A tech start-up in south-east England is developing the next generation of coders in a UK-first.
The Code Zone will help plug Britain’s coding skills shortage with an interactive virtual club for youngsters aged 6 to 14.
Owned and run by Paul Allington, 37, and Ashley Payne, 33, the monthly subscription service is now live and trademarked.
The business received nearly £45,000 in funding from Innovate UK, Britain’s innovation agency, in response to economic disruption caused by the pandemic.
Software developer Paul and self-taught programmer Ashley demonstrated “realistic and significant benefits for society” with their innovative business.
Their coding platform idea took on sudden urgency when their in-person The Code Zone clubs temporarily closed because of lockdown.
Established as a business last year, 11 clubs across Cambridgeshire, Essex and Suffolk were growing in attendance numbers, with an additional 10 new locations a year in the pipeline.
Operations Lead Ashley said: “Like so many firms, our business model was suddenly upended by lockdown and we had to rethink fast.
“Whilst we had always planned an online format, the pandemic accelerated the concept.
“It made strong sense to replicate The Code Zone online, given the huge surge in home learning platforms and applications because of the Covid-19 situation.
“There are 400,000 six to 14-year-olds in the UK, so there is significant potential for children to engage in real working code in a fun, interactive, meaningful and safe way.
“Our clubs – virtual and in person – guide participants through the coding of intriguing robots, backflipping drones and hackable computer games.”
“The Code Zone’s format is a UK first, offering a hybrid experience with live support from The Code Zone leaders through challenges and events. Current offerings elsewhere are either apps or courses.
“It makes coding accessible from an early age, in a format that no other online product does, and our strapline encapsulates the frontier spirit of what we do: ‘Coders, Creators & Future Makers’.”
Technical lead Paul said: “Thanks to Innovation UK funding, which has enabled us to fast-track development, we have high-growth aspirations, with clear potential for online nationwide engagement from users.
“We may have the next Mark ‘Mr Facebook’ Zuckerberg in the making here at The Code Zone, with no physical or social barriers for our members.
“There is a national coding skills shortage because of the lack of targeted coding education, and the ever-increasing numbers of businesses and organisations rely on computer code in our hyper-connected world.
“The supply of coders cannot keep pace with software demand from IT, cybersecurity, data analytics, design, gaming, business, science, engineering and energy, to name but a few.
“Coding is a futureproof skill - one that youngsters can learn through fun and challenges, such as designing a smartphone arcade game.
“Here at The Code Zone we are proud to be helping the next generation of home-grown coders. By doing so, businesses and their customers of tomorrow will benefit.
“We also aim to do our bit for the country by creating up to 12 full-time equivalent jobs in the years to come as The Code Zone brand expands.”
Paul and Ashley are, respectively, from Saffron Walden and Braintree in Essex.
Both have children aged 5 and 8; Paul’s two are club members.
Paul is also owner and director of software development consultancy The Code Guy and chief technical officer at doddle, which runs a task management platform for freelancers.
Ashley is Director and Co-Founder of a Braintree-based company, Cash in Your Gadgets.
Prices for The Code Zone Online range from £15 per month to a premium subscription of £25 per month, with the virtual offering complementing the in-person clubs.
In-person clubs are located at Trumpington in Cambridge, Cambridge Science Centre, Saffron Walden in Essex and Haverhill, Suffolk.
Earlier this month (October) The Code Zone received its trade mark registration certificate from the Intellectual Property Office.
Innovate UK’s Fast Start Competition fast-tracks the development of innovations borne out of the coronavirus crisis.
Out of 8,600 entrants, The Code Zone was among 800 companies to be awarded funding totalling £40 million.