Leeds women in tech: The Unsung heroes – Claire Garside

Next in our series showcasing the women in Leeds not only carving out their careers in technology but also helping to spread awareness, inspire our next generation and create opportunities for some of the most vulnerable people in our society.


Claire Garside – Co-Founder at the Foundation for Digital Creativity and Leeds Raspberry Jam

How did you get into tech?

I fell into it, literally! A head injury soon after I graduated was a life changing moment that took me down a different path to the one I’d planned. As a secondary teacher in secondary education, with a Technology subject specialism, I quickly transitioned to a leadership role with special educational needs. Driven by a personal understanding of empathy in the classroom and workplace, and with a new level of resilience, this goes some way to explaining my interest in promoting inclusion and valuing diverse communities with digital making projects today.

After 7 years in teaching I took another direction as a lead educationalist with large scale EdTech implementations, managing a team to design and deliver professional development for school leaders and teachers. The launch of the Computing curriculum in 2014 shifted my focus to supporting leadership teams and teachers with the move from ICT to Computing and the evolving pedagogies involved with managing that change

Tell me a bit about your role? How do you see your role evolving in the future?

In 2017 we founded The Foundation for Digital Creativity, with Dr Andrew Robinson and I was on a mission to remove barriers and ignite inspiration, enabling everyone to bring about social good through the use of digital technologies.

This involves supporting young people in schools with problem finding during this Year of Engineering, working with public and private sector organisations to help them solve their own local problems with connected devices or increasing digital skills in community settings at the same time as improving the quality of air that people breathe. It’s a joy and a positive juggle to work across such a range of projects!

Everything we do is centred around adults and children motivated by curiosity and the desire to understand how technology innovations can positively impact on issues relevant to them. Over the next year you’ll see us building on our ‘Internet of Curious Things’ and ‘Sense and Sense Air-bility’ programmes and I’ll be partnering with more educational organisations to influence change.

I’m a strong advocate of improving girls’ and women’s opportunities in STEM, so I’ll be working on more initiatives to encourage girls to take up STEM subjects at KS4 and address the lack of diversity in those fields. We need to tackle the perception of some girls that STEM subjects are ‘too difficult to learn’ and look to rework the curriculum to address this issue as all learners make decisions about GCSE. Currently, only 1 in 5 Computer Science GCSE pupils are female, and this needs to change if we’re to move towards true diversity in STEM and celebrate a diverse and talented pipeline of digitally-literate and creative learners.

What are your interests outside of work?

I grab every chance at the weekends to take the family outdoors and walk in the great Yorkshire countryside. When it’s just me, I’m usually completely outside of my comfort zone and ‘learning to learn’ something new. A couple of years ago, a mate recommended that I pick up a Tim Ferriss book and that sparked something in me to take up ballroom dancing – at the same time that somebody else said I wouldn’t be able to do it. That journey’s another post, but one that’s taken me to national finals in Blackpool and a purple belt exam in kickboxing. Who said I couldn’t do it?!

Are you involved with the Yorkshire tech community outside of work? If so what’s your involvement and why?

Since 2015 I’ve organised the monthly Leeds Raspberry Jam meetups in a voluntary capacity.

It’s a great chance for our ever evolving group to try out and share new ideas with digital making, and that ‘jam’ factor gives it a friendly feel that’s easy for new people to join in. The diversity of experiences from individual makers nurtures that supportive environment that’s so different to formal education settings. It’s brilliant to see first hand how intergenerational teams foster more opportunities with creativity and innovation.

What do you predict will be the next big thing in technology?

Well I always talk about connected devices and the Internet of Curious Things, so I do think the next big step will be for everyone to innovate with personal devices. To be able to build a secure device that’s personal to your own needs, not an ‘off the shelf’ solution that you need to bodge into something close to what you want. For years we’ve talked about how ubiquitous technology will be transformational. Imagine a world where that’s matched with everyone equipped with the digital skills to embrace that change? Want to improve your dance technique or the air quality in your neighbourhood? Think it and make it yourself 🙂

What’s next for your role?

I’ll be linking wellbeing to more personal learning. A couple of years ago I took a part-time sabbatical at Leeds University’s School of Education and contributed to a peer reviewed research paper exploring the impact of maker education on the formal curriculum. Now I’m embarking on my own research around digital making and wellbeing after enrolling on the university’s Doctorate of Education programme. Everything will be interlaced with the work that we’re leading at the Foundation for Digital Creativity, so it’s academic and exciting times ahead.