What I learned from my walking tour of 10 Polling Stations on General Election Day 2015

As trailed this morning, today I did a walking tour of the 10 Polling Stations nearest to my house on General Election Day. I did this to highlight the ridiculous situation that our voting system still uses 19th Century methods in 2015. I hope that we will have online voting before the country as a whole does this again.

First, here’s the story of the day.

 

Prelude

 

The Starting Point

 

 

Polling Station 1 – I voted

 

Polling Station 2

 

Polling Station 3

 

Polling Station 4

 

Polling Station 5

 

Polling Station 6

 

Polling Station 7

 

Polling Station 8

 

Polling Station 9

 

Polling Station 10

 

So, what did I learn?

Well, I learned that the terrain of Huddersfield is pretty challenging, something I already knew, but perhaps needed to be reminded of. And some of the Polling Stations were in quite hilly places. They must be difficult to get to for people with restricted mobility.

I also learned that Polling Stations are in some pretty varied places. But, in my sample of 10, there was only one, at Paddock Village Hall, that was in a place which seemed to be offering other reasons for people to be there, namely a community cafe.

And I perhaps learned most from the 40 minute break I took along the way in a pub. I overheard a couple of conversations, one involving two people who were voting today for the first time in years “because it’s important this time, isn’t it?”; and one about voting in Australia, which is not only compulsory, but, it seems, is made an occasion of, with barbecues at the Polling Stations.

I think we need to move to online voting as soon as possible. But, in the interim, barbecues at Polling Stations doesn’t seem like a bad idea.

General Election 2015 – Touring the Polling Stations

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It’s a matter of extreme frustration to me that the benefits that digital technology is bringing to all our lives are seemingly not allowed to touch the world of politics. And so it is that most of us will pick up a piece of card which came through the letterbox a few weeks ago and trudge off to a drafty school hall to place a cross on a piece of paper.

I think younger people in particular find this ridiculous, and it is a reason why many of them don’t vote. We need secure, online voting, and we need it well before the next General Election.

So, to highlight this absurdity, I have decided to spend a substantial part of this General Election Day touring the 10 nearest Polling Stations to my house. And I’ll be doing this on foot. I expect to have to buy a new pair of shoes by the end of the day. I’ll be recording my reflections on the way.

Watch out for the updates, on my Twitter account.

See you later. And, whoever you support, or don’t want to get in. Vote!

Here is the map of the polling stations. It is on Google Maps at https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=zPzr7KA767V8.khe9J9CRM4Dk

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Older People, Technology, and Social Isolation

This is by way of a progress report on my ambition to put measures in place to make sure no older person needs to be lonely at Christmas 2015 if technology can provide a solution for them.

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This is a description of some things I have done, some I have observed and some I am planning. In some cases I am describing plans and concepts and cannot go into real details as there are negotiations on-going to confirm arrangements. Everything I am setting out here, though, is a practical contribution to ensuring that the barriers to new technology adoption among older people can be broken down. They are also demonstrations of what needs to be done. I could not claim that the totality of what is here is a comprehensive approach. We need to scale these initiatives up, roll them out across the country, and fill in the gaps. I am still looking for funding to make more of this happen. Please get in touch if you can help.

Digital Tea Parties

During the past year I have run Digital Tea Parties in Leeds, Trafford, and Whitby, and there are a number of others in the planning stage. Digital Tea Parties are a great way of introducing older people to new technologies in a non-threatening environment. They allow the focus to be put on human communications and individual and community interests, rather than shiny tech. They are a familiar environment, in trusted locations, and they offer opportunities for those with a degree of interest to take the lead in introducing their peers to new gadgets. It is important in my view not to try to force people to use technologies they are uncomfortable with at the outset. Seeing others like them having a go can overcome that “tech is not for people like me” prejudice that often acts as a barrier.

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Providing Connectivity

I am working with partners to connect up a sheltered housing complex, provide free wifi throughout and run a number of digital tea party-type sessions to kickstart residents’ use of new technologies. We intend this to be a demonstrator project that can be rolled out widely.

Relevant Content

I am convinced that one of the barriers to new technology adoption is that older people struggle to find content that is of interest to them. And, in addition to this, I believe that activities such as slumping in front of the television actually contribute to older people’s social isolation by disengaging them from the world around them. Work at Digital Tea Parties, particularly the reaction to the pub crawl video at Urmston, convinced me that people need content to engage with that is directly relevant to them, as I expanded on here. I have now secured funding as part of a larger project to develop this idea further and to create content which can be used with groups of older people to engage them with their local communities.

I am also seeking funding to run this Seaside Recollections project in which I would tour seaside locations guided in real-time by older people in pursuit of their memories of childhood holidays.

