As I clear my (virtual) desk and look back over my time at Bytes, I think it is fair to say that the last few years have, at times, been like a rollercoaster ride!
Coming from a background of social innovation and entrepreneurship, when I started with Bytes in late-summer 2018, it had been a while since I had been directly involved in working with young people. I knew I had a lot of catching up to do, as well as two offices with over 35 staff to get to know, a range or operational issues and the immediate issue of several long-term projects coming to an end.
Early on there was the daunting task of securing a significant amount of money to replace the funding those projects provided, as well as looking to build a ‘pipeline’ of future projects that would ensure we could see where we were headed. But there was also the not insignificant task of defining what kind of organisation we wanted Bytes to be. There was a long history of Bytes running small community centres and hubs, operating out of them directly in communities across Northern Ireland. However, by the time I joined, these centres had closed, and we were mostly working in partnership with established youth hubs, partner organisations and schools. A lot had changed, and the question was, what sort of organisation would we be moving forwards?
To answer that, we embarked on an extensive internal process that looked at our values, our strengths and where Bytes as an organisation could most make a difference. At times this seemed like an impossible task and we struggled to condense everything that the staff wanted The Bytes Project to be into one coherent picture. However, we finally settled upon a ‘WHY Statement’ that described what we aim to do, namely ‘Inspiring young change makers to hack their world for good’. Alongside that, we then defined the ‘HOWS’ that matched this overall aim and provided a framework for approaching all our work.
But that was only the beginning. We upgraded our office spaces and completely overhauled the technology our staff use, to help them deliver more flexibly and to live up to our WHY Statement. We launched multiple new innovative programmes, co-designing these with young people, expanded our community ‘on street’ youth work, sent staff and young people abroad to participate in European programmes, made new connections, set up a dedicated Youth Board and expanded our staff team significantly, among many other achievements.
Then of course, there was the small matter of the Covid-19 pandemic…!
Ultimately, when I joined Bytes there was a clear objective set by the board. This was to update how the organisation did things, re-build our brand, explore new opportunities to harness the power of technology, find new sources of funding and expand where and how it worked. With nearly thirty years of experience working with young people in Northern Ireland, we all wanted to make sure that Bytes was well set for thrive in uncertain times.
I can say that I am leaving Bytes having met the majority of those objectives and passing on to a new CEO who will drive Bytes forward as the leading digital youth work charity in Northern Ireland and beyond.