The Community–Linux Training Centre, 2001

Paul Mobbs & MEIR:

The Community–Linux Training Centre

The Community–Linux Training Centre was developed as a means of promoting the use of Gnu/Linux for education and training amongst community organisations, with the ability to operate in the remotest of locations by dispensing with the need for an Internet connection – instead simulating the common Internet services via a local server.

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The The Community–Linux Training Centre was a fully mobile ICT training platform which required no external network connection – enabling training to be carried out in the most remotest of places. It consisted of five laptops in a box – one server and four clients. The server simulated all the services common on-line – email, web, FTP, network file systems, IRC chat and remote logins. In addition to teaching Internet and software skills, the physical network enabled the teaching of ICT hardware skills too.

When working with community education in Oxfordshire, from around 1995-1997, I taught the over-50s and ethnic minorities how to use computers. I wanted to get people on-line, but the costs of phone calls, and the slow dial-up connection that perhaps ten or fifteen people would have to share, made this impossible.

‘Developing the Community-Linux Training Centre’, January 2003 I devised a plan to build a portable server and a set of laptops running on a private network. Initially I tried to do that with conventional Micro$oft systems – which would have cost almost £12,000. As it was novel and untried, no one would fund it.

I had discovered Linux in 1999. In 2002 I redesigned the whole thing to use recycled computers and Linux software, and suddenly the cost was now just £2,500.

‘CLTC, First Year Project Update’, October 2003 The problem was now that funding agencies wouldn’t look at it because it was not only novel, they also didn’t believe such a thing could be built for so little money – and in any case, funders hate giving small grants because they cost proportionately more to administrate.

However, being so relatively cheap, I was able to crowd-fund from supporters of the idea and in June 2002 the Community-Linux Training Centre (CLTC) was completed.

CLTC in use at Grizedale Centre, Lake District, 2002

‘Developing the Community-Linux Training Centre’, January 2003 At the time, particularly amongst the community-based advocates of ICT and Linux, the idea was considered revolutionary. I spent two years taking the CLTC tool chest around Britain running workshops, training people how to use the Internet for community organising and campaigns.

A key part of the project was documenting the whole process of setting up the clients and the server, and then putting that on-line for others to share and develop. As a result the idea spread. Over the years since I have had contact from people all over the world who had tried the idea.

Wiring up the network for the
The Container Project, Jamaica, 2003

Then in early 2003 I had a job offer I couldn’t refuse: To go to Jamaica for a month and teach people how to recycle computer scrap (imported/gifted from the USA) into cheap functioning machines; and then teach them how to configure a network like the CLTC so they could train people to use computers locally – without having to rely on the (awful) telecommunications infrastructure of the small rural Jamaican community where I was to work.

Running the final workshops on using
the server system, Jamaica, 2003

It was a lovely month; and on my return I edited the footage I’d collected to make a short music video, from the launch party of ‘The Container Project’ – to show the world what they had all been able to achieve. They had built their own version of the CLTC, albeit it had two servers, fifteen clients, and was the size of a large shipping container!

goto YouTube: ‘Computers in Cross’, May 2003
The Container (click image for YouTube video)

A couple of months after my return, when I showed the video at an event in London, it resulted in getting occasional work from the charity Computeraid International – to help them learn how to do something similar around the world. It also helped to inspire other computer recycling and training projects in Britain.

Around 2005, with Internet connectivity becoming easier, the need to take an ‘Internet simulator’ to communities reduced. Likewise, compared to 1998 when the idea began, computer hardware was becoming cheaper and easier to access – and ther were far more services selling second-hand/reconditioned hardware.

By 2006, after four years of use and the laptops now requiring replacement, it was decided to close the project.

What began as a solution to the problem of providing ICT training in the time before Internet connectivity was widespread, developed over five years – and innumerable projects elsewhere influenced by the concept – into a low-tech., cost-effective response to a need which, at that time, was not being met. Almost 20 years on, and the CLTC idea continues to enthuse people to develop their own solutions using low-cost Linux servers and networks.