The EU Referendum – proof of the power of storytelling

I’m banging on about storytelling again. Because I believe a momentous decision has just been made because slightly over half of the UK adult population believed a story. That story might be true. It might not. I very much doubt that all of it is true. Much of it might have its roots in truth. But….

You see, the Leave Campaign bus had a slogan on the side which said “We send £350m a week to the EU: Let’s spend that money on the NHS”. Nigel Farage made a speech in front of a poster saying “Let’s spend money on the NHS; not Brussels”. This morning he has said that nobody promised the EU money would be spent on the NHS. You see, not all stories are true. But some of them are powerful enough to make people believe in them.

I watched a TV programme recently about the guy who debunked Yuri Geller and several evangelical Faith Healers. Even though their methods were publicly shown to be fake, after a brief glitch in their popularity, most went on to resume their careers. People wanted to believe that what they were doing was real more than they wanted to believe the facts. The story won out over the reality.

So, in the face of myths, we have to tell the real story and we have to get people to want to believe the reality more than they want to believe the myth. People believe that all social housing tenants are cheating scroungers because of “Benefits Street” and the like. They believe that having any kind of ambition in life is setting yourself up for a fall because that is a recurring motif in TV Soap Operas.

So, some of the stories we have to tell, in ways that that engage people, are:

  • Social housing is necessary for social cohesion and a balanced society;
  • Some people need benefits because they can’t work either permanently or temporarily;
  • Collective community actions can improve people’s lives;
  • Some people can and should be able to improve their own health and wellbeing if given support and access to resources;
  • WIthout immigration our economy would collapse;
  • Ethnic and social diversity is a social good and enhances all of our lives
  • Older age is not “God’s Waiting Room”.

And those of us who believe in these ideas, or work in organisations whose existence depends on them, need to tell these stories ourselves. All the evidence suggests that no one else is going to do it for us.

I am passionate about the power of Digital Storytelling and I want to help all organisations and individuals to gain the skills and capabilities to tell their own stories to the world. If you share this objective, and just need a little help getting there, please get in touch.

Capturing Older People’s Technology Stories – Teresa’s Story

Here’s another of my series of stories of how older people are using new technologies, for the Centre for Ageing Better. I captured this one unexpectedly at an event where I hadn’t taken my usual video kit with me, so it was done on my phone with no additional equipment. Sorry, therefore, for the background noise.

  • Teresa was persuaded to get first a smartphone, then an iPad by her grandsons who wanted to keep in touch with her. Her grandsons taught her how to use both of them;
  • She particularly loves keeping in touch using Skype, FaceTime, Facebook and Messenger;
  • The real value of how she uses her iPad is that she can keep in touch with family members all over the world;
  • Teresa believes that you cannot tell how someone is feeling on the telephone, but, by using Skype or FaceTime you can see people’s faces and get an insight into their feelings;
  • Teresa says she would now be lost without her iPad;
  • She spends a considerable time messaging with a good friend every evening;
  • Teresa’s next plan is to buy a wireless printer so she can print from her iPad;
  • The best thing about having access to new technologies is having face-to-face contact with her dispersed family;
  • Teresa says “As long as you’ve got wifi you can do it”.

Why You Should Use Digital to Tell Stories

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It’s about 3 years now since I first started calling myself a Digital Storyteller. I was far from the first to do so, but I’ve come across very few people who work largely in the non-profit sectors who do so. Most of the others who have adopted the title have been journalists or marketeers. My own evolution came about through a gradual realisation that the people I was training in using social media in the public and voluntary sectors were often failing to put their new skills into practice mainly because they thought they didn’t have a story to tell. So, I shifted my emphasis away from the physical mastery of the tools and towards helping people to find the stories they were going to use those tools to tell.

The non-profit sectors are still not taking full advantage, however, of the opportunities digital tools now give us to tell our stories. If you look at how the big brands do it, it is clear that they have always told stories, whether it be via TV advertising or otherwise, about why they should be part of your lives. It’s how good marketing works. And consider politicians. Their key aim is to tell a story about how they see everyone’s future, and to get voters to buy into that story enough to want to vote for them.

The past six years have been a struggle for many non-profit organisations, with Government-led austerity meaning that funding has been declining while, often, workloads have been expanding. But the cuts have not fallen evenly across the board, with some sectors being protected, and others even being successful in getting planned cuts reversed. This is because these sectors and organisations have greater public support. Like the brands, the public buys into their stories. On the other hand, the mainstream media has often been cheerleading moves to downgrade and cut funding to some sectors, by producing reality TV programmes which degrade and stereotype the people they support. Thus programmes such as “Benefits Street”, “Skint”, and “On Benefits and Proud” all contribute to the story in the public’s mind that certain groups are undeserving of public support and thus taxpayers’ money shouldn’t be spent on services that cater for them. Another case in point is how the EU Referendum debate has been dominated by issue of immigration. This has become the story to the exclusion of most of the remainder of the multitude of issues which the EU deals with.

