Scillies plug in to high-tech learning

Residents on the remote Isles of Scilly are being plugged into the information superhighway thanks to a £218,000 investment in a string of high-tech learning centres.

The project is being supported with £124,000 from the Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly Objective One Programme through the European Social Fund, £68,000 from the Government’s New Opportunities Fund, £56,000 for capital equipment from the DfEE Capital Modernisation Fund and the remainder from the Council of the Isles of Scilly.

Situated on each of the five inhabited isles, which lie 26 miles off Land’s End, the Isles of Scilly Learning Centres are helping local people develop their skills through courses which can be delivered via the Internet and video conferencing.

Islanders have expressed concern at the possibility of being left behind by the new technology revolution, so much of the project concentrates on basic and intermediate IT training, with the expectation that people will move on to more formal courses leading to accredited qualifications.

The IT focus is also important in developing the Scillies’ growing e-commerce sector, including its highly successful mail-order flower businesses, so the Learning Centres are helping to secure the long-term viability of these fragile communities.

The first IT centre was set up in 1996 and gradually extended to the other islands, but funding ran out in June. The latest funding package will secure the project for another two years and it is hoped 300 people, or 15% of all residents on the isles, will become new ICT users during that time.
The Learning Centres also enable the islands to offer tutorial and outreach support connected with Further and Higher Education provision on the mainland, neither of which is available on the islands, and they will work with other organisations such as the Scillies’ Primary Health Care Group in identifying and delivery training needs, without staff having to leave the islands.

Carmen Mallon, Assistant Development – Community Relations Officer for the Council of the Isles of Scilly said: “In an increasingly knowledge-based economy where skills need to be constantly updated and improved, islanders have expressed growing concern about the threat of being left behind as a community on the wrong side of the digital divide.

“The high cost of travel between the five inhabited islands and the mainland is a significant constraint for many, so we want to make sure islanders are equipped to take full advantage of the communications revolution by using technology to break down those barriers to learning.”

One business which has already seen the benefits of new technology and IT training is mail-order flower company Scent from the Islands.

Run by husband and wife team Andrew and Hilary Julian, the business was instrumental in setting up an IT centre on St Martin’s more than five years ago, which now houses the Isles of Scilly Learning Centre for the island.

Mrs Julian said: “We set up something called the St Martin’s Farming Interest Group for the regeneration of farming on the island and one of the first projects was to set up an IT centre. It has been hugely successful because it has everything you’d expect in a modern office and is available to the whole island.”

She estimated that around 15-20% of Scent from the Islands’ business now comes from the internet, and use of email has been a revelation: “We get a lot of email inquiries and it’s so quick and easy and we’re very much in control. It’s also made shopping for the business so much easier because it’s all there on the Internet and that has been a huge benefit. It’s made the world a smaller place.”


Editors notes:

Jason Clark
Communications Manager
Objective One Partnership Office
Castle House
Pydar Street
Truro TR1 2UD
Tel:01872 241379
Fax:01872 241388