It's moving toward the end of the financial year and lots of things have to be finished by March 31st. We're getting to the end of our feasibility study for a new organisation for fishermen, and this month is also the deadline for work on an interim evaluation of the ICT Improving Reach project in the North East.

Improving Reach is a programme run by Capacity Builders designed to assist infrastructure organisations who support "hard to reach" groups in four different areas: isolated rural groups, BME, refugees and migrants, and faith groups. In the North East there are a number of projects, including ones with the NE Refugee Service and the Regional Refugee Forum. But the one we're talking about here is one through VONNE which aims to support infrastructure organisations in using ICT more effectively. Last year there was a mapping exercise and this has led to a number of actions: a telephone support line, "digital mentors", and support for equipment (both for infrastructure organisations themselves and for loaning out to front line groups).

Most of the actions have only been going since the end of 2009, so there's not much to see yet - on the other hand, the beneficiaries in general seem enthusiastic and have good reasons in their explanations of why the actions will make a real difference - let's hope they're right!

The one action which seems to have failed is the telephone helpline, even though it was offered with online remote support as part of the package. It's not for want of promotion, so we can only suppose that it doesn't fit in with the way VCS organsiations work. I think when there's a problem it's always more a question of asking someone who they know who lives round the corner, or badgering the "accidental techie" in the office. It's just not something where a telephone number is kept. Maybe they need stickers to put on every computer to promote it?

Next year is the last year of the project and will involve more of the same thing - with sustainability being the key issue. This seems a good initiative so let's hope there will be grant funding to continue with the parts which show promise.