But the fact is that, when the people actually understand what non-profit services do, their support for it increases. I often point to the case of Dave Throup, the Environment Agency Officer, who gathered a cult following on social media, at the same time that the Agency he worked for was getting a kicking in the media for failing to save the country from floods. This occurred because Dave was telling the story of the great work he was doing on the front line by tweeting about it. It is much easier to love passionate individuals, working hard to help people, than it is to embrace faceless, corporate entities like the Environment Agency. This is why it is so important for non-profit organisations (by which I mean public, voluntary and social enterprise organisations) to tell their stories. And there are three stories we should all be telling:

  • Our personal stories: who we are, what we do, and (crucially) why we do what we do;
  • Our organisational stories: the history of the organisation, its role in society, how it does what it does; and
  • Our client stories: how what we do makes people’s lives better.

All of these insights into what organisations do can be vital in contributing to public perceptions of what we do. But perhaps the most important is the latter element. It is obviously in an individual’s interest to promote what they do, and in that of an organisation to present the best possible image. But, as the best brands have discovered, customer testimonials are the most powerful stories as they don’t have vested interests in being positive about the goods and services they receive. Client stories, therefore, need to be front and central of any digital storytelling strategy.

Social media has become central to millions of people’s lives. This trend shows no signs of abating, in fact, as demographics previously resistant to it recognise its value, it is reaching into new areas of society all the time. And people using social media are increasingly getting the majority of their news and information online. The big brands are all there competing for attention, and telling their stories to the world. But still, far too many non-profit organisations are leaving the field clear for mainstream media organisations and politicians to tell negative stories about what they do. Can you afford to let this situation continue? I think not.

If you would like me to help you with your organisation’s Digital Storytelling strategy, please get in touch.

#HousingDay 2016

Can you believe that this year sees the fourth #HousingDay, the event which has now become a fixture in the annual calendar? #HousingDay is 24 hours when staff and tenants in social housing take to social media to celebrate their work, lives and communities. This year, the event is on the 19th September.

I’ve sort of made a tradition now of organising high profile stunts on the day designed to try to bring the world’s attention to the work that social housing is doing. In 2014 I did the #Housing Day Roadtrip, when I drove 800 miles visiting social landlords up and down England and Wales to highlight their great work, and in 2015, I did the #HousingDay NewsRoom when I was joined by some doyens of the social housing sector to live stream hourly news bulletins about what people were doing for the day.

This year I want to do something that is a little more ambitious. In fact, it might be a bit too ambitious, but I am putting the idea out there to see if there are any takers to help me make this happen.

One of problems that I think besets the social housing sector is that it is guilty of talking to itself rather than to the outside world. #HousingDay is, of course, an attempt to break out of that self-perpetuating bubble, and I think it does that to an extent, but not to anything like the extent that is necessary to make a real difference. And, by make a difference, I mean get widespread support for the sector such that it becomes impossible to impose damaging laws on it, starve it of resources, and make stereotyped TV programmes which demonise tenants. I think we are still a long way from a position where we might achieve these objectives.

2016 is the 50th Anniversary of the broadcasting of the TV programme “Cathy Come Home” the play that did so much to raise the profile of the housing crisis of the time, and which led to the founding of Shelter and many of the housing associations which exist today. That was a real breakthrough moment, and it is perhaps no coincidence that the current housing crisis has caused director Ken Loach to come out of his self-imposed retirement to produce a new film.

So, this is what I want to do on #HousingDay 2016. I want encourage people involved in social housing to organise Housing Film Shows, and I want these to happen in as many towns and cities as possible. I want “Cathy Come Home” to be on the bill of these shows, along with any other housing-related films people can think of. In fact, I want to challenge the social housing sector to make its own films about its work to show alongside “Cathy”. It would be great if each town and city could have its own unique film to show on the day.

But more than the film shows, I want this to be a major opportunity for the sector to talk to others outside its boundaries. I want everyone who organises a show to pack the audience with people who live and work in social housing, but I also want them to invite as VIP guests:

  • local MPs
  • local councillors
  • the Chief Executive of the local authority
  • local business representatives
  • the editor(s) of the local newspaper(s)
  • the editor(s) of the local radio station(s)
  • local and regional TV news
  • local celebrities

And I want organisers not to take “no” for an answer. I want us to move heaven and earth to get as many influential non-housing people there as possible, and I want each show to be a high-profile, media-friendly event.

Can we do this? Is it too ambitious? I hope not. Your comments welcome below. And get in touch if you want to help organise shows.

