Preparing for the #HousingDay NewsRoom

I am really excited and grateful to Lewisham Homes who will be sponsoring the #HousingDay Newsroom.

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And I am even more excited that I will be joined in the NewsRoom not only by the guys from Resource, who, of course, are the people who bring you CommsHero, but also by Social CEO, Lisa Pickard from Leeds & Yorkshire HA, founder of #HousingDay, Adrian Capon, of Yorkshire Housing, Jenny Osbourne, CEO of TPASCaroline Chapman, from InCommunities, Beckie Kinsella from Plus Dane, and Hannah Jowett from Leeds Federated HA. But don’t worry, there’s probably room for you, if you still want to come along.

We’ll be curating and amplifying the best content from the day, as well as regularly live streaming news bulletins. And, of course there will be regular live linkups with our sponsor, Lewisham Homes.

I have been particularly impressed with Lewisham Homes’ Humans of Lewisham project, which has taken its inspiration from the world famous Humans of New York to celebrate tenants and their lives in photography with accompanying text. We’ve been discussing this in the Digital Storytelling sessions I’ve been doing recently with Riverside Group, and we’ve agreed that this model provides a fabulous format for telling positive stories about tenants.

And, as the theme of this years #HousingDay is #proudtenant; celebrating the lives and achievements of social housing tenants is exactly what we will be doing.

Announcement: – The #HousingDay NewsRoom

Sponsored by Lewisham Homes


#HousingDay is approaching fast. The annual opportunity for people who live and work in social housing to celebrate what they do and show the world the positive sides of their lives and work is now in its third year, and, in 2015, it falls on Wednesday 18th November.

This year’s #HousingDay theme is “Proud to be a Tenant”, and social landlords are being asked to work with tenants to celebrate the positive aspects of being a social housing tenant and provide a platform to counter all the negative mainstream media stereotypes.

For #HousingDay last year, I ran the #HousingDay RoadTrip when I drove over 700 miles visiting social landlords from Leeds to West Kent and South Wales to highlight some of the great work they were doing. The trip was sponsored by Documotive, software supplier to the sector.

The RoadTrip was great, it was invigorating, inspiring, and educational. But it was also exhausting. So, this year, my plan is different…. and static.

For this year’s event, I am planning the #HousingDay NewsRoom. I am going to get together with some other social media users to run a news room which will curate, highlight, and amplify some of the best content coming out of the day. There will be an hourly, live-streamed news bulletin running through the events so far and providing a high profile platform for great stories emerging on the day.

I am already very grateful to the support of Comms Hero founders Resource for agreeing to provide the base for the NewsRoom at their offices in Leeds. What I need now is other social media users with an interest in social housing to come and join me on the day to help run the NewsRoom. It will be a lot of fun and we will all learn a lot. Come and join me in Leeds on 18th November.

A momentum is building from year-to-year and each #HousingDay can be more prominent and high profile than the last. Help me make the NewsRoom a success and contribute to the best #HousingDay yet.

Digital Commonwealth – More Proof of the Power of Storytelling

Last Thursday I travelled to Ayr for the final event of the Digital Commonwealth project. I have really enjoyed working on this project, led by the University of the West of Scotland, which used the Glasgow Commonwealth games as a hook to encourage school children, community groups, students, and individuals to tell digital stories about themselves, their hopes and aspirations, and about their relationship with the Commonwealth.

If you haven’t seen it yet, the project documentary film is at the bottom of this post, and this provides a really great overview of what digital storytelling is about.

One of the key parts of Thursday evening was when some residents of a sheltered housing complex in Rutherglen were given the opportunity to read some of their own poems and stories, and to sing songs which they had contributed to the project.  I found this extremely moving, and it further reinforced my view that storytelling is vital to older people’s health and well-being. There were some really poignant and moving stories being told, and almost all the people involved started the process by asserting that they had nothing of interest to say. That is rarely the case as Digital Commonwealth has proved.

“OAP Internet Virgins” – Episode 2 – Wow!

