A new digital skills centre is opening this week in the old Burtons unit in St Helens. Hackschool CIC is the brainchild of Chris Kennedy, local lad and software engineer. The centre will have three parts: a community centre, training centre and live-streaming venue. “We’re a social enterprise so the profits will be re-invested back into the town and fund the community centre”.
Here’s the prototype studio they built last year in the initial phase of the project.
“Covid means we have to improvise but we see that as an opportunity”, he continues. That means teaming up with Claire Rigby, from Momo’s Community Café CIC. Whilst on furlough Claire and the guys from Momo’s will be volunteering to set up the community centre and work with HackTV our community online news channel. Claire laughs, “When I found out Chris had talked the council into this we had to help. I couldn’t let Chris run a community centre on his own it would be like Basil Fawlty running Fawlty Towers! He writes software for a living.”
Hackschool sees itself as more like an independent record label than a training provider. They offer subsidised training and want to develop and support local talent as well as provide support for the local business community. “When I was a kid there were a lot of working-class northern accents in culture and they’ve gone now. I want to bring that back.” The training approach is very different too. They focus on tech that young people use like YouTube, Instagram and Twitch as they’re the same skills businesses need for Facebook, LinkedIn and Zoom.
They offer tailored training packages for local businesses, subsidized by Liverpool City region, from £29 per person per day. And it’s not just creative tech, they’re partnering with several trainers, such as digital accountancy specialists Jackson Stephen, to provide tailored training that all businesses can use. Sarah Smith, Digital Services Manager at Jackson Stephen, adds “Digital tech has significantly changed the business world in recent years. We are excited to be sharing our skills in the world of digital accountancy with businesses old and new, so ultimately they are the best they can be.”
As Chris says “One of the problems with a lot of business support is that it assumes that businesses know what they want. They don’t, which is why they’re coming to you in the first place! That’s why we tailor what we do”.
Community projects with St Augustines, Penkford have already started and a lot more is in the pipeline. Vicky Moran, Work Experience Coordinator at Carmel, said ‘Hackschool is EXACTLY what St Helens needs, fresh, innovative and exciting opportunities for our young people to gain real-life work experience and take the skills forward into their incredibly bright futures, I’m genuinely looking forward to working together!!’
He finishes “Understandably, people are worried about the future, but I see opportunity. Better jobs, better communities, better future.”