Introducing Community Hour

For a long time now I have been raising the question as to why there are so many Business programmes on TV and radio, indeed daily slots on many channels, and hardly anything about community activities. It’s all part of a culture which celebrates money-making and gives far too little prominence to those people and organisations which put the wellbeing of their fellow human beings at the forefront of their agenda. Of course, this has changed during the Coronavirus crisis; not only has there been an increased focus on mutual activity to reach out to those most affected by the current situation, but we have seen a a welcome change of emphasis so that we are at last seeing an increased recognition of the people who toil to make our society function with low levels of remuneration. It’s ironic, nevertheless, that one of the most prominent campaigns, the fight to get the Government to fund free school meals during the summer holidays, has been spearheaded by Marcus Rashford, a highly-paid Premiership footballer, albeit one who drew on his own background in receipt of free school meals to frame the message. It demonstrates, however, that the megaphone of public voice resides largely in the same corridors of wealth and power.

Having spent most of my life working in some form to encourage people to be more community-spirited, I have been much encouraged by the recent upsurge in attention on such activities. This has coincided with the publication of a seminal book “Humankind” by Rutger Bregman. Bregman argues that the prevailing story of most of our society, that people are fundamentally bad and need leaders and laws to keep them in check, is wrong, and that evidence shows that most people are actually good, and their first instinct is actually to be kind, collaborative and helpful to each other. The “people are bad” story is one designed by the rich and powerful to justify their position in society and legitimise the need for coercive laws and control. I would argue that the predominance of business- focus in our media is a key part of this agenda, celebrating money-making over the health and well-being of the majority of society. And now, before you jump in and say that society needs money-making for a successful economy, or that most people are involved in some kind of business activity, I’ll counter that the business programmes served up by our TV and radio tend to be focused on multi-billion dollar corporations whose principal aim is to syphon resources into the bank accounts of their shareholders rather than the entrepreneurial activities which keep most of our communities ticking over. And they are part of the representation of the hero entrepreneur whose role is to save society by generating bundles of cash.

So, I’ve decided that the time has come to stop moaning about this imbalance and do something about it. A few weeks ago I started the Doctor Tech Show, a weekly live-streamed YouTube show about how people are using technology to communicate in times when they cannot see each other face-to-face. That show aims to showcase gadgets and gizmos developed to make online communication easier for people with low levels of digital skills, and to amplify stories about how people overcome the barriers to getting online and communicating.

I now want to take this approach and apply it to community-based activity. So, shortly I will be launching Community Hour and I am now appealing for content. Community Hour will be an hour-long show live-streamed on YouTube (and possibly elsewhere) showcasing what people and organisations are doing to improve the lives of their communities. It will include interviews with people involved and video content illustrating projects. If you would like to be interviewed and / or have video content to share, please get in touch. I want this to be the start of a movement to place coverage of community activism on the same level as business, and, eventually, to act as a model for community slots on mainstream TV and radio.

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I was diagnosed with cancer in February 2020 see here

There are a small amount of lovely people who have been providing me with some financial assistance to help me get through this situation, which is obviously made worse by the current pandemic. I won’t say who they are because I am not sure they want me to publicise it; but I am extremely grateful.

If you feel like helping me out in any way, please get in touch or you can support me on a regular basis via Patreon or as a one-off here.

Thanks for reading. I hope to see you all again when this is all over.

Finding Inspiration in Our Public Services

Yesterday I happened to catch a bit of a Sport Relief TV programme. There were lots of “fun” activities interspersed with sections on what the money Sport Relief raises is spent on. These sections were accompanied by inspirational music and language designed to pull at the heart strings.

Then a bit later I watched a YouTube video about the history of one of my favourite rock bands. I enjoyed the video, except for the bit about how they structured their activities to avoid paying tax in the UK. This was presented as a wholly acceptable and desirable thing to do. They were perfectly open about it.

For me this strikes at the heart of a key issue in our society. Every day people are doing fantastic, inspirational, and life-saving and enhancing things funded by tax-payers’ money. And yet, our society is happy to be moved and inspired by what Sport Relief, Comic Relief, the National Lottery, and other charitable fund-raisers do, while denigrating public services and resenting the tax monies that go to pay for them. No matter how much you might think you are an entrepreneur who doesn’t rely on the state; every time you use a publicly-funded road, have your bins emptied by the local authority, or rely on the NHS, you are using tax-funded services.

This is why I do things like the Civic Story Factory. The people who work in our public services are every bit as essential and inspirational as those funded by charitable telethons. They just don’t shout about it often enough.

Here’s an example of people doing some great work in our much derided Social Care sector. Homecare providers in Bradford.

 

Time for a Social Housing Sharing Strategy?

You’ve probably heard a lot about the Sharing Economy, but you might not know what it actually is. There is some debate about this. At its heart it is about people using their assets and skills for economic benefit. Some argue that that the more apt name is the Rental Economy. Examples of this kind of activity are things like AirBnB, Lyft, and Uber. What people are doing in these examples is not really sharing, they are renting their assets out. There are examples of sharing where people barter goods and services, but what the new wave of so-called sharing platforms do, is basically to use the internet to allow people with resources to offer them for hire to those who need them. Is it really sharing? Well, no, but, for the seller it can open up otherwise unused assets to generate economic benefit, and for the purchaser it can enable them to afford to do things they otherwise would not. I was prompted to write this post by news of the launch of Waze Commute, which allows commuters to find drivers commuting their way and pay them a modest amount for joining them for the ride.

