Just a few minutes walk from Newton Abbot train station, is a small organisation with monumental ideas.
The people at Simply Great Media are not only passionate about technology, they are industry experts. In fact, one of them is a leading expert in his field.
They are also keen to help those considered to have special and educational needs, to realise that they have unique talents that the technology industry is crying out for.
Company director Tim Powell-Morris and ‘Chief Enthusiast’ Lenny McCoy are self-confessed ‘geeks.’ They speak with often self-deprecating humour, but there’s no doubt that they truly believe in the transformative power of technology.
Established in 2017, Simply Great Media were originally based at Seale Hayne, providing games workshops and computer coding clubs.
In January this year, they moved to new premises in Newton Abbot and have become increasingly involved in developing people with autism and social and emotional needs.
Simple Great Media are hoping to develop young people (Image: Simply Great Media)
Tim explained: ”We were contacted by Torbay Council about a particular case, that had a problem with a child that was a Special Educational Needs case, who was hacking, essentially and who was getting into the E-mail systems of the schools.”
”They approached us knowing that we had a technical background and said ‘Can you help this young man?’ and that really kind of got us going, ‘Hang on a minute, there’s a whole world out there of things that need to be done. We grew it from that seed, we ended up in the SEN area.”
Lenny is ex military and is currently working on the F-35 Fighter Program, which deals with next generation military aircraft. He said it’s considered to be the most advanced technology programme on the planet. Whereas Tim, has a creative background in publishing, TV and music.
Lenny said: ”We thought, how do we take Tim’s creative prospective and fill in the creative gaps in engineering, which is my background and come up with a philosophy that is new, fresh and helps these youngsters.’
Many of the learners receive 1:1 training (Image: Simply Great Media)
”It’s quite a fascinating pairing between the two of us, that we’ve both got those focuses on the creativity. I apply the engineering side to it, Tim applies the creative side to it and we’ve got severals others now who fill in the other skill gaps that we have.
”Ultimately, our aim here, is to have people walking out of this place standing a foot taller and feeling a bit better about themselves, and then, that’s when our work starts.”
Through Simply Great Media, children and adults with additional needs, can learn a range of technological skills, such as coding, web and game design, and cyber security.
All of the programmes are bespoke and delivered by staff that have been hand-picked because they are an expert in their field. The majority of the people they currently teach, are children referred to them because they’re struggling in the education system.
Lenny said: ”We see youngsters who walk in here like a hedgehog, scared, really, really scared, presenting as difficult, aggressive. In extreme cases, non (school) attenders. This disappears in about 20 minutes and we see the child.”
Learners can learn on professional equipment (Image: Simply great Media)
As a parent of children on the autism spectrum, Lenny brings not only his technological expertise, but a lived understanding of the challenges young people can face. He said Simply Great Media want to help children that are that are not being supported by the system.
Tim wanted to make it clear that they have ”Utter respect for teachers and the difficult job that they have to do,” but the team are keen to explore alternative ways of educating and nurturing young talent. He said Simply Great Media is particularly hoping to further develop their post-16 provision:
”We are just looking at being able to offer proper formal qualifications. Certainly, I think for both of us, the eye is on education at the moment, the way tech is being taught in schools, which isn’t being taught in schools.
”We’re on a precipice of a paradigm shift in the workplace, as technology evolves and more and more jobs are going to get lost to technology,but technology is equally giving back as much as it’s taking away, but people don’t know that.
”People don’t know how to access this world of education, that’s available to everybody, if they know where to look for it.”
Tim believes that the more exciting jobs are jobs within technology and that these jobs are actually more accessible than ever.
He said we are ”Just scratching the surface of the possibilities of where technology can take people and that’s fully inclusive, everybody can access that, but nobody is shouting about this. Everything we do has an employability slant on it.”
A learner developing game design skills (Image: Simply Great Media)
Lenny said he believes that the current education system, passing exams and ticking boxes can break a child.
He said: ”It builds anxiety, it builds in fear, it reduces self worth and ‘because you don’t tick those boxes, you wont be employable,’ is what the system is telling them.”
He is clear that this is simply not the reality and that young people with technological skills are very much in demand. in the workplace.
Lenny said: ”You don’t necessarily have to go through the education system to be good at this stuff, you can learn vocationally, through experience.
‘I’ve also got links and used to work with some of the very senior people in GCHQ, (Government Communications Head Quarters), so I can hopefully forge links into the industry.
Learners can develop game design skills (Image: Simply Great Media)
”Qualification, that’s what the system wants, what these guys need is some purpose, some self-worth.”
Tim said: ”Giving them that, the qualification comes by itself.”
Simply Great Media is working hard to change people’s perceptions of their own abilities and those of employers, but their ambitions go even further.
Lenny said a business guru had questioned why Simply Great Media were operating in Newton Abbot, rather than a big city. Lenny said he thinks Newton Abbot could become ”The centre for technical development.”
Tim added, half-jokingly: ”We have a little dream about this part of the South West, Devon and Cornwall becoming the Sillicon Valley of the UK.”
A game design learner (Image: Simply Great Media)
Until they can make that dream a reality, Simply Great Media are continuing to develop what they offer.
They are currently planning a program called Ready Parent One, which avid gamers will recognise as a pun on ‘ready player one.’
The program aims to educate parents and carers about how to keep young people safe online. Lenny and Tim also hope it will foster positive conversations about gaming between adults and children.
They are also looking to work with educational psychologists, so that young people can find a way to tell their life stories using games such as Minecraft. Tim said: ”We’re trying to encourage multi-agency working.”
Going forward, Lenny said: ”Hopefully, we’ll have a group of youngsters that can build websites for businesses, do 3D print stuff, make electronic stuff. We can repair stuff, we can do all sorts that can earn them a role in industry.”