Bertram Henry won the Inspirational Learner Award from tech-for-good charity Good Things Foundation, as part of their 2 Millionth Learner Awards.
The organisation - which aims to make good things happen through technology - was celebrating having supported 2 million people to gain new digital skills - and they launched the Awards in November to put a human face on such a huge number.
Good Things Foundation operates through the 5,000 strong, community based Online Centres network, who rose the challenge by telling the stories of some of the individuals they’d helped since 2010.
Nominations poured in from across the country, and were put before a cross sector panel of judges including senior representatives from Lloyds Banking Group, MIND, Google, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the Department for Education (DfE), and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
They picked out Bertram’s story for his determination and progress, and his commitment to giving something back to those who helped him on his way.
“During my breakdown period I didn’t go out the house much,” explains Bertram. “I was paranoid and anxious and the people close to me were very worried. I used to be really active and outgoing so it was a big change. When I was properly diagnosed they put me on some medication and gradually things got better. I still found it hard to get out and about but I could go and sign on and do bits and bobs.
“It was my advisor at the Jobcentre who said I should try a computer course to build my confidence and my skills. She suggested going to First Asian Support Trust at Longsight Library UK online centre, so I decided to go along and see what it was like. The first time I went in I was a bit worried. I wasn’t going out much and staying in all the time it was a big step, but I thought ‘I have to do this’. The atmosphere was quite relaxing, and I soon made some friends. Everything went from there.”
Now Bertram, 48, has completed loads of computer courses on Learn My Way, and got the certificates to prove it. As his knowledge has grown, so has his confidence.
“I found the Learn My Way website really suited me, and I actually picked things up quite quickly” explains Bertram. “I could learn about the things I wanted to learn about, and go at my own pace. I couldn’t type an email before and I didn’t know how to use Facebook. Now I can do all sorts of things!”
When centre manager Linda Malone saw how much Bertram was enjoying his learning, she suggested he become a volunteer digital champion, and share his new skills - and his enthusiasm - with others.
“I’ve found that I really enjoy helping other people - it’s exactly the type of job I’m looking for now I’m feeling so much better. My advisor at the Jobcentre is pleased with my progress and she’s helping me look into what I could do to get there - like a PTLLS course. I’m also going to work on updating my administration skills, things like presentations and spreadsheets. Things that will really help me get back to work.
“I don’t say ‘I can’t’ now. Because I know I can. I feel really positive. I’ve got that sense that something good is about to happen. I feel bright in the morning now, because I’ve got somewhere to go, and something constructive to do. So I’m going to continue on my journey, and continue to learn and grow.
Bertram concludes: “Now I’m happy with myself. I’m not down in the dumps anymore and that’s thanks to Linda and Learn My Way and Longsight Library.”
Helen Milner, Chief Executive at Good Things Foundation said: “At Good Things Foundation we know that the combination of digital skills and local support can change lives - and Bertram is living proof of that.
“The judges thought Bertram’s journey really was inspirational - he’s come such a long way, and overcome so many barriers to change his life for the better. What’s more - he’s now passing those skills and that opportunity onto others. I hope this award goes some way to helping Bertram realise how special he is.”
Bertram received his award at a prestigious ceremony at the BT Tower in London, attended by representatives from across the digital inclusion world. For Bertram, it’s been the icing on the cake.
He says: “The view from the top of the BT Tower was amazing - and it really put things in perspective. I’m really pleased to have won this award. I still can’t really believe it, to be honest!”
Manchester City Council's Executive Member for Culture and Leisure, Councillor Luthfur Rahman, said: "I'm really glad that Bertram found Longsight Library to be such a welcoming space, which offered the digital facilities he needed to enable him to develop new skills and build his confidence. It's also great to know that Bertram is now passing on his new-found digital knowledge to others.
"Bertram's story is a wonderful example of the vital role our citywide network of libraries plays in offering space for free learning opportunities which are accessible to everyone in the community."