It seems to me that social housing residents could benefit greatly from greater application of these kinds of approaches, but that they are probably benefiting least from them. I have been encouraged in recent years by the growth of the Asset Based Community Development movement, which emphasises the strengths available in communities rather than the deficits, but I’m not sure how far that is being translated into the economic sphere.

And a major consideration in all this is the relatively high level of digital exclusion among social housing tenants. While the so-called sharing platforms thrive because of ubiquitous internet access, and, particularly use of mobile internet, many social housing communities remain excluded from this party. I know as well, from personal experience, that some social housing tenants can be resistant to embracing the internet because they are reluctant to share their personal details and data online. So, I would suggest that any strategy to realise economic value from assets, skills and services in low income communities must have a digital inclusion strand at its heart.

I believe we need to start a debate about how social housing tenants can be included in the “sharing economy”. Who is up for that? Mabe a Twitter chat, a roundtable, or an actual event?

 

 

 

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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Catching up with the Sociable Company

Today I had a long Skype chat with Karen Adams of Express Telephony. You may recall that, a couple of years ago I did some work with the company on its social media strategy.  Two years on, they continue to to deliver a great service to their customers despite the limitations of the inadequate telecoms infrastructure which continues to hold them, and the rest of the country back.

Karen told me that her husband and business partner, Martin, is off to Cornwall shortly to set up the home of a company director with the tools she needs to manage her London-based company remotely. I am intending to work with them to develop a case study of this project as it demonstrates the increasing reality that, in the age of the internet,  location is no longer important to how you do business.

It is frustrating, however, that the country still lacks the infrastructure to realise the full potential of such modern possibilities.

#ageingdigital – Pushing through the frustrations

JP_at_ageingdigital

 

On Tuesday, 30 or so of us gathered at Age UK’s headquarters in London to discuss the issue of using technology to improve the quality of older people’s lives. The story of what happened on the day is here.

It was a great event with lots of passionate discussion, and not a little frustration being expressed. The really big frustration is that relatively large sums of money are being dedicated to older people’s quality of life initiatives with no mention of technology in their plans. This has been true recently of the Big Lottery’s Fulfilling Lives: Ageing Better programme, worth £78m, as it has of the £50m investment the same body made into the Centre for Ageing Better. The room on Tuesday was full of the frustration of people struggling to help older people benefit from the digital world on small resources. Key messages from the day included:

  • Nobody is too old to benefit from new technologies – we should stop assuming they are;
  • Many of the older people who express no interest in new technologies radically change their view when the possibilities are demonstrated to them.

If you still don’t believe this last point, then, please just watch the TV series “OAP Internet Virgins”.

I made an appeal at the event for suggestions on how to engage with organisations that lead policy on ageing. Freelancers like me don’t have the resources to spend lots of time lobbying people face to face. But, if organisations are immune to any kind of digital engagement, then how else can we do this?

David Wilcox has written a great post on where we go from here. From my point of view I will carry on doing the work I have developed so far (see here for some examples), and will be helping to curate online conversations around the hashtag #ageingdigital. I’m also thinking of starting a regular series of live Hangouts on the subject, please shout out if you would like to participate in these.

Digital Inclusion on Wheels

This is an idea I’ve been kicking around for a while, and I’ve had significant encouragement recently to take it forward, so, I’m about to launch a crowfunding campaign and sponsorship proposal for a Digital Inclusion Campervan.

The Story So Far

Our Digital Planet Internet Station in Bristol

If you’ve been paying attention (and, if not, why not?) you will have seen that I’ve been experimenting over recent years with different methods of taking digital inclusion to where people are, as I am a believer in seeking out people in their natural environments rather than expecting them to come to centres or courses. In 2012 and 2013 I managed Nominet Trust’s Our Digital Planet Project, which took a giant photographic exhibition on how people use the internet to various city centres around the country and backed it up with a shipping container full of volunteers and laptops.  I learned so much from this project, and it was such a pleasure to work with so many people who wouldn’t have dreamed of searching out a digital inclusion “centre”

But, the thing about Our Digital Planet was that it was expensive. It took a lot of resources to move all that stuff around the country, and there came a point at which the numbers of local partners able to find the cash to bring it to their area just ran out. So, I then set about seeing if the same principle could be delivered in a more mobile form.

I was fortunate to bump into Sue Jennings from Leeds Federated Housing Association at a digital inclusion get together, and this led to a collaboration which became the HUGO Project, featuring the HUGO Bus (in reality there are two buses), bringing a more mobile facility to the housing estates of Leeds, and available for hire to go elsewhere.

2014-09-11 17.15.06But even the HUGO Bus has a significant cost to moving around, and there are some places where that size of vehicle cannot go, so I am still frustrated that there is more that can be done.

And so, I now want to downscale things a bit more still. I’ve already gone from Our Digital Planet which took 2 flatbed trucks to move it around, to the HUGO Bus which is pretty mobile, but bulky. Now I want to go to the Digital Inclusion Campervan. It will be a go anywhere, reach anyone, digital inclusion facility with free wifi, tea and coffee, kit and support.

I need to raise the money to make this happen, so I am seeking sponsorship, and maybe will go down the crowdfunding route too. Scouring eBay, I reckon I can acquire a semi-decent campervan for about £7500, and I will probably need another £5k or so to kit it out and put a livery on it. To cope for contingencies, I’ll be looking to raise £15000 in total.

So, any sponsors out there want to pitch in? Sponsors will get the opportunity to have their branding on the bus, promote their products through its work, and, well, you tell me what you’d want in return.

I am excited about this, but I need to test the water first as to whether there are sponsors interested.

Please get in touch if you’d like to support this project.