Roman and Rose from Episode 2 of “OAP Internet Virgins”

I’ve only just had the chance to catch up with Episode 2 of “OAP Internet Virgins” and wow! If anything it might have been better than the first one. Once again it really got to the crux of the drivers to getting older people online for the first time and, front and centre again was the fact that the internet is important to people because of the human connections it allows them to make.

This week 22 year-old Roman Kemp took on the challenge of inducting 71 year-old Rose to the online world. Rose was a willing participant as her 7 grandchildren were at the centre of her life and she recognised they were living their lives in different ways to her. “I want to be in their world”, she said “I don’t want to feel left behind”.

An early win for Roman was that he found they supported the same football team, Arsenal, and they were soon getting updates on the game, and sharing the joy at goals scored. They moved on to finding Rose’s favourite music, and then ventured into Facebook. Rose was joyful as her children and grandchildren started sending her friend requests. And then came a shock as she was friended by her sister-in-law in Canada who she hadn’t seen for 25 years. “How can that be? She’s in Canada” was Rose’s reaction. Roman patiently explained that Facebook is a worldwide network, and that people in Canada can use it too. Rose’s reaction was a mixture of shock, surprise and joy at the realisation that she could now be in contact with distant people she thought she had lost contact with.

And it wasn’t long before Rose was using her new found internet knowledge to book a cheap flight to Canada to visit her long-lost in-laws. Just before she left, she searched Facebook to find the cousin, also living in Canada, who had been her best friend in her younger days. This search proved fruitless however, but the cameras followed her as she flew into Toronto and was greeted by her brother-in-law and his wife. It was great to see Rose Skyping her grandchildren from Toronto and holding up her iPad so they could see the unusual buses passing by. As Rose sat in a cafe telling the cameras about how wonderful her trip was, she was surprised by her cousin, not seen for 25 years, appearing at her side. Cue kisses, hugs, and many tears.

As she scrolled through her pictures of Toronto on her iPad to show her grandchildren, Rose summed up her experience of working with Roman, “he’s told me not to think I am old and past it any more”. To me, this is one of the most important points about digital inclusion. Far too many pigeonhole older people as beyond learning about new technologies, and far too many older people do it to themselves. It takes a slightly open mind to start the process, and the internet generally does the job itself of opening people’s minds further once they have let it into their lives.

I am so pleased that this series has continued its high standard of showing the world the methods that work where digital inclusion is concerned. If you’d like to work with me on spreading this kind of practice, please get in touch.

OAP Internet Virgins – Really Useful Reality TV

A scene from the first episode of OAP Internet Virgins

In the era of “Benefits Street”, “How to Get a Council House” and other poverty porn TV it is tempting to think that the media has got it in for everyone with any kind of disadvantage. At times the TV screens and the newspaper pages can appear to resemble the school bully continuing their work by other means.

But tonight I watched something that I would truly describe as the antidote to all that. When I saw the concept of “OAP Internet Virgins” I must admit to being a little fearful that this was going to be another example of TV kicking people while they are down. Nothing could have been further from the truth. The idea of the programme is that young people who have gained some kind of internet-based fame are charged with helping an older person take their first steps online.

In episode one, Vlogging twins, 23 year-old Niki and Sammy Albon were helping 84 year-old George. George has recently had to take on all the domestic duties as his wife of 64 years has cancer and Alzheimer’s. Niki and Sammy were quite worried about the prospect of taking on George as a challenge, but, as far as we could tell from the editing, once George was dissuaded away from struggling with his slow Windows PC and given an iPad he seemed soon to become enthusiastic about exploring the online world.

We watched as George was shown how to search iTunes for his favourite music, and saw his eyes light up as he realised that even Perry Como has a home on the internet. George’s interest progressed as he shared a meat and potato pie with the twins, made by his own hands from an online recipe, and nearly as good as the pies formerly made for him by his wife which he thought he would never taste again.

