Ever heard of Catbytes?
Situated at the Ewart Community Hall in Forest Hill, Catbytes is a Community Interest Company serving Lewisham. The company supports those who do not feel confident using information technologies like computers, online services, software etc. Damian, founder of Catbytes, has a lot of experience working in IT and wanted to set up shop in this area of Lewisham where IT specialists are few and far between but those lacking the skills abundant. His vision was to set up a business which would help the community and cater to the needs of its members. Catbytes supports locals who feel alienated by new technologies and helps build people’s confidence up so they can use essential tools without fear of breaking them.
Essentially Catbytes is a two-part enterprise. On one hand it is a community-oriented business which provides affordable web design for small organisations. This includes guidance and technical skills that help people build and manage websites to get their hobbies off the ground and onto the internet. Catbytes also offers to host these websites and continued support throughout the whole process. Other services setting up digital hubs at community centres, troubleshooting Wi-Fi problems, consulting on software, and help setting up Zoom for classes and businesses.
On the other hand, Catbytes is also a community in itself. The recently redesigned Catbytes Community website is a treasure trove of local IT news and information, ranging from opportunities within the community itself to the 3 most common Zoom mistakes. As a community, Catbytes has launched 3 projects to support locals:
Techy Tea Clubs – social environments where people can learn more about how to use their devices.
Virtual Aid – supporting people with getting better at using their devices over the phone.
Lewisham Device Library – a device library consisting of donated computer equipment. These are lent out to people who are isolated or families with children that need them for homework.
The Device Library
Over the lockdown period, Catbytes partnered up with Lewisham Homes to evaluate the need for equipment like laptops, tablets, screens, mice, keyboards etc in the local community. They realised there were many pupils in need of computers to continue their studies in a home environment and many who used Virtual Aid before COVID-19 did not have the equipment at home to keep practicing. With the help of other partner organisations like the 2000 Community Action Centre, and Masks For Extraordinary People, Catbytes successfully campaigned for equipment donations with the public which are now part of the Device Library and available for loan. In a week they received over 40 donations and the number has kept growing since. At the moment, they have more than 60 computers overall and an array of other devices.
Thanks to the staff’s expertise in IT, donations are refurbished and repaired when necessary and have all the basics (Linux OS) to get their recipients onto the World Wide Web.
As it is just getting started, most of these projects only offer services to members of the Catbytes Community but there is a referral system in place with hopes of opening the services to more and more locals. You can get a referral through Lewisham Local, Community Connections, Age UK, Lewisham Homes, or local schools who have a partnership with Catbytes. Check their webpage for more information on how to borrow equipment.
Two ways to get involved and help develop these projects into thriving community services, are to volunteer and/or donate. In terms of volunteering, most wanted are drivers (to deliver items from the Device Library to those in need) and people with experience in hardware and software repair. Find out more about how to volunteer with Catbytes here and with the Device Library in particular here. In terms of donations, Catbytes is mostly in need of computer equipment but any of these will be welcome: laptops, tablets, desktops, monitors, smart phones, chargers for smartphones, mice, keyboards, power cables and connecting cables, mini wifi hubs that can provide internet access, etc. If you want to donate something, please contact the company at firstname.lastname@example.org or call +44 793 928 8079. It doesn’t matter how old your equipment is either, so get looking in those old cupboards!