Digital dynamo

15 October 2019 | Scotland

Ian Dingwall making music

Gill is driving force behind unique tech community project

In life there are dreamers and there are doers. Gill Sutherland is someone who gets things done.

She runs a small, yet unique, project that makes sure young people and adults with learning difficulties don’t miss out on being part of the digital world.

Based just outside Inverness The Meeting Place, is the only project of its type in the Highlands. It provides IT and digital inclusion for young people and adults with special needs in a relaxed and informal environment.

That means they have access to an IT suite with PCs and iPads and the chance to get involved in anything from computer programming to making podcasts. There is also a recording studio. Around 25 people attend, mostly with their carers, and The Meeting Place is open three days a week.

They also benefit from working with local young people with technological skills who share their skills and experience.

Gill has been running the project for over a decade, with minimal support or funding. The volunteers who do come and help, and the peer mentors who have recently left school, she calls her ‘pots of gold’.

“I like to think I am putting the ‘unity’ back in community,” she explains. “It is a lovely, professional but nurturing place and I get to meet some wonderful people. It is not fair that people are not given the same opportunities just because you have additional needs like autism or a learning disability. We actually have an incredible and unbelievable amount of ability on show here.

“We just support them to learn. It varies for each person, some make YouTube videos, learning how to edit and convert. Another talented young chap on the autistic spectrum is learning how to build a website. Others just like to play games.

“We also have two men who work together to make a weekly podcast of sporting events. One has a brain injury, he writes out the notes, and his pal who is classed as a vulnerable adult types them up. Then they share the reading and recording of the podcast. They call themselves the Rob and Clive Live Show.”

Just as important, is the social element the project provides. Many of those who come along have no other social activity during the week. “They can be very socially isolated,” says Gill.

But at the The Meeting Place, they can make new friends. They all sit together and eat lunch. “The social aspect is so fundamental to what we do. It is healing and beneficial. I watch them interact and it just lovely to watch.”

The young people who come along to sessions to help, are always welcomed, and in turn they experience integration, equality and inclusion as well as gaining valuable experience.

Gill has a background in social work, and working with young adults with additional needs. Then she started working for the council but it wasn’t the right fit. So she founded The Meeting Place in 2008. Not that she has much technological know-how either, she admits.

“I am not techy at all, I am just the enabler,” says Gill. “It can be very challenging, and it’s a massive commitment. Trying to get funding is so hard. But I do it because it’s so very rewarding.

“As far as I know there is nothing else like it around here.”

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