And George progressed from Perry Como, via Nat King Cole, and Meat and Potato Pies to online shopping, and he greeted the supermarket delivery man with glee as his first online shop arrived. The great thing about his ability to shop was that it meant he didn’t have to take up most of the precious 6 hours a week when a carer came in to look after his wife going to the shops. And this meant that he could go back to his former love of performing in a singing group. I must admit that a tear came to my eye as he dedicated the last number of his performance, “We’ll Meet Again”, to the twins, and then the credits rolled, beginning with a dedication to George’s now late wife.

This was heart-warming TV, well done, telling a story in a great way. And it demonstrated what I have been saying and putting into practice for years, that the way to get people online is to approach it through their interests, their entertainment likes, and their immediate needs. Here’s more on my ideas and approach.

I am glad that this message is getting a wider audience. If I can help any organisation put these ideas into practice, please get in touch.

Digital Commonwealth – A great Digital Storytelling Project

On Friday, the video below arrived. It’s the documentary film about the Digital Commonwealth project. If you missed it, Digital Commonwealth was a Big Lottery-funded initiative, led by the University of West of Scotland designed to use the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow as a hook to get ordinary people to use digital technologies to tell their own stories.

It was a wonderful mix of different approaches and work with different cohorts, ranging from songwriting and dance performances with primary school children, to video-making with pensioners’ groups. I was privileged to play a role, delivering some digital storytelling sessions to community groups in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Ayrshire.

As Jennifer Jones, the Project Manager said to me, this video is probably the best tool for explaining what digital storytelling is about. I certainly don’t disagree.

Seaside Recollections – A Project Proposal

This is an idea for a project which I think could be an important model for assisting with older people’s fading memories, as well as exploring and raising the profile of British Seaside towns.

I am looking for £30,000 to make this happen. Please get in touch if you can help.

Is the British seaside holiday dead?

  • Is there anything from it worth preserving, beyond its impact on the local economies of some fairly Isolated towns?
  • How important are the memories from our seaside holidays? Individually and collectively?
  • Can seaside memories play a role in helping people with dementia?

Everybody remembers their holidays, don’t they? For many of us they are the stand out moment of a relatively mundane year. Do you remember those long, hot afternoons on the beach, or that time staring out to sea while the rain pounded down on the roof of the car? If we are lucky enough to have holidays, they linger in the mind; they provide punctuation points in the narrative of our lives, and we return to them in our daydreams. But, how long do we remember them? Do you still remember your childhood holidays?

This project has a threefold purpose.

  1. To connect isolated older people with their holiday memories in an interactive, real-time basis in a way which both stimulates their memories, and sparks their interest in the potential of communications technologies;
  2. To collect holiday stories linked with particular seaside locations;
  3. To stimulate wider interest in seaside towns as visitor destinations.

How the project will work.

This will require participation from:

  • Charities and agencies working with older people;
  • Care homes and sheltered accommodation providers;
  • Individual older people and their relatives and carers;
  • Tourism and visitor offices  for seaside towns;
  • Local authorities and local economic development agencies in seaside towns;
  • Digital agencies and the local digital community in seaside towns.

Phase 1

Gathering Memories

The first stage of the project will be to collect older people’s memories of seaside holidays. This will be achieved through:

  • Video interviews with older people;
  • Collecting and digitising old photographs of holiday locations from older people and from other locations;
  • Blog posts and online stories
  • Stories emailed and archived

This material will be collected directly, by older people themselves, by friends family and support workers and collated to an online hub.

Phase 2

Curation and Training

Phase 2 of the project will be to work with the older people to help them to organise the material which stimulates their memories, and to relate those memories to specific locations. At this stage, older people, their carers, support workers and staff will be trained to interact and engage with the project. Equipment will be provided and training to use it to enable the older people to engage in real-time with Phase 3. And the locations to be visited in Phase 3 of the project will be chosen.

Phase 3

Seaside Tour

Phase 3 will be based around a seaside tour. John Popham will visit seaside locations chosen by the older people in Phase 2 of the project. During the visits he will interact with the older people directly online, using live streaming, video conference connections, and otherwise, and be guided by them as to what to see, where to visit, and who to talk to. There will be live, real-time interactions between the places and people John visits and the older people who are guiding him. This will further stimulate the memories of the older people, and encourage them to explore using new technologies to communicate and pursue their interests.

