Getting with the programme: Code Clubs and the digital challenge in Brent Libraries

Sarah Smith, Libraries Development Manager at Brent Libraries, tells us what the organisation is doing to offer more Code Clubs for local young people, and how her Code Club Regional Coordinator has helped her organisation take steps forward.


Sarah Smith shares the success of Brent libraries with attendees at a recent London Code Club meetup

We launched our first Code Club in January 2016. It was a service we always wanted to get up and running, and the opportunity presented itself in autumn 2015. We got an offer from Neil Benn, a local Code Club volunteer and software engineer at a West London tech company.

Neil’s own journey into the world of computer programming began during his teens through writing simple “Hello, world”-style programs in languages such as BASIC and Pascal. This was also the time when the internet was just beginning to take shape, so he dabbled with making simple websites. He made the decisions to study Computer Science at university, and went on to have a rewarding career writing software for a range of different purposes.

Coding club 2

Fast-forward to the present day, where Neil’s passion for working with computers has led him to volunteer with Brent Libraries, running digital making workshops to offer new learning opportunities for local children in the community. He’s done amazing work with the young people in our Code Club sessions, and we certainly would not have achieved so much without him on board.

Our first Code Club started at Willesden Green Library in January 2016, and since then we have worked with dozens of children aged 7-11. We started with Scratch-based projects only, and have since progressed to a mixture of Scratch projects and BBC micro:bit projects.

coding club 1

Each club session lasts one hour, and although the Code Club projects are structured, we encourage children to take them in whatever direction they choose and to display their creativity. A successful session is one after which the answer to “Did you enjoy today?” is a resounding “Yes!” from all the kids.

In July, we ran a Code Club training session for potential to recruit more people who want to help us offer weekly term-time Code Clubs in all six of our libraries. The session was delivered by Mickey Day, Code Club’s Regional Coordinator for London & East of England, who did a fantastic job and really made volunteering sound easy and doable. You don’t have to be somebody with the knowledge and skills of a young Steve Jobs!

Coding club 3

Around 26 people attended the volunteer training, which was a fantastic turnout. It was heartening to see so many adults from different walks of life who are keen to volunteer and get Code Clubs up and running in schools and libraries. Among our libraries, only Willesden Green Library currently has an active Code Club, but considering the success of the training session, we hope we will be able to add more clubs in autumn.

On top of that, we’re also looking into starting monthly STEM clubs, and are hoping to launch our first one at Ealing Road Library this autumn with support from the National STEM Learning Centre. So the future for Brent Libraries is bright and, to borrow my own school motto, ‘Yet Higher’!

Join our network

Are you keen to set up a Code Club in your library, or to get stuck in with volunteering? Head to our website to get started.

Library success in Scotland

Recently we were able to support the Scottish Library Information Council (SLIC) in promoting Code Club to libraries across Scotland, a project they financed through a grant from the Digital Xtra Fund.


Venue scouting

At Code Club, our aim is to ensure all young people have the skills, confidence, and opportunity to shape their world. In order to increase the chances that every child can attend a local Code Club, we are continually looking for new types of venues that can run clubs. To help us with our mission, from time to time we get the opportunity to cooperate with key organisations that share our aims.

The Scottish Library & Information Council

One such organisation is SLIC, and we have enjoyed working with the SLIC team over the last six months. With support from our Regional Coordinator for Scotland, Lorna Gibson,  two SLIC project officers organised a tour of training events at which library staff got to experience Code Club, with a view to giving them the confidence to start their own club. The team travelled around all of Scotland, running sessions in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Orkney Islands, Shetland Islands, and Western Isles.

Gillian Daly, Head of Policy and Projects at SLIC, said:

“The ‘Code Club in libraries’ project has been very successful: 74 library Code Clubs have already been established as a result of it, with at least another 57 on the way. There has been lots of enthusiasm for Code Club from library staff, who have found the ready-to-use Code Club projects great fun to work through in the library.

The public library network stretches the length and breadth of the country, providing access to technology and the internet across communities. This means that libraries are ideal Code Club venues, and we are keen for all of our branches to host clubs in the future.

Over 150 library staff members across Scotland have been trained to help make this happen. We’d also like to work with volunteers to ensure that all young people have the opportunity to take part in a Code Club.”

Start a Code Club

If you’d like to start a Code Club in your library, find out more about hosting a Code Club here. And if you’d like to meet fellow Code Club volunteers and learn more from their experience, you can look for a local event on our events page.

Run a Code Club at your Library!

Interested in getting a Code Club started in your local library? We asked Julie Gibson, Branch Library Manager for Omagh Library in Northern Ireland, about her experience running a club. Here is what she says:

robot-015Libraries are all about reading and learning, including about the use of technology, and one of the Libraries NI objectives is to help bridge the digital divide. With this in mind, I thought we were a perfect location for offering local children access to what is essentially taking words (code) and creating a story (program), whether an animation or a game.

After some thought and discussion regarding the practicalities, Libraries NI’s first Code Club met in Omagh Library in January 2016 with 10 children registered. Children have busy lives with homework and after-school clubs, so we decided to run sessions alongside school terms on Saturday mornings, which is also a time our computers are not in high demand.

We were lucky to have Una, Code Club’s Regional Coordinator for Northern Ireland, as our volunteer for the first term, and she got everyone, staff and children, motivated to learn to code by setting up a real whack-a-mole game using Makey Makey, play dough and Scratch!  

Faced with their first coding project the children were enthusiastic. Coding mixes logic with creativity, a great foundation for any child: focus on learning the basics, follow the steps, consider the consequences, and let your imagination soar!

Robot - 002I have to say this is one of the quietest children’s clubs I have ever hosted, as they are all so absorbed by the code, except for occasional outburst of joy at creating something new or of despair at the project not working.  When the latter happens it is usually enough to remind the children to check that they have followed the steps in the worksheet – success is in the detail – and there is always another club member to help if someone needs it. Anyone who finishes a project early either moves on to a new project or goes back over the project they have completed and tweaks it to make it their own, choosing new sprites, stages and conversations. At the end of the term each club member receives a certificate as proof of their accomplishment.

My best Code Club moment? This has to be every time a child’s eyes light up when they see what they have achieved – proving that coding is for everyone.

Learn more about the potential of Code Clubs in libraries by watching our short video on Youtube, you can also sign up on our website.