Pro bono help rejuvenates website

WCIT members are among the most active of all the Livery Companies when it comes to pro bono work. This is just as well, because the Projects and Pro Bono Panel receives many requests for help each year, from a diverse range of charities and not-for-profits.

One such request came from the Sheriffs’ and Recorder’s Fund. Their plan was to rebuild their website from scratch and enhance the user experience of the site. After a call-out to volunteers on the pro bono register, Freeman David Suen rose to the challenge.

David generously gave his time to manage this project, working alongside WordPress developer Joe Cooper, UX designer Kate Phillips, project manager Nina Hamblin of Good Cause Digital – all also volunteers – as well as Lady Russell (the Chair of Trustees) and Claire (the Secretary), to ensure that their requirements for the website were met.

The key features of the project were the ability for staff to update content; creating a responsive design; a newsletter sign-up function and donation function; and full accessibility of the website.

“David was incredibly helpful right from the outset. He really made an effort to get to know the subject matter and I was very impressed with his depth of research,” commented Lady Russell.

“He patiently guided us through the whole process and made sure we understood what everyone else was doing. He was incredibly flexible, and nothing was too much trouble for him; he certainly went above and beyond.”

This commitment to the project does not end now that the project has been completed, as David has promised ongoing support should they need it.

Commenting on his role, David said, “You get a great sense of achievement in volunteering. As opportunities are always brief and flexible, assignments can be fitted in and around other commitments. I really enjoyed working on this particular project, as the Fund does meaningful work to help prison leavers break the re-offending cycle.”

Lady Russell added, “I am very grateful to the WCIT for introducing us to David. He made the whole project run extremely smoothly.”

About the Sheriffs’ and Recorder’s Fund    The British prison population stands at about 86,000. When prisoners are released, they receive from £46-£76. Unless they have family or friends on hand to help, they will not have a home, a job, or any income – significant factors which contribute to the 70% re-offending rate and often a life spent in and out of prison. The Sheriffs’ & Recorder’s Fund helps to break the cycle by giving small grants to individuals and large grants to prison-based charitable schemes which work towards the rehabilitation of ex-prisoners.

If you would like to help charities with their IT requests via the Projects and Pro Bono Panel, contact the panel Chair, or panel Secretary


The original home page of the Sheriffs and Recorders Fund website
How the website looked before its refresh

Museum ignites interest with robots

The WCIT Livery has long had an affiliation with the Royal Corps of Signals, the Army’s ICT specialists, so the WCIT Charity was delighted to be able to be able to support another aspect of the Royal Signals’ work – it’s museum in Dorset. Their request was for Spheros, codable robots which could be used by students and cadets to learn basic coding, robotic system capabilities and the communication requirements of semi and fully autonomous systems.

The overall aim was to inspire young people about the many different employment opportunities that STEM presents, both military and civilian, in the field of communications. The museum surpassed its conservative estimate of reaching up to 2,000 young people, and actually interacted with more than 11,000 over the course of the year, both at the museum and during outreach events.

The robots have huge potential, and the museum is still trying out different ways for students to interact with them. The appointment of a new STEM Learning volunteer will hopefully increase the variety of lesson plans the students and cadets of all ages can enjoy.

As one teacher said: “The addition of coding and robotics was fun and engaging for the children, and they enjoyed the freedom of creating codes for the robots.”

Free online lecture on brain computer interfaces

As part of her lecture series, Tech Change: A Survival Guide, Dr Victoria Baines has delivered an engaging lecture on Brain Computer Interfaces, which can now be viewed online.

In her presentation she poses the question of what if we could enhance our brains’ processing power? From reversing paralysis to treatment for Parkinson’s, neural interfaces are already improving lives: Dr Baines explains how they work and what may be next for our physical connection to digital technology…

Watch online

The IT Livery Company Professor of IT was established in 2015 and is sponsored by the WCIT and WCIT Charity.

WCIT Charity joins the open grants movement 

The WCIT Charity has joined more than 260 funders across the UK who have committed to sharing their grant making data publicly. It is one of five Livery Company charities sharing information on its grants openly through the 360Giving platform.  

