Last week, many IT professionals stood together in the offices of BDO Stoy Hayward in Baker Street, London, to pledge support for the launch of Byte Night 2011, the IT industry's annual sleep-out which supports Action for Children's fight against youth homelessness and social deprivation, writes Ken Deeks, founder of Byte Night.
Byte Night has always had a strong connection with technology; the idea for Byte Night came to me 13 years ago when I saw an Action for Children poster on the Underground seeking funding to help end youth homelessness. At the time, the IT industry was spending huge sums of money on Y2K bug fixes, which made me think that maybe we sometimes get our priorities wrong. So working with colleagues and friends from across the sector, we decided to get this hugely rich industry to support a charity which had a pressing need for assistance to solve a really important social problem - youth homelessness.
Technology's role in social development
Technology has always had a part to play in the social development of children. Social networks and online forums such as Facebook and Twitter are evidence of this. Young people increasingly rely on technology, not only to communicate with their friends and family, but also in their education, personal development and career prospects. IT as an industry attracts some of the brightest and most innovative young people in the country. Children who have grown up using various technologies therefore have a range of career opportunities within their grasp.
However, lots of vulnerable young people have no access to the everyday technologies we take for granted. Many young people in the UK are neglected by their families and forced onto the streets at a very early age. This situation is worsened by the fact that there is a shortage of 10,000 foster homes in the UK. Once on the street and without the right support and funding, it is very difficult to break the cycle of deprivation. Technology can help break this cycle.
Martha Lane Fox, the co-founder of Lastminute.com, is campaigning to get the remaining nine million people in the UK who have never been online connected to the internet by 2012. She argues that by being online a person can save £300 a year on petrol, gas and electricity. Consider then, the difference that IT could make to the lives of neglected children. Byte Night stresses the importance of digital inclusion for all deprived children, so they have access to the internet and are able to develop IT skills needed for a prosperous and happy future. Furthermore, Byte Night empowers IT people to support the fight against youth homelessness, and brings together like-minded people from across the industry who are passionate about helping young people.
Investing in young people's future
Now in its 14th year, Byte Night to date has raised over £3m for the charity, and we hope this year's appeal will generate over £600,000 alone (smashing last year's £570,00), with 700 sleepers taking part. Raising much-needed funds for Action for Children's projects around the country, Byte Night is now a staple event in the IT calendar, with the link between the technology sector and the charity's valuable work growing increasingly relevant. The IT community's support is critical in helping provide homes and support for vulnerable children at the risk of homelessness.
For Byte Night 2010, sleepers and supporters were invited to contribute to the first ever crowdsourced bedtime story: the Byte Night Bedtime Story, which was started by actress Emilia Fox and is now available online at www.bytenight.org.uk/bedtimestory. Byte Night 2011 will take place in London, the Thames Valley, Cambridge and Edinburgh on Friday 7 October. If you would like more information, or want to book your place, go to www.bytenight.org.uk.
Ken Deeks is the founder of Byte Night and a director at The Amber Group.