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Reminsences and recordings

Also as part of the above, secured, project, I will be conducting video and audio interviews with older people participating in the initiative. I believe this is an important thing to do for a number of reasons, namely;

  • it stimulates the older person’s memory
  • it breaks down some of the barriers to new technology adoption
  • it creates more content of interest to older people
  • it can change perceptions of older people by allowing them to present themselves as they were in their younger days
  •  it contributes to project evaluation

Staff Digital Confidence

I am working on a number of initiatives to promote digital skills, confidence and fluency amongst staff working with older people. None of these yet have funding, which is extremely disappointing, because I firmly believe that often staff act as gatekeepers, seeking to keep the older people away from technology because they are frightened of the consequences of letting them loose on it.

 

All of these are activities which can turn the tide in the battle to promote technology adoption among older people, and achieve the ultimate goal of breaking down loneliness and isolation. We need to roll these things out more widely and scale them up. If you can help, please let me know.

 

Convincing older people to join the digital life

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Yesterday I ran another Digital Tea Party, this time with Leeds and Yorkshire Housing Association at their West Thorpe Sheltered Accommodation site in Whitby.

This was a Digital Tea Party with a difference, as we hadn’t had the opportunity to test the connectivity at the venue before the event. When I arrived I discovered that, not only did the in-house wifi not extend to the residents’ lounge, but there was little or no 3G or 4G connectivity available either. Eventually, I managed to get online via Emily Fulda‘s phone, but I could only connect my laptop, and we couldn’t get any of the other devices we had online. That meant the event resembled a lecture more than it did a party.

Nevertheless, it turned out to work quite well. While setting up, I put the video below on the screen, and it immediately generated a discussion, centred on the steam-powered bus it featured, which apparently has been banned from the streets due to a number of issues around its operation.

Discussion in the group moved on to where people came from. 4 of the residents had originated in Leeds so I was able to show a video that had been very popular at the Digital Tea Parties in Leeds

And then we discovered a real gem. One of the residents had himself been videoed reading his poems, so we were able to find those on Youtube and show them to the gathering

This was a particularly important breakthrough. I have found that in these circumstances it is important to break down the “technology is for for young people” argument. This is often achieved by finding one or two enthusiasts in the group, and getting them to lead the way and act as champions with the rest. Here, we were able to show videos of one of the residents who was himself a digital trailblazer. This sparked curiosity even in some members who had been disengaged up till this point. David talked about how he chats to his brother in Australia using Facetime. Unfortunately, it was not possible to arrange a demo of this, in part due to the poor connectivity we were experiencing, and, perhaps, mainly due to the fact that his brother would have been soundly asleep at the time.

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So the discussion ranged from keeping in touch with relatives, via online shopping, to being able to listen online to local radio stations from back home. And then we were on to musical tastes. A couple of classical music videos were run for the benefit of residents, and then a member of the group mentioned he was into AC/DC. Although a rendition of the great Australian band’s “Thunderstruck” did not go down that well with most in the room, there was much more interest when I asked if anyone had seen the Bad Piper’s version below.

I’ve come across too many events with older people where it has been assumed their musical tastes are rooted in the 1930s. Most people’s musical tastes are forged in their teenage years. If you were a teenager in the 1930s you will be well into your 90s now. Most of the residents at our event were in their 70s and would have been teenagers in the 1950s and 60s. Thus AC/DC is a much more likely choice than is Vera Lynn.

The connectivity issues meant that we were unable to do as much as I wanted, and there was little opportunity for any hands on work with gadgets. But, I still think the event worked. There was lively discussion about the role of technology in member’s lives, with quite a few myths dispelled, and residents challenging each other to give things a try. I think it is very important to get these kinds of issues sorted, rather than forcing people to use technology at their first session if they are reluctant. That kind of approach can turn them off forever. I always say that we have to “normalise” the use of technology in people’s lives. And the first step can often be just to get them talking about it, and not treating it as an alien concept.

After the event, myself and the team from LYHA, Emily, Dan Marshall, and Rio Overton, decided to take a brief advantage of the glorious April weather by heading down to the beach. We passed the huge queues for the numerous Whitby Fish & Chip shops, along the harbourside and onto the beach. And, of course, because Rio was named after the song by Duran Duran, it was compulsory for her to dance in the sand

As I’ve mentioned before, I am determined to do more of these kinds of events, with a view to making sure, by Christmas 2015, that we have comprehensive mechanisms in place to ensure everybody who needs to can access technology to break down their loneliness and isolation. Please get in touch if you’d like to work with me on events like this and more.

 

Podcast: Tom Murtha on How Social Housing saved his life, and giving a platform to views of a certain kind

Tom Murtha, a well-respected senior figure in the social housing movement, caused a few waves recently when he twice walked out on speakers at the Homes for Britain rally. So, for my latest Podcast, I wanted to ask him why he did this, and why he thinks giving platforms to people with certain views is potentially damaging to the housing sector.

We also discussed Tom’s wide-ranging career in social housing, and how he believes he owes his life to social housing and to the advent of the NHS.

