By Brigette Currin 6 minute read

Member Spotlight: Creative Computing Club

 Our Member Spotlight for August is Matthew Applegate, founder of Ipswich-based Creative Computing Club. The club provides young people with the opportunity to learn new tech skills in a fun and creative way. We caught up with Matthew to discuss what inspired him to inspire the Creative Computing Club, as well as the importance of tech skills in East Anglia.

Can you tell us a bit about the Creative Computing Club?

Launched in 2012, the Creative Computing Club CIC has worked with over a thousand young people in Suffolk and helped them to engage in technology-based sessions. Through its informal and non-competitive environment, it has allowed them to gain confidence and qualifications in areas that interest them, and are relevant to today’s tech sector needs.

The Creative Computing Club has allowed a myriad young people with different needs to grow in confidence and become aware of the vast array of technology opportunities around them.

We do this by running courses focussed on cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence, game design, computer programming, robotics, big data and more, drawing on current examples and data from events happening in the real world. This approach allows the young people to find context and relevance in the different skill areas.

What is your story and inspiration to found the Creative Computing Club?

I’ve had the good fortune to work with many major tech companies all over the world such as Sony, Apple, Microsoft, Samsung and more. It was all done through my ability to code, and it has been great fun, but I realised along the way I have been fortunate. I decided to return to Suffolk and focus on helping the next generation get the tech skills to be part of the future talent pipeline.

Technology is the great equaliser, and we have no idea where the next big idea is going to come from – why shouldn’t it come from Suffolk? I wanted to give as many children in Suffolk as possible the opportunity to get involved in technology, and that’s how the Creative Computing Club was founded.

How has the last year been for Creative Computing Club?

In 2012, we started with ten young people and hosted the club at Chantry library. Over the last year we’ve grown significantly: we’ve gone from working with 90 to 270 young people across Suffolk. In the previous twelve months alone, we’ve been Quality Assessed by the Suffolk County Council, Sony PlayStation has given us the status of Digital Schoolhouse, we received access to IBM Watson, and we worked with amazing organisations like GCHQ, Government Digital Services and the European Space Agencies.

We’re continually looking for new and exciting opportunities for the young people we work with. Because we have such an excellent track record, larger and larger companies are taking us seriously. We are now talking to Microsoft and Amazon at a senior level to make sure our young people get some amazing experiences and opportunities that they simply couldn’t get anywhere else.

 

Where do you hope you will be this time next year?

Ultimately we want to create a dedicated technology-based free school in Suffolk. Building a school takes time, so it might not happen by next year. Several existing trusts have expressed an interest in working with us, so we are considering our options and thinking about what we want to achieve. We’ve done a lot of research and visited a lot of different types of schools to learn about different pedagogies. We think we’ve finally found who we are and what we want to achieve, so we need to do a lot of planning.

We also hope our charity – the Creative Computing Club Charitable Foundation – will grow over the next year. This organisation buys computers for young people in Suffolk aged 11-22 studying a computer-related subject if they are from a low-income family.

Our primary focus is going to be growing the Creative Computing Club across Suffolk to make sure we can help as many as young people as possible.

What is your view on the state of skills and talent in East Anglia’s tech scene?

The talent here is good, but it tends to leave for the city. Through our research, we can see a potential digital skills gap looming in Suffolk. This lack of awareness, and sometimes enthusiasm, for the tech jobs available in Suffolk is widespread. Even national studies highlight just how few young people are going into subjects like computer science GCSE in Suffolk

Generally, the tech scene here is improving rapidly. We have some great tech companies like Coderus, two10Degrees and Orbital Media getting involved with the broader community, and a lot more businesses are talking and working together. Suffolk is very rural so companies are very spread out and sometimes hidden, but things are improving.

I also know from talking to a lot of company owners that they’re struggling to find people at the right level, but that is why organisations like the Creative Computing Club need to exist.

What role do you think the Creative Computing Club has to play in East Anglia?

We know that providing technology skills early on significantly improves the prospects for a young person in secondary, further and higher education to go into a career in technology.  Now that we’ve been doing this a few years, we are a lot more qualified and are currently working in six primary schools and four secondary schools across Suffolk to improve digital skills.  Suffolk is our patch, and we want every young person (and eventually every person) in Suffolk to have the opportunity to learn and engage with technology.

What is the most rewarding part of your job? And the most challenging?

I’ll start with the most challenging, and that’s letting a young person go off into the world. The young people we work with usually spend 3-4 years with us, building up their skills, their confidence and their network. We are so lucky we get to see them grow into confident technologists, but sadly they can’t stay with us forever. It is bittersweet, but we hope we’ve done everything we can to prepare them for a future in tech.

Our rewards come every day, and there is always something to stand back and be proud of. It can be seeing two young people learning to work together, it can be seeing someone solve a problem by themselves, and it can sometimes be something as wonderful as seeing our young people welcome a new member to a group. I don’t consider what I do as work, it is my life’s work and it’s great fun.

What would you say to anyone who was thinking of joining TechEast? 

TechEast has been very proactive in bridging the gap between what we do and local businesses, making us both aware of each other. As mentioned, Suffolk is very rural, so we are grateful that there’s an organisation in place to alleviate the distance and make the connections we don’t always have the time or knowledge to achieve.

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