As well as interacting with older people, John’s visits will be an opportunity to explore the condition of the British seaside holiday. Guided by the older people, he will investigate what has changed, and what has stayed the same between the memories described by the older people in the project and the modern reality. This will provide opportunities for interactions with local media, local politicians and local government. The visits to each location will be maximised for publicity potential, and for the opportunities to generate discussion and debate about the past, present and future of the British seaside.

Opportunities will also be explored to collect and collate more material, gathered in the seaside locations themselves, to add to the seaside holiday memory bank and online hub.

Phase 4

Curation, collation, evaluation and future planning.

  • Pulling all the material together
  • Producing a video summary of the project
  • Publishing all the material online
  • evaluation against defined objectives
  • Planning future actions

What is needed to make this happen?

  • Funding for project management and delivery
  • Google Chromecasts
  • Tablet computers
  • Travel
  • Accomodation
  • Room hire

Please get in touch if you can help


Stimulating memories – dealing with dementia

This morning I was in the kitchen with Radio 4 on, and happened to catch an episode of this week’s Book of the Week, which is “Gold Fever” by Steve Boggan. The book is an account of how the author decided to see if it was possible to make a fortune by re-visiting the sites of the 19th Century Californian Goldrush. I have caught little bits of it throughout the week, and, from what I can tell, he didn’t succeed in making a fortune, but he did come back with some great stories featuring the characters from the original rush, and some from more recent times.

In today’s episode, he was searching for “the man”, the character who had made the most from prospecting gold in recent years. Eventually he tracked down someone who had made a small fortune from rare gold finds, but the gentleman in question now suffers from Alzheimer’s. The story recounted the author’s frustration with extracting information from the man whose memory had faded. All this changed however, when he decided to take “the man” back to the scene of his prospecting. He then came alive and bubbled over with stories about his former life.

People who work with those who have dementia often talk about their long term memories being sound, but that they can’t remember what happened yesterday. We need to do more work on stimulating memories by helping them to relive their former lives. And, I have a suspicion that, when such people spend much of their lives not being mobile or stimulated, it could just be that what happened yesterday is just not worth remembering.

And, of course, we can now use digital technologies to help stimulate memories, as in the brilliant video below. Let’s do more of this, please!

You can hear the “Gold Fever” programme here.

General Election 2015 – Touring the Polling Stations


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

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Stories not Statistics

You know me I like stories. I promote storytelling; particularly Digital Storytelling.

I am constantly being told that evidence is what matters. That you cannot tell stories without evidence. Well, that may be true…. but….

Most people would agree that social housing and the people who live in it have been unfairly stigmatised. Despite all the efforts to get social housing to be a key issue in the 2015 General Election, whenever the subject of housing is raised, the politicians end up arguing over which party does most to promote home ownership. It’s like Mrs. Thatcher’s oft quoted view that anyone over 30 who uses a bus is a failure. She also changed the paradigm so that society’s prevailing view is that anyone who doesn’t own their own home is a failure, or at least that is what everyone should be aspiring to.

And so, social housing tenants are stigmatised, and the media pile in reinforcing this stereotype by pumping out poverty porn like “Benefits Street”, “How to Get a Council House”, “Skint”, and “Immigration Street”.  And still, people tell me that he only way to counter this view is by producing evidence to the contrary. And the evidence they want to produce comes in the form of reports, statistics and infographics.

But, stop to think for a moment. Where is the evidence that backs up the viewpoint promoted by the purveyors of poverty porn? It’s not there. They go out, they find a story they want to tell, and they tell that story, whatever the evidence might suggest. And they are the ones whose world view prevails. The public is not interested in evidence. If they were, news channels would have larger viewing figures than soap operas.

So, please; by all means produce your reports, your statistics, and your infographics. But don’t kid yourself that any of this wins hearts and minds. It’s the stories of people living happy and productive lives in social housing that will be much more persuasive.