“We believe that transparency about our giving is vitally important to both the charitable sector and our members, and so we are delighted to have joined this open grants movement”, commented WCIT Charity Chair, Stefan Fafinski DL. 

 “While we have always publicised every one of our grants on our website, in our annual review and in communications with our members, by standardising the way in which we present our data and sharing it with 360Giving, we are enabling other funders, researchers and charities to combine and compare billions of pounds of grants across the UK. This will help everyone in the charity sector to become more informed, effective and strategic.” 

You can see the latest WCIT Charity grantmaking data here

Website toolkit launched

Earlier this year, the WCIT Charity funded the Media Trust to design and deliver a Websites Unlocked toolkit – a collection of guides, templates and free tools for small charities to effectively connect, communicate, campaign, fundraise and reach new audiences. The toolkit is complemented by by two masterclasses and six digital drop-ins, which have so far reached over 150 charity professionals. 

The toolkit was launched at the start of October and features practical, jargon-free advice and tips, all tailored to small charities which do not have technical website knowledge. As well as step-by-step guides for optimising websites, it includes a video walk-through of the most useful Google Analytics features and recommendations of free tools, plugins and policy templates.

The free toolkit can be downloaded here. 

The masterclass, run by the director of Few and Far, covered why it matters to have an up-to-date and accessible website; how simple changes can drive action from stakeholders; and it shared practical, low-cost strategies and tools for improving websites. 100% of attendees rated the content and the session overall as good or very good. As one attendee said: “[It was] really relevant content to our needs; excellent and concise delivery.”

The Media Trust will also be hosting a series of digital drop-ins later this year, covering a range of topics including digital tools; data, audiences and insights; accessibility; content strategy; and cyber security.

Music tech boosts mental health

Thanks to a grant from the WCIT Charity, Lifelites has successfully installed ten Soundbeams in ten hospices around the British Isles.

This means that nearly 4,000 life-limited and disabled children, their siblings, parents and other family members have benefitted from these touch-free musical devices that use sensor technology to translate movement into music and sound.

The device gives children a unique opportunity, regardless of their impairments or disability, to make music individually or as part of a group. This creative expression and social interaction helps their mental health on several levels: by increasing independence, reducing isolation, improving communication, boosting their emotional wellbeing and enhancing family relationships.

Lifelites has been supplying various assistive and inclusive technologies for over 20 years and during that time the Soundbeam has remained a much loved and consistently used tool for musical expression.

See the technology in use at Rueben’s Retreat in Derbyshire…

Latest grants announced

The WCIT Charity received nearly 60 applications this quarter, with funding requests from many worthy charities and non-profit organisations. As ever, choosing which ones to fund was exceptionally tough, but we are pleased to announce that six received grants this September.

Lilian Baylis Technology School, with whom the WCIT has a long-term relationship, was awarded £29,565 to purchase Chromebooks for 125 Year 12 students who would not otherwise have access to computers or learning outside the school gates. The laptops will be permanently gifted to the students so that they can continue their studies at university and share online access with their families who do not have connectivity at home. The hypothesis is that this relatively simply intervention will overcome the barriers for students in accessing the professional and digital world. If this trial is successful, the school hopes to secure funding from other sources to help all of those progressing to Year 12 in the years to come.

With its grant of £15,000, National Ugly Mugs (a member of AI4C), will be creating an Application Programming Interface to allow the National Crime Agency and police to safely access its database of harms against sex workers. It will also be using Artificial Intelligence to code open-text boxes on incident forms, which will enable the organisation to improve its collation, management and sharing of data.

The Switch was awarded £5,520 to create a virtual work experience day for disadvantaged young people in Tower Hamlets, designed to showcase the opportunities and roles available within the tech and IT sector. While three further grants of between £2,400 and £5,000 went to the FirstLight Trust, the Zink Project and Inside Justice to fund essential IT that will enhance the services they provide.

