Despite studying on the same campus, Jenn Clark and Brad Bolam never crossed paths at the University of Sunderland, but that’s now all changed as they work side by side helping the Wearside community transform their digital skills.
The graduates were discovered by Google UK through their LinkedIn profiles and offered the opportunity to become part of its flagship investment programme, the Google Digital Garage, which offers free advice and coaching on digital skills to help individuals transform their career, confidence and business.
Since 2015, the Google Digital Garage has visited more than 500 locations across the UK and trained more than 300,000 people.
All the training is free and the latest hub to open is at The Bridges in Sunderland, the first in the North East, where Jenn and Brad are making an impact on the community as Digital Skills Coaches.
The pair are employed by the Good Things Foundation, a social change charity, which supports socially excluded people to improve their lives through digital, which has partnered with Google Digital Garage.
Psychology graduate Jenn explains: “We are here for anyone who may need our help with their digital skills. No one should be held back because they don’t have the skills they need.
“We opened in May and already are having a positive impact; one day I’m helping an 80-year-old lady write a text, as she was fed up of not being able to respond to her friends, the next I was helping someone boost their international trade.
“We are inclusive of everyone no matter what their age, skills or ability.”
At age 50, Jenn knows more than most about overcoming the odds to achieve success.
Born with Congenital Bilateral Talipes, also known as clubfoot, the painful condition would eventually lead her having a double amputation first on both feet, then her legs below the knee, all this while dealing with fibromyalgia, arthritis and ME.
Despite her health woes, she continued to raise her six children, aged between 10 and 25, alongside husband David, worked her way up from telesales into accounts, and achieved her lifelong dream of graduating from the University of Sunderland in 2015, as well as her relentless advocacy work for disabled people through her blog and website, JCD Talks.
“I left school with just one qualification but worked my up”, said Jenn, from Ryhope. “When my health suffered I decided there and then I wanted to go to university.
“Learning is a great passion of mine and Sunderland was an incredible experience. All those skills helped me stand out for this role and it’s fantastic.
“To think I can give others the confidence I found to help them get online and develop their digital skills is a great feeling.
“Even my kids think I’m cool, and are very proud of me, so you can’t ask for more. I have always told them to work hard for what they want, and if it’s expensive, work harder!”
As partnership leads with Google Digital Garage, Jenn and Brad also engage with local charities, businesses and various organisations, conducting workshops and digital sessions and helping them with their own client base.
Brad, 24, from Whitley Bay, graduated with a first class degree in Media Production, followed by a distinction for his Masters in Media Production (Film and Television).
He says: “I had just began applying for jobs, when this opportunity came up and I couldn’t believe my luck.
“The training has been fantastic and I’ve learned lots of new digital marketing skills.
“I love working here, you feel part of a big family and everyone has their own unique knowledge and ability.
“Hopefully we can have a positive impact on the community and enhance their skills in the process.
“Our free training sessions aim to close this skills gap and help grow the confidence, careers and success of individuals and small business.”
Brad and Jenn will be popping back onto campus to deliver some start up/business skills workshops for The Enterprise Place members, a business incubator for graduate and student businesses, supporting enterprise and innovation across Sunderland and the wider region.
As well as the Google Digital Garage Hub, the Google Digital Garage bus is visiting up to 30 locations around the North East over the summer.
The bus is a mobile training hub with expert trainers and mentors on-board delivering free digital skills training.
Helen Milner, Chief Executive at Good Things Foundation, said: “We’re delighted to be working with Google to enable people with limited skills and limited experience of the internet to thrive online and realise positive outcomes both in work and in life.
“The Digital Garage is such a great opportunity help people in Sunderland get the most out of digital and all of the opportunities that it brings.”
Ronan Harris, Google UK & Ireland Managing Director, said: “In the digital age, a basic understanding of how the online world works is useful and when it comes to business, it’s essential.
“We are delighted to bring the Google Digital Garage to Sunderland and the North East and ensure everyone has access to free digital skills workshops and 1:1 coaching.
“We hope you’ll pop in and get the skills you need to become more confident online, grow your career or business, and maybe even launch the next big idea.”