just beginning to take shape, so he dabbled with making simple websites. He made the decisions to study Computer Science at university, and went on to have a rewarding career writing software for a range of different purposes.

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Fast-forward to the present day, where Neil’s passion for working with computers has led him to volunteer with Brent Libraries, running digital making workshops to offer new learning opportunities for local children in the community. He’s done amazing work with the young people in our Code Club sessions, and we certainly would not have achieved so much without him on board.

Our first Code Club started at Willesden Green Library in January 2016, and since then we have worked with dozens of children aged 7-11. We started with Scratch-based projects only, and have since progressed to a mixture of Scratch projects and BBC micro:bit projects.

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Each club session lasts one hour, and although the Code Club projects are structured, we encourage children to take them in whatever direction they choose and to display their creativity. A successful session is one after which the answer to “Did you enjoy today?” is a resounding “Yes!” from all the kids.

In July, we ran a Code Club training session for potential to recruit more people who want to help us offer weekly term-time Code Clubs in all six of our libraries. The session was delivered by Mickey Day, Code Club’s Regional Coordinator for London & East of England, who did a fantastic job and really made volunteering sound easy and doable. You don’t have to be somebody with the knowledge and skills of a young Steve Jobs!

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Around 26 people attended the volunteer training, which was a fantastic turnout. It was heartening to see so many adults from different walks of life who are keen to volunteer and get Code Clubs up and running in schools and libraries. Among our libraries, only Willesden Green Library currently has an active Code Club, but considering the success of the training session, we hope we will be able to add more clubs in autumn.

On top of that, we’re also looking into starting monthly STEM clubs, and are hoping to launch our first one at Ealing Road Library this autumn with support from the National STEM Learning Centre. So the future for Brent Libraries is bright and, to borrow my own school motto, ‘Yet Higher’!

Join our network

Are you keen to set up a Code Club in your library, or to get stuck in with volunteering? Head to our website to get started.

London ‘Back to school’ meetup

Mickey Day, Regional Coordinator for London and the East of England, takes us through the success of his first Code Club meetup, which included talks by people from Teaboy Games, Barefoot, and Samsung Online.

The 7 September marked my first Code Club meetup, hosted by the software company Pivotal in London. Our meetups are an opportunity for Code Club volunteers to come together to share their experiences, and for newcomers to learn about the importance of digital making, about what a Code Club entails, and about how to get involved.

Pivotal kindly allowed us to use their amazing space on Old Street for the evening. The event gave our London community the chance to celebrate Code Club’s expansion into secondary schools, and allowed potential volunteers to find out more about what we do. We welcomed almost 100 guests, who came flooding through the doors and past our table of goodies.

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Among the attendees were large numbers of teachers and potential volunteers, and everyone was keen to learn and hear the evening’s talks. The event started with attendees enjoying a drink while registering their venues with Code Club.

When everyone had taken a seat, I opened the session with a short talk on the importance of receiving a digital education as a child, and how Code Club supports this cause.

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We continued with lightning talks from Frazer Merrick, creative director of Teaboy Games, who covered all things Scratch; Simon Vaughan-Long, volunteer for Barefoot, who impressed upon us how essential teachers’ digital knowledge is; and uve, digital advocate for Samsung Online, who demonstrated just how immersive VR can be. The session lasted an hour, then the floor was opened to questions from the audience for the panel of speakers.

After the Q&A, guests enjoyed a rather large amount of pizza before getting their hands on some activities. Code Club volunteer Marc Grossman demonstrated some Makey Makey kits capabilities: he used play dough to control Scratch sprites. Then computing student Hugh Wells flexed his musical muscles demo’ing Code Club’s new Sonic Pi projects.

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There was a lot of activity on Twitter using the hashtag #CodeClubEvent, with guests posting photos, reviews, questions, and slides of the night. Because so many community members used social media to share photos of and thoughts about the event, the hashtag was trending in London for two and a half hours. That’s pretty awesome!

The event concluded with networking and setting up new clubs in preparation for inspiring new young digital makers!

“Absolutely fantastic event – what you arranged and Pivotal hosted was truly inspiring. There was a great buzz around the place!”

— Simon Vaughan-Long, Barefoot volunteer

For more Code Club events, head over to the Code Club website, and follow @CodeClub on Twitter!

Our next free London meetup will be on 12 October 2017 from 5:30-9:00 pm at Monzo HQ on Old Street, and it will include lightning talks from Monzo, Disney, ustwo, and pi-top. Join us there to find out more about Code Club — you can get your free ticket here.