 

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Capturing Older People’s Tech Stories – Shirley and Graham

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This is the third in my series of interviews for the Centre for Ageing Better with older people on how they use technology. I met Shirley and Graham at their home in Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire. Thank you to Sophia, their granddaughter for making it happen. The video of the interview is at the foot of the post.

Shirley’s story:

  • Shirley first got involved in new technologies when she got involved in managing a local After School Club;
  • She had to learn to use spreadsheets to manage the finances of the club;
  • Shirley really enjoyed learning to use IT;
  • Shirley uses the internet to buy things;
  • Shirley’s oldest daughter lives in Canada and she loves to talk to her grandchildren there via Skype;
  • She does her banking online;
  • Shirley is thinking of buying a tablet so she can use it when she is on holiday;
  • She really appreciates facilities like eBay which she can use quickly to buy a replacement saucepan when she has burnt one on the hob;
  • Having access to the internet means Shirley can learn something new every day;
  • Shirley believes that all older people should give the internet a go;
  • She believes that the internet is very much better than the TV. “There’s nothing on the TV these days except repeats and Attenborough”;
  • Shirley loves YouTube and uses it to watch old episodes of “Top Gear” and “Open All Hours”;
  • She has recently purchased a VHS player as this is the only way to be able to watch her granddaughter (Sophia)’s childhood dance classes;
  • Shirley loves “spying” on the younger members of her family via Facebook;
  • She has a digital photo frame which she loves transferring photos to.

Graham’s story:

  • Graham used to work for BT International. In the mid-1980’s he was invited to a conference on the Internet, but he didn’t have time to take interest;
  • Ever since he has studiously avoided anything to do with his previous employer;
  • Just recently, he has been persuaded by Shirley to learn how to do online banking as their local bank branch has closed.

Capturing Older People’s Tech Stories – Joyce

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This is the second in my series of posts on how older people are using new technologies, stories gathered as part of work for the Centre for Ageing Better.

An old university contemporary of mine put me in touch with his 91 year-old Aunt, Joyce, who emigrated to Florida from Bradford in the 1950s and who had more or less lost touch with her family in the UK before she learned to use Skype.

Here are some of the things Joyce told me. The full video of the interview is at the foot of the post:

  • Joyce started learning to use a computer because her sight was failing and it helped her read;
  • Before learning to use a computer, Joyce struggled to write more than a postcard, partly due to nerve issues in her hands. She has now written 3 books, none of which has been published, but which she writes for the sheer joy of it;
  • The most enjoyable part of being online is being able to keep in touch with friends and family all over the world. Joyce remembers the time when she had to make an appointment to make a transatlantic phone call, and it was prohibitively expensive;
  • Joyce says that her sister-in-law was talked out of attending computer classes by her son who said she would never master it and it was a waste of time;
  • Joyce does much of her shopping online “because things are cheaper”;
  • Joyce says she would be very bored without a computer;
  • Facebook is where she keeps track of her children and grandchildren, and, that day, she had been watching her great granddaughter on a Disneyworld rollercoaster;
  • When asked her attitude to other older people not wanting to be online, Joyce replies “I think they are nuts…. They’re missing out on so much, sitting there in a chair, falling asleep or watching the Idiot Box”;
  • Joyce is firmly of the opinion that being online keeps her young. She says “I look at people 10 to 15 years younger than me and they look so much older. There is always something on the computer to keep your brain going”.

Capturing Older People’s Technology Stories – Greta and Arnold

This is the first in a series of posts on a piece of work I am doing for the Centre for Ageing Better on capturing stories about how older people use technology. If you or someone you know would like to tell their story, please get in touch. I’m particularly interested in talking to “younger” older people (55-70).

I visited the Seniors Centre in Catford, South London to meet Greta and Arnold and talk to them about how they use new technologies. The video of the interview is below.

Greta and Arnold have been married for 60 years, and Arnold recently celebrated his 90th birthday.

Some of the key points they made about new technologies are:

  • They were fascinated by their younger relatives “waving smartphones about like they were magic”. This made them want to learn more about them;
  • Their journey started when they became trustees of the Seniors Centre and were told they had to use email to receive documents. This terrified them at first, but forced them into changing their attitude;
  • They were further intrigued when the Seniors Centre started holding Techie Tea Parties. The most recent of these events attracted over 60 people. As Greta says; “it’s a very good idea to have tea and technology together”;
  • A key advance was when they learned to get their emails through their smartphones, although Arnold complains that Greta’s phone is constantly pinging with news of her Amazon purchases;
  • Greta explains that nobody taught her how to use Amazon, she saw it as a next step on from the basic skills she had already acquired;
  • The single most transformational moment in their recent lives was learning how to use WhatsApp. Greta says “it gives us so much pleasure”. This pleasure is chiefly derived from the daily updates they get on the progress of their baby great-granddaughter;
  • Greta admits that they were frightened of new technologies in the first instance, but they learned that they needed to relax. “Once you start relaxing you can do it very well” she says:
  • Arnold says “Young people tend to be obsessive and do it all day. We have the rest of the world to pay attention to”;
  • Technology is always evolving. Greta thinks their next step will be to learn to make videos so their family can keep in touch with Greta and Arnold’s day-to-day activities rather than it all coming the other way as at present.

