A basement in inner-city Birmingham is not the place you’d expect to find nuns running a hugely successful computer club but, thanks in part to West Midlands PCC, Sisters Mary and Marie are doing exactly that.
In the depths of the St Francis Centre in Lozells, the nuns run Conscious Café, hosting weekly computer classes for women.
Led by tutor Paula Sawyers, the sessions are mainly attended by women in their 60s and 70s from all walks of life who want to break down technological and cultural barriers – as well as making new friends over a cuppa and a cake and boosting their confidence.
Sisters Marie McGrogan and Mary Horgan applied for cash from the Police and Crime Commissioner’s Active Citizens Fund, which sees criminals’ ill-gotten gains ploughed back into the community for good. They received £1,500 and were able to buy four new laptops for the club, which currently has 20 women taking part in the classes.
Sister Marie said: “When the women first arrive, they are often so nervous and shy but it is wonderful to see their skills and confidence blossom.
“The classes help in so many ways: on a practical level, obviously there’s the computer skills and the ladies learn about word processing, paying bills online or Skyping their family and friends in other countries.
“But then there’s the other side of things: they become more confident, their self-esteem improves, it gets them thinking again and they make new friends and build up a new support system.
“We have a comments book and some of the statements are so wonderful to read. Examples include ‘I feel 40 years younger’, ‘the laptops have opened up a new world to me’ and, my favourite, ‘you’ve brought us back to life’.
“We are so grateful to the Police and Crime Commissioner for this funding and would encourage other community groups to make the most of the Active Citizens Fund.”
West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson said: “The Conscious Café is doing exceptional work supporting these women and giving them new skills and renewed confidence.
“It is wonderful to see cash being taken from criminals and redistributed within the community for good causes such as these. This money really does help our active citizens make a difference.
“Projects such as the Conscious Cafe do immeasurable good within the community and I am delighted to be able to support it via my Active Citizens Fund.”
Perry Barr Inspector Noeleen Murrin added: “Active Citizens is a brilliant initiative and projects such as these are the way forward.
“Active Citizens empowers communities and allows them to make positive changes. I am extremely proud of it.”