I continue to seek out positivity…

I don’t know if I’m going to be well enough to make any more of my Cancer Video Diaries so this blog post may have to serve in place of the next update. I’ve not posted a detailed update for some time, as I’ve just not been well enough, but I think most people will have picked up that my previous diagnosis of having had the “all clear” has now changed to having incurable cancer which has spread, firstly to my bones, and then to my liver and lungs. I so, wanted to be writing a positive post at this time, but it seemed that, as far as my own situation is concerned, that is not possible.

I am writing this during my second stay in hospital in the past couple of weeks. I came in this time, largely because I could get out of bed due to pain in my back, and, when I did I was gasping for air after a few seconds. I’ve been lying in hospital for three days having oxygen pumped up my nose, and antibiotics run into me via a drip. Yesterday, my Oncologist came to see me. He said that I am in a critical state at the moment. The aim is to get my pain levels and breathing to a level where it is safe to to let me go home. If they can achieve that it will be a case of looking at a variety of treatments which could give me a few more years of active life. If that objective cannot be attained then the end could come very soon. So, at the moment, I am totally focused on getting well enough to get home. As I said, I look for the positive in everything.

I just want to thank those of you, it must easily run into thousands, who have sent me messages of goodwill. They really help. As do the financial contributions you make. If you still want to make a contribution you can do so on a one-off basis at http://www.paypal.me/civicstories or regularly at http://www.patreon.com/johnpopham Your money will now go towards equipment and adaptations that I now need to make my life liveable and it might even go, in a small way, to helping my wife, Portia, my true rock, to rebuild her life.

But I am not done here. I want, with my family’s help to build a legacy which is based on my passionate commitment to using new technologies to promote equality of opportunity. If you can help, please email me at john.popham@johnpopham.com. Hopefully there will be more on that shortly. Just in case there isn’t, please contact portia.ea.robertspopham@gmail.com.

Lessons from Life and Work: Part One

If you follow my social media output elsewhere, you will know that my situation has recently changed, from an “all-clear” from Cancer, to a position where it has now spread and is incurable. I don’t yet know how long I’ve got, or what I will be capable of doing, and for how long for. But what this kind of diagnosis does do is to concentrate the mind about some of the big issues I have grappled with in my life and career, and what could be done actually to make a lasting difference, rather than a short-term fix.

So, this is the first of a series of blog posts in which I am going to set out some of the lessons I have learned from my life and career. A particular theme will, I think, be the blockers and gate-keepers I have met in my life who have frustrated my aim to assist people with low incomes to live life to its fullest potential.

Just about everything I have done in my career, and also in a lot of my so-called “spare” time, has been driven by my conviction that we live in a painfully unfair society which blocks off opportunities to live a good life for so many of our citizens. A big chunk of my career, particularly the early days, was spent in activities designed to encourage local communities to build their own capacity to improve the living conditions of themselves and their neighbours by creating job and training opportunities and stimulating economic activity in areas where there was currently little or none.

The Blockers

This was when I first came up against the gate-keepers and blockers. I never had any training in Community Development or related techniques, and I approached those disciplines in what I saw as a fairly self-evident way. I always saw it as my role to secure support and resources which might help the people I worked with achieve some of their ambitions and then act as a back-seat-driver who had some access to the levers of power which might be pulled to smooth the way. The first kind of blockers I came across were the trained Community Development Workers, some of whom looked down on me because I didn’t speak the same language as them, which was a dead giveaway that I hadn’t had the training they had had. The point of view I came up against time and again was the idea that I didn’t understand how powerless these people were, and I therefore shouldn’t be challenging them to take risks or do anything outside their comfort zones, because I would be setting them up to fail. My view was that most of the problems faced by disadvantaged people were down to money, or rather, lack of it. That’s why I worked to try to generate economic activities which would put money in local people’s pockets and keep that money re-circulating around local economies. But the Community Development blockers told me that there is no way the people in those communities would ever be able to take such bold steps and the priorities should be to help them campaign for better housing conditions, increased benefit payments, and local play areas, etc. While I wasn’t in any way opposed to those kind of actions, it was the way this was presented to me as a binary choice which was so frustrating. I always thought it obvious that people’s life choices are improved by increasing their income and increasing the prosperity of the areas they lived in, but, in the beginnings of my journey, at least, I was constantly being told that all that was a step too far, and I should stop distracting community members from the quest to persuade the local and national state to put resources into improving the housing. What was particularly frustrating was that these particular blockers used the language of empowerment while seeking to shield the people they worked with from any kind of economic improvement.

