Our 6th and last visit to the Community Media Café series was the John Lewis Café at the Highcross Shopping Centre in Leicester. The Café is situated on the third floor of the John Lewis shopping complex. John Coster, our Community Media tutor, had arranged a meeting with members of staff who are involved in running regular community events at John Lewis.

The John Lewis Café – photo: Jannerbloke

It was quite interesting to hear about the variety of activities taking place at the Café. Normally one would not expect this and this is probably the case with any other Café, may it be at Tesco or Sainsbury’s. John Lewis and Partners is different. They pride themselves to actively give back to the community in a variety of ways.

We had the opportunity to speak with Steven, who explained some of the activities he is involved in. Steven conducts regular drop-in sessions on every second Wednesday of the month from 10 to 12, where the general public, not only John Lewis customers, can get help with their mobile phones and tablets in terms of WiFi and other problems which may arise, but which people are unable to solve by themselves. This is particularly helpful to the elderly who might not be so conversant with the new technologies but who do possess a mobile phone or an iPad.

Introduction to the John Lewis team – photo: Gerhard Haas

Steven explained that people do take advantage of these sessions by bringing along their gadgets, even their laptop. He pointed out that it is different when people are shown how to do basic operations on a mobile phone or an iPad provided by John Lewis rather than when they bring their own devices. This is much closer to their heart.

Although we got Samsung tablets, we got the odd iPad as well, it’s not quite the same when they’re using their own – Steven, Drop-in coordinator at the John Lewis Café

Assistance may consist of setting up a WiFi connection at John Lewis or how to operate certain aspects of these new technologies. When asked what the most popular problems were Steven said there are no popular problems but such a variety of issues. He said there has never been the same problem but there has always been a great variety of problems.

Good advice may also be given of how to spot spam email or avoid being tricked by phishing attempts. Steven told the story of someone coming in and looking for help with Photoshop. Steven may not be an expert in Photoshop or may even not have any experience at all. However, in this case, he would try to find an answer through Google. They also have usually a handful of students from DMU to help out and share knowledge in the ever rapidly changing world of technology.

Inside the John Lewis Café – photo: Gerhard Haas

Finding answers through Google is the same approach as with our university studies, where students have to do their own independent research. The times where the teacher or tutor carefully presents the pre-digested answers or solutions are long gone. The John Lewis Community Media Café is a win-win solution. After all, people who come for help will surely also buy a cup of coffee or tea and may even take their breakfast or lunch there. It would not be wrong to expect that people make friends with others and develop an attachment for these meetings, all originally centred around new technologies. This is a community of interests.

Steven told us his personal experience of receiving an email from PayPal that his account had been suspended. The email looked so genuine with logo and everything. It provided a link to click on and sign-in to recover his account. Of course, once signed in one has given away his credentials and password. It is a classic pishing attempt. The same happened to him with Amazon. One thing to look out for is that these phishing emails usually address the customer in a generic way like ‘Dear Customer’. A genuine email from Paypal or Amazon will always address one by ones name.

Justine from Community Matters – photo: Gerhard Haas

We also had an interview with Justine, who is in charge of John Lewis’s outreach program. A team of staff members contacts local primary schools and goes into the schools to do a variety of activities with the children such as cooking classes and more. This is much to the delight of teachers who are always struggling with fitting more and more activities in their ever so tight timetable. Any help is therefore appreciated. Besides the practical help for pupils and teachers alike, such community outreach programs raise of course the public image of the John Lewis brand. It is a good public relations exercise and thus an investment into the long term future of the brand.

Interview with Justine – video: Dominika Pluta

Justine works for the Café, is a coordinator for the Café as well as a charity champion and works with the community coordinator of John Lewis to support local charities with a scheme called ‘Community Matters’. Every three months three charities are chosen for support. The selection process works on a token basis to give customers of John Lewis a say. The chosen charities are then rewarded financially.

One thing we do, what we call Community Matters. Every three months we choose three charities that we support – Justine, John Lewis Charity Champion

Leicestershire Search & Rescue are the latest of three charities that were chosen by John Lewis in their Green Token Award.

All in all, the Café is a good idea and it is certainly commendable that big business gives something back to the local community, however, it is not easy for a small charity to make it onto the green token program. All major supermarkets have by now adopted this approach of letting customers decide which of generally three pre chosen charities they would like to support. The problem is they choose which charities are deemed worthy of their support. The criteria seem more of a public relation exercise to strengthen the brand rather than a genuine desire to help.

It used to be different as little as 10 years ago when charities could, without much red tape, apply for a spot near the door or even just behind the tills and conduct a can collection there. We undertook a number of such fundraising collections in Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda and other supermarkets, even in small local branches, all with considerable success. But with this new token scheme it seems to be almost impossible to get on the list.

The effect is that whilst a great number of really small charities were able to fund raise in the old way, the green token system has reduced the variety of charities to favor only a few which are more known and deemed to enhance the brand. It appears to me that this is not a selfless, philanthropic exercise but a well calculated long term business and brand oriented decision of which the people in general are not aware of.