WCIT Charity Chair, Dr Stefan Fafinski DL, said “These grants demonstrate the breadth of our grant-making, and our continued ability to make a huge national impact on lives across the whole of the UK. Once again, we have demonstrated our emphasis on education, digital inclusion, and the effective use of tech by charities – who, in turn, will take advantage of that for their own beneficiaries.”

New IT lectures

We are delighted to see Dr Victoria Baines line-up of lectures for her second year as IT Livery Company Professor of IT at Gresham College, starting with September’s lecture on cybercriminals.

Professor Baines is a leading authority in the field of online trust, safety and cybersecurity, and under the theme of Tech Change: A Survivor’s Guide, she will be considering how we can anticipate what’s to come for the computers in our heads, our intimate relationships, the objects around us, and the people who may try to misuse them.

The free lectures can be watched online or in person in central London from September 2023. It is also possible to watch many more past lectures online from Professor Baines and also former IT Professors Richard Harvey and Martyn Thomas.

The professorship was established in 2015 and is sponsored by the WCIT and WCIT Charity.

View the latest programme of IT lectures

New report reflects on human computer interaction

Archives of IT (AIT) was founded in 2015 by Roger Graham OBE to tell the story of how tech has transformed our lives, in the words of the people who made it happen. The charity’s online collection of media and interviews from people in the tech industry creates a unique understanding of its development from the 1940s to the present day.

In 2022, the WCIT Charity helped AIT to fund a bursary for postdoctoral research into the impact of the UK’s IT and communication industry. The result is a comprehensive digital report on Human Computer Interaction, particularly on the UK’s distinctive contribution to the project, which was led by Dr Elisabetta Mori.

In her report Dr Mori takes the reader on a journey through HCI’s evolution from the early years of computing in 1948 – when the subject was dominated by the first mainframes – to today’s world where we take for granted Graphical User Interfaces and an ever-growing number of interactive technologies.

AIT’s Director, Tom Abram, said: “Reading about the past made those of us who have been working closely with Dr Mori think about the future. We have been struck, once again, by how the lessons of history are so often relevant going forward: HCI has a key part to play in building a future that’s more democratic, based on the total human experience and caters for all genders, backgrounds, and abilities – but only if we do it right.”

You can read the full report here and take a whistle-stop tour of the last 75 years with clips of interviews from the professionals in the field on YouTube.

App set to increase youth engagement

Genesis Sun is a not-for-profit social enterprise which was formed to inspire, encourage and develop young black people who may not have access to the networks required to succeed.

Its founder and CEO, Diane Spence, spent over 25 years in the IT sector, and said: “During my career, I consistently found a lack of diversity and representation in leadership positions, particularly in STEM roles, and now want to focus on creating positive change and maximising opportunities for all.”

The organisation is best-known for delivering its Ascension Programme – a unique combination of music, inspiration, entertainment, relatable positive history stories and life skills, provided up to the point that participants begin employment. It has great ambitions and so it applied to the WCIT Charity for funding to design and develop a custom-built app to further incentivise learning, encourage curiosity and build knowledge.

With their grant they were able to begin building the app, helped by black students from two local schools in the West Midlands who have informed the app’s design and usability through a co-design group . The group reviewed and gave feedback in weekly design workshops, which led to some wireframe designs and a beta version of the app for real-world testing.

Though pro-bono technical delivery resources were available to a degree, pressure on charitable funding post-pandemic has meant that the funds to secure a cloud landing zone, and associated support contract, have not yet been completed. The launch has therefore been paused and a manual points process introduced in the interim. This has proved the motivational impact of points accrual and gamification, as the manual process has been well received by the young people.

Once the app is officially launched, the organisation intends to use quizzes and challenges to complement the Ascension programme, and after that they hope to introduce awards and trophies to encourage achievement, as well as in-app player surveys so they can ensure the programme is delivering real value.

Remarking on the grant and the progress made so far, Diane said: “We are absolutely delighted to have secured support from the WCIT Charity for the Genesis Sun Mobile Application; it will help us make a positive difference within our community.”