AirBnB as an antidote to the Bedroom Tax?

photo by Raj Kumar

Yesterday, I was at HouseMark‘s Digital Futures Club. This is a regular event that I am part of with a number of others, and it has become a growing club with more housing providers who want to explore the world of digital technologies joining all the time. Check it out here if you want to be part of it.

At this event, Paul Taylor and I kicked off with a joint presentation about what members had told us they wanted from the Club, and the kinds of meaningful activities we envisaged being facilitated to ensure that members could implement digital technologies in their own organisations. I was struck by something that Paul said during this session, namely that “there are no stupid ideas”.

So, after the event, a number of us congregated in the pub round the corner, the pub, of course, being the place where most great ideas are fostered. This is so true that I am thinking of launching an ideas generating app called Pub, except that it probably already exists. Anyway, after most other people had drifted away, Paul and I were still kicking ideas around, and I mentioned that I had stayed in an AirBnB apartment the previous night. And quite quickly, this thought got linked with another we had been discussing about the Bedroom Tax. So, I asked the question, why couldn’t we organise an AirBnB for Bedroom Tax; i.e. something which allows people subject to the bedroom tax, but who need to keep their “spare” room to rent it out for short periods to cover the gap in their Housing Benefit payments?

Photo by Duncan Morrow

Now, go on, I can hear you shouting already about all the reasons why this is impracticable, impossible, and even immoral. But, as Paul said, sometimes you have to act as if there are no stupid ideas. Throw everything against the wall and see what sticks. And, as we repeatedly said and heard yesterday, and at other times, the UK social housing sector has no choice but to change radically, so all ideas have to be considered.

Could we do this? Why not?

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Wetherspoon’s – The Ultimate Social Network?

 

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I spend quite a bit of time in different branches of Wetherspoon’s, the pub chain. Ah, before you go rushing to conclusions, let me tell you why. There are two reasons.

The first is that I travel a lot, and I tend to do it on a budget to keep costs down. I stay in a lot of cheap hotels, and, to be frank, the quality of breakfasts in some of them leaves a lot to be desired. And some don’t offer breakfast at all. And I am vegetarian, which further complicates matters. If they can actually cope with the request for a meat-free breakfast, it is often the case that the eggs, mushrooms, etc. are cooked in the same pan as the sausages and bacon. So, as there are a lot of Wetherspoons around the country, and they serve vegetarian breakfasts, I tend to seek them out for breakfast when I am travelling.

The second reason is the 99p coffee. What, you don’t know you can get coffee with unlimited refills for 99p up to 2pm in Wetherspoons? So, even if I am not in there for breakfast, I often find myself working in a Wetherspoons and filling up on very cheap coffee at other times of the day. Yes, it’s great to work in hipster coffee shops, but, as I only drink black coffee, I am not really bothered about the quest for evermore outlandish caffeine-laden drinks. And, the other thing about Wetherspoons is that all its branches have free wifi (via The Cloud) which usually works pretty well.

And I have noticed something about Wetherspoons. Even early in the morning, when I am eating breakfast, there are nearly always several, solitary, older men in there, usually supping pints. I say solitary, because they will nearly always be sat at separate tables, not engaging with each other.

So, I have long thought that this may be an opportunity. If you are looking to engage with older men and get them involved in social activities, maybe Wetherspoons could be your starting point?

And here’s a video I made about Working in Wetherspoons. Why not try it and make me a bit less solitary in using the #workinginwetherspoons hashtag?

Amendment:  Just an addendum to say that I’ve done breakfast in Wetherspoon’s in Scotland and am aware that the Scottish licensing laws do not permit the sale of alcohol before 10am. They do, however, permit Wetherspoon’s to sell breakfast and coffee, and it is interesting that their branches in Scotland (at least the one’s in Glasgow and Edinburgh that I have visited) open for breakfast notwithstanding.

Dementia North Wales – The People Know Best

This is another post about a great event I was fortunate enough to be part of in late November last year.

The Dementia North Wales event was truly inspirational as it gave a voice to people living with dementia. People with dementia were in the room contributing to the discussions and helping to design solutions, and people with dementia were the platform recounting their experiences, and detailing how their condition affected their lives, as well as describing their frustrations with the professionals who often failed to treat them in sympathetic ways.

And here’s the overview video I produced of the day, which I hope captures at least a little of the uplifting mood of the day