Why SiLL may be a game changer for London libraries

In recent years, our local libraries have been subject to closure and large cuts, this at a time when we should actually be upgrading them. This unusual form of democracy undoubtedly birth related-innovations such as co-working space and social hubs. While many of these related-innovation are timely and necessary, they lack the community and political ingredient required for emerging fluid and digital society. For me, this is the simple reason why the local and community library remains an inextricable part of the puzzle.

As citizen institutions, I believe libraries have a gluing role in sustainable developments, and as such, they are essential for integration and cohesion. Being a fan and advocate of the library, it’s quite the excitement to learn that London libraries are introducing a NEW SiLL programme.

SiLL is a three-year project will include tailored workshops, networking events giving local people and businesses access to the Library’s business collections and resources. A feat epitomised by Online Centres Network through Get Online Week celebrations at Brandon Estate in London.

In this article, I share some inherent social-economic benefits of the SiLL programme. To reinforce my lens, I revisit 2018’s Get Online Week celebrations at Brandon Estate.

What is SiLL?

SiLL stands for Startup in London Library. SiLL is a business support programme led by London Libraries to support start-ups and entrepreneurs across London. The programme aims to help local people and charities develop the insight, skills and confidence they need to start and grow successful businesses. 

For scale, SiLL will be delivered through, and by, a network of 10 London borough authorities with each London borough having its own SiLL Digital Champion. The programme is funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

3 benefits of the programme for Online Centres Networks

Despite austerity cuts and closures, libraries continue to deliver citizen-centred innovative community solutions at local levels that contribute to both local and national economic growth – as epitomised through Online Centres Network. As founder of an Online Centre myself, I’m pleased about the development, and convinced it will improve my centre’s abilities and capacity by removing the 3 barriers below.

  1. Organisational structure

In my first article in 2018 I highlighted the slowing impact organisational structure has on sustainable change and transformation.

NEW SiLL has no direct reports, this inherently adds some agility and fluidity to a rigid structure. Instead, SiLL champions will report directly to the Principal Strategy Officer on the Local Economy Team. 

2. Integration and cohesion

A lot of work has been done in the UK on improving the terms for individuals and groups to take part in society. Many inclusion-based initiatives have either:

1. empowered poor and marginalised people to take advantage of rising opportunities in emerging forms of economies;


2. developed ready-made open, ubiquitous and accessible spaces through strategic partnerships. 

SiLL has arrived at a time when many charities and community organisation’s source partnerships with local council for practical and sustainable scalability.

3. Future workforce and economy

Libraries can’t be ignored any longer. My research and fieldwork at IFB Gaming identifies the library as an important and often ignored asset for identifying and engaging the most digitally excluded. 

For instance, IFB Gaming’s online centre partnered with “Find My Charity” and “Southwark libraries” in 2018 to employ the Brandon library’s resources to help local people with digital skills. However, when we arrived at the library, we learned that local people’s need was different – it wasn’t basic digital skills. At Online Centres Network we’ve also manifested the libraries vitality for continued political ‘education and engagement’. This through innovations such as VoiceBox Cafes.

Personally, I’m keen to see how SiLL can:

  1. intersect with higher education institutions to educate and empower the next generation of community advocates and politicians;
  2. improve project selection.

Final word

At IFB Gaming, we work on a day-to-day basis with lots of great community organisations, including libraries, and citizens. 

Following our report, Good Things Foundation is now developing new business development courses for Online Centres Network. The project is supported by organisations such as BT, Lloyds, Google, and the Government’s Equalities Office.

Personally, I’m confident that SiLL will be a powerful example of the role digital can play in addressing social challenges and Bridging The Digital Divide. We look forward to working with the SiLL champions at IFB Gaming’s online centre in Southwark.

VoiceBox Café: Giving Women a voice in politics and public life

Good Things Foundation was recently awarded one of eight grants to deliver NEW “Use Your Voice” through VoiceBox Cafés in England. The project is funded by Women’s Vote Centenary Grant Scheme, it is part of Bridging The Digital Divide, and it exists to give Women a voice in politics and public life. In the article, I introduce project “Use Your Voice” and examine it’s inextricability from social inclusion. 

2018 has been particularly plagued with uncertainty, this year: we Brexit-ed; witnessed austerity cuts; gaming is classified as a mental health disorder; there was gang-related violence on London streets; and uncertainty surrounding the future of the NHS leaves us with many unknown-unknowns. Let’s face it, we simply don’t know what living, working, doing business, and playing, is going to be like in the future.

One thing we do know though, Women are at the forefront, and they are leading the debates and discussions around sustainable developments and they’re doing so with profound results. To celebrate Women’s achievements in 2018, we unite at the House of Lords this December for NEW “Use Your Voice” (VoiceBox Cafés) pioneered by Good Things Foundation. 


Imaged shared by Emily Redmond & Harriet Brown (Good Things Foundation)


What are VoiceBox Cafés?