I interviewed Tom over Skype, which was Tom’s first experience of using the tool. It all went (largely) remarkably well, as you will hear:

 

The First Digital Makeover

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Well, we did it! The first Digital Makeover is complete. Helen Reynolds and myself are offering organisational Digital Makeovers in which we go in and try to reach every part of the company with some digital magic over the course of 2 days.

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We had a great time working with some wonderful people at Yorkshire Coast Homes. The feedback was fantastic, the energy of the staff and board members we worked with was infectious, and it all carried us through the barrier of tiredness which hit us towards the end of the second day. We even managed to fit in a great Tweetup on the Monday evening, which allowed us to make further contact with some of the Scarborough digital community.

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Here’s the Storify of the 2 days http://sfy.co/a0Lbe

Having done one, we are desperate to do more. It’s such a fantastic way of working. If you’d like us to visit you next, please email us at enquiries@powerplayers.info

Making Digital Inclusion Mainstream

Digital is vital, it is central, it is at the heart of so much the majority of us do.

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But, as we know, that is not true for a significant, if dwindling, numbers of people. I believe it’s important that we help as many of these people as possible to realise the benefits from digital as the rest of us do. But I continue to be frustrated at the way many go about this.

Digital is vital, central and fun. Why then separate it off from the rest of life?

To an extent I am reiterating here, but maybe the message is not getting through.  This is what I believe we need to do to make Digital Inclusion mainstream:

  • stop separating it off from other activities. If you’re an agency that believes digitally including the people you work with is important, then demonstrate that. Don’t make it the responsibility of one person or one division. Your organisation needs to be imbued with digital, your staff need to be digitally skilled and enthusiastic about it, and they need to want to pass both the enthusiasm and the skills on. Have a look at Halton Housing’s Digital First programme.
  • most of us use digital for fun activities. People’s introduction should be fun, or of personal value, or, preferably both. Stop sitting people in front of computers (give them tablets instead) and making them fill forms in, or complete courses. Show them where the fun is, and where they can find information on their personal interests.
  • go to where people are, don’t expect them to come to you. Stop putting all your digital inclusion resources in rooms that people have no reason to visit; go to where they are and want to be. Have a look at Leeds Federated Housing Association’s HUGO project.
  • Digital Inclusion and community development should be aligned. Digital is so important to well-being and quality of life that I fail to understand how any community development strategy can be pursued which doesn’t put it at the centre. And the techniques of community development are vital to coaxing people to take their first steps in the digital world. Look at the work of Communities 2.0 in Wales.
  • Digital Inclusion is not a one-off hit. People need continuing support. And this support is best received if it comes from people like them. We need many more volunteer digital mentors on the model of the Making IT Personal project.

Digital inclusion needs to be fun, integrated, and sustained. And it need not cost a fortune.

Cricket & Social Media – Conversations aided by food

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Last night was the first Huddersfield session in the  Cricket and Social Media project I am running with the ECB (England and Wales Cricket Board). When I devised the format for these workshops I borrowed the idea of kicking off with a discussion over a curry from the Social Care Curry movement.

So the Huddersfield workshops began at Saims Restaurant. And, judging from what people said at the end, and on twitter later on, it proved to be a great success.

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This proves my theory that food is a great facilitator for conversations. Now all I need to do is to persuade all my clients to build a curry into every project I do.

 

 

Cricket & Social Media – Building on Community

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Last night was the first session of the Cricket & Social Media work I am doing with the ECB (England & Wales Cricket Board). I’m running 3 social media workshops for people involved in local cricket clubs and leagues in each of Bradford and Huddersfield. The intention of this work is to ensure that those who play cricket regularly can make the most of social media to engage those who might be casual players, in danger of dropping out, or not know where to go to join a club.

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The first session in each location takes place over a curry as a convivial start to the process which breaks the ice and gets the conversation flowing. And last night’s event, held at Omar Khan’s restaurant in Bradford proved to be a great kick off to the process. We had 25 people in attendance, from a wide variety of clubs, and the conversation was wide-ranging. It was evident that some people are already making use of social media, and there is much to build on in terms of experience, content, enthusiasm and ideas. There are so many benefits to be had from regular involvement in the game, and, over the next few weeks, we are working out the best ways to promote and sell these benefits to those who might be undecided about them.

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A key issue which came out of last night’s session was how to discourage people from inappropriate “banter” on public fora associated with the clubs. This kind of thing is a minority activity, but nonetheless important for clubs who are trying to build and maintain their reputation, and, in particular, who are trying to attract young people to get involved. And this presents particular issues for clubs whose members are volunteers and not in a position to monitor what takes place in their social media spaces 24 hours a day. Cricket clubs are essentially communities, and one our key aims in this initiative to extend this community spirit into online spaces.

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I think we’ve made a great start on this process, and I look forward to telling you more about our progress over the coming few weeks.