Re-booting to stay connected
Among Hamdi Ali’s many talents must surely be the skill of balance. The Estate Computers project worker, based at the Carlton public housing estate, has done wonders with a small workshop, 150 computer monitors, a bank of PC hard drives and more keyboards than you could poke a mouse at.
But this delicately balanced array of tech-ware, while vital for the continued growth of the Estate Computers initiative, is beginning to take on a life of its own.
Established as part of the Carlton Online, Opportunities and Learning initiative (COOL), Estate Computers is a workshop where recycled computers are refurbished and sold to public housing residents for a nominal fee, a service that is connecting communities across Melbourne – and indeed the world.
A recent influx of donated computers from the Victorian Department of Human Services has created the happy challenge of too many computers and not enough space in the workshop, a challenge which Hamdi hopes to overcome with the help of University of Melbourne staff volunteers and some good old elbow grease.
“Estate Computers was established with funding from the Department of Planning and Community Development. We initially started out with about 200 computers from DHS, 20 from Carlton Football Club and 30 from DPCD, and we’ve sold about 150 of those, but this recent donation from DHS has taken us back to well over 150 computers and we don’t have a lot of space to work with or the resources to catalogue them all effectively,” he says.
Through COOL’s links with the University and as part of a human resources initiative which supports staff to undertake two paid days of volunteer activity each year, Tania Elliott, the University’s principal web officer, has come up with a solution. Relatively new to her role, Tania was looking for some team-building opportunities as part of an annual planning day.
“I was looking for something that would challenge and inspire us as a team, something that would take us out of our comfort zone and require us to really pull together and rely on one another to get the job done.
“Ideally I was hoping we could do something which would take us out of the work context and this working bee project is a really great fit, it’s not just a team-building exercise for the sake of it, but it’s also about doing something that’s useful and purposeful.
“Hamdi was also looking for some specific technical assistance with imaging for the computers once we’ve sorted out the workshop, so we put the call out and a staff member from another part of IT has also volunteered to help out.”
The web team taking on the challenge will have their work cut out for them; moving furniture, laying out the room, setting up access points and reorganising computer storage, but when the last keyboard is packed away Hamdi will be much better resourced to turn his attention back to the business of computers. Already the store has grown beyond the Carlton boundaries to provide hardware and assistance to public housing estates around Melbourne, including Brunswick, Braybrook and North Melbourne.
Each refurbished computer is sold for $55 and comes installed with genuine Microsoft software.
Hamdi says the Estate Computers model is unique in Victoria and interest around the initiative is state-wide.
“We are quite happy to become a base for other estates and share our resources. Some of the other estates don’t have the skills, space or support to establish their own computer shop, so it makes sense for us to share what we’ve developed here in Carlton,” he says.
“Closer to home, resource-sharing forms a significant part of the links between the housing estate and surrounding organisations, like the Church of All Nations, Drummond Street Services and the University.”
COOL’s steering committee is made up of representatives from a range of related organisations, including the Carlton Local Neighbourhood Centre, and the hope now is that Estate Computers can establish its own board of management and continue to develop other partnerships.
A number of University student projects have linked up with Estate Computers and COOL, in particular a Students in Free Enterprise business and marketing assessment which Hamdi hopes will guide the continued growth of the store.
“It will be these links which help Estate Computers expand, and there are many opportunities for us to look at, like bringing in University experts to talk to residents about internet security or supervising children on the internet,” he says.
“We recently undertook an evaluation of COOL and the outcomes from all the initiatives and projects developed were very positive. All along the aim has been to get Estate Computers running as a sustainable business, and we’re well on our way to achieving that.”