IT’S a Friday morning in Rotherham town centre and the training staff aboard Google’s Digital Garage bus are doing a brisk trade.
Not that any money is changing hands – its services come free of charge – but the town’s shoppers are proving an inquisitive bunch, and there’s a steady flow of them dropping in with questions about IT and social media.
The bus is the outreach arm of Google’s Digital Garage in Sheffield, which was launched for a six-month period in April and extended for another six months due to its popularity.
It offers advice and training both on an ad hoc basis and hour-long sessions on subjects such as getting started, staying safe online, and social media strategy.
“The more people use us, the more likely it is that the programme will expand,” says Digital Garage team leader Misha Cunningham. “But the good thing is that we’re not having to convince anyone of that.
“People are, of their own volition, coming to us to find out what they can learn.”
One of them is Abby Abrames, who looks after the marketing for Harmony Music School in Sheffield. She first visited the Digital Garage when it was being piloted in Leeds a couple of years ago and has been coming back ever since.
“When they left Leeds, I went down to Birmingham, and when they left Birmingham I went to the London one,” she says. “When they leave Sheffield I’ll find out wherever they are going to and I’ll follow them there too!
“The Google team feel they’re like an extension to our marketing department. We know these guys now because we keep coming back to see them, and they’re really friendly and really supportive.”
What keeps her coming back is the sheer cost-effectiveness of using the service to broaden her skill-set.
“We’re a not-for-profit independent business, so obviously we have to really think about what we spend our money on.
“I do try to look things up myself, but it’s a really long-winded way of going about it. So to be able to book a free hour-long session, where they tell you exactly how to solve the problems you’re facing, is invaluable.
“My advice to anyone thinking of coming along is: just do it! You would not believe how beneficial you’ll find it.”
Abby’s sessions with the Digital Garage have certainly made an impact. In August alone, web searches for Harmony Music School went up by 23 per cent; page views jumped by 21 per cent; and ‘actions’ on the website – bookings, enquiries, feedback – have leapt by 59 per cent.
Crucially, for a business that sells a service, it received 40 per cent more calls in August – no mean feat during the school holidays.
Abby says: “Since we started the journey with Google, we’ve taken on two new teachers and an admin person. We are now Sheffield’s most recommended music school, which is massive.”
This is not the first time the bus has stopped here; Rotherham Investment & Development Office (RIDO) arranged for it to visit for four sessions around the borough, twice in the town centre, once at Wath-upon-Dearne and once at Dinnington.
Martyn Benson, new business developer for RIDO, says it has become a popular part of the package of services the council’s investment arm offers.
“We’re pointing our business clients towards it, where we think any aspect of what they need could be available here,” he says.
“The feedback has been brilliant – not a single word of criticism. It’s gone down very well indeed.”
To register for a course visit g.co/SheffieldGarage.