Project “Use Your Voice” is delivered through NEW VoiceBox Cafés. It is one of the many ways Good Things Foundation promote and mitigate digital inclusion in England. The project is part of Bridging The Digital Divide programme and it focuses on Women and community advocacy and politics. According to Helen Milner, CEO Good Things Foundation and ‘pioneer’ of “Use Your Voice”:


“…It’s been 100 years since women won the right to vote and we’re going out to engage those who are disengaged from democracy across England with the NEW VoiceBox Café project…”

— Helen Milner OBE.


The project is delivered through regular events designed to access, engage and support excluded women to understand, participate and celebrate democracy. There are currently 36 online centres in the UK participating in project “Use Your Voice”.


VoiceBox Café is a fantastic project providing women with an opportunity to learn about incredible women, be inspired to do amazing things and be empowered to challenge the norms.” 

— Go Alliance Women. West Midlands, UK.


From VOIP to VoiceBox Cafes

Consider a multiplayer online game of Call of Duty or Battlefield 3 with up to 24 player voices blearing through your one headset. VoiceBox Cafés provides a systemic conduit for Women to make their voice heard. This is quite significant, as observed through my virtual ethnography in gaming paradigm, some Women:

  1. simply can’t perceive their voices getting through the traffic;
  2. are intimidated by the confidence, status, and the achievements of other players;
  3. are not loud enough to cut through the traffic;
  4. simply do not know how to join the traffic;
  5. hide their true identity behind voice-changers and avatars in order to make their voice profound and/or to avoid negativity.

VOIP stands for Voice Over Internet Protocol

Project “Use Your Voice”, through VoiceBox Cafés at online centres network, can provide a holistic and circular conduit for educating, engaging and inspiring Women and Girls in future-politics and emerging fluid and digital society. VoiceBox Cafés: 

  1. provide a secure and open space for political discussions and debate;
  2. offer free courses and guidance on democracy;
  3. celebrates and rewards Women and Girls for community and political participation.


Who Can Get Involved?

Single medium of communication breed weak-ties while multiple mediums of communication cultivate stronger bonds and ties. As we approach technology-adoption maturity, many Women are turning to new and traditional media for the issues that matter to them. This is why every Woman and Girl in England can join and participate in “Use Your Voice”  through their local or closest VoiceBox Café

Research has also shown that the women who often have the most to gain are the ones that are missing out on the inherent opportunities and benefits of participation. Consider Helen Milner’s commentary, below:

“…there are certain groups of women who are less likely to engage with democracy, in particular women from black and ethnic minority backgrounds, young women, and women with low levels of educational attainment…” (See Full text on Good Things Foundation’s Website)

Corroborating our NEW experience and opportunities, below:

…we participated and celebrated Get Online Week at Southwark’s Brandon Estate’s library for the first time in 2018. During the 7-day campaign we set out to help local people and charities with basic digital skills, but instead, we met local Women who required help with business development or how to employ digital skills efficiently in every day-life or having their voices heard following a summer of violence in the sector….


Sandra Evans. Founder and CEO of Find My Charity.


How it works

There are many ways to get involve. Women in England can become more politically active and make their voices heard through Online Centres Network participating the project. Good Things Foundation’s website also boasts resources and website links to help Women get involved both locally and nationally. The resources section is separated into 3 core sections: EducateParticipate and Celebrate

The Educate section explains elections and voting, and shows how women fought for the right to vote in the UK. The Educate section explains elections and voting, and shows how women fought for the right to vote in the UK. The Participate section shows how you can make a change about things that matter to you.

The Celebrate section has ideas about how you can get involved in events and activities marking 100 years since women got the vote. Finally, Share! Share your findings, progression, and achievements with the network by visiting Voicebox Cafes pageVoicebox Cafés Tumblr and by following #VoiceboxCafes on Twitter!


Get Online Week at Brandon Estate. Access Open Report.


Some Challenges To Consider

Social inclusion and Memory are functionally similar. Like social inclusion, the art of remembering requires different, yet, connected parts, to come together in a timely fashion to deliver a recall request. If 1 or more part/s arrive late, perhaps due to pain, intoxication or excitement, the individual simply forgets.

In Helen Milner’s commentary here, she emphasise the challenges involved in accessing black Women – a feat successfully achieved during 2018’s Get Online Week – opening NEW access for integration and continued participation.

As Natalie Thrope (Good Things Foundation) points out, “to shape a future that works for everyone we all need to be involved in the political debate”. So, instead of speculations and assumptions, and considering the open, ubiquitous, and connected foundations of the project, I conclude with 3 ideas for consideration:

  1. Can the project benefit from digital-champion and female mentoring?
  2. Does it have a role beyond politics and for entrepreneurship, local economy and everyday life?
  3. Can it inspire and develop the next generation of female politicians and community advocates?

The Voicebox Cafés programme is funded by the Government Equalities Office through the Women’s Vote Centenary Grant Scheme. Find out more about the Voicebox Cafés project