My worldview is a million miles away from Thatcherism, but the community development blockers were always ready to throw “Thatcherite” as an insult at me, because I dared to introduce economic development into the equation. That hurt me a lot, and I struggled to understand why they couldn’t see that being poor is at the heart of the problem. What I wanted to do was to establish mechanisms whereby local people could generate their own local economic activity, control who was employed in the enterprises and ensure that money stayed in the local area as much as possible. Apparently, this approach went against everything that the community development workers I encountered at the time had been trained to do. It made every improvement I sought to pursue all the harder to achieve.


I was initially diagnosed with cancer in February 2020. In July 2020 I was told I was Cancer-free. One month later I was told that the cancer had spread to my spine and would be incurable.

There are a small (but growing) number of lovely people who have been providing me with some financial assistance to help me and my family 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 https://www.patreon.com/johnpopham or PayPal http://www.paypal.me/civicstories

Cricket and Digital Inclusion

For years now I have been exploring myself the different hooks that can turn people on to using digital tools which they previously hadn’t considered they needed, as well as advocating that others do the same. One of the incidents which sticks in my mind through the years of taking this approach came in a village in deep, rural Lincolnshire, where I was travelling with the mobile library trying to encourage local residents to sign up to get better broadband connections. I was engaged in quite a long conversation with a woman who was, I thought, surprisingly young to be a digital refusenik, but who was proving to be a hard nut to crack in her determination to insist that the internet had no part to play in her life. This was during the 2012 Olympics, and in a corner of the mobile library, live coverage was playing on my iPad via BBC iPlayer, using the library’s satellite broadband connection. As we talked a women’s rowing race began which resulted in the Great Britain team winning its first Gold Medal of the games. The lady I was talking to broke off from our conversation to get very excited about the race, leaping up and down with joy as the British team crossed the finish line. When she had calmed down, I said to her “there, you do need the internet, after all”. She would not believe me that the signal for what she had watched came over the internet, believing that my iPad was a portable TV. She was shocked at what the internet could be used for. And this was in 2012. Watching TV and video over the internet has become a much more prominent feature in people’s lives since then, with the ubiquity of YouTube and Netflix, among other streaming platforms.

2020 has been an extraordinary year, with large numbers of people turning to practices they never previously thought would be part of their lives. An important factor in this trend has been the adoption of video conferencing both among those who, while doing their daily jobs, had previously eschewed anything other than face-to-face meetings involving expensive, time-consuming, and environment-damaging travel, and among people who had previously spurned new technologies. The latter is to be welcomed, and it is to be hoped that the newly acquired skills thus gained will both continue to be used beyond the current crisis, and spread into other aspects of their lives, acting as an important stepping-stone over the barriers to new technology adoption which had previously hampered them.

One of the things that people newly turned on to technology might now being doing is exploring the cornucopia that is the vast video library offered by YouTube (other video platforms are available). And something which is newly available on YouTube is complete live coverage of the 2020 County Cricket season. For a couple of years now, some of the Counties had been offering live streaming of home games from one fixed camera which covered just what was happening as the bowler ran up and the batter hit (or didn’t hit) the ball, which was good, but frustrating in that a good deal of the action took place outside the frame of the camera. Now, possibly prompted by the fact that spectators cannot get into the grounds, the Counties are offering multi-camera live-streaming which covers the action all over the field.

It’s been some time since I last went to a County Cricket Championship match. But, when I did, I looked around and I was pretty sure I was more or less the only person there between the ages of 16 and 65. To say that ordinary County Cricket matches get low crowds is probably something of an understatement, but a big proportion of the audience it does get is over retirement age. So, my feeling is that there must be quite a few older people who want to watch live cricket, but, because of Coronavirus, are not able to. So, do you know someone in this position who is struggling to watch games because they don’t have the digital skills to access YouTube? And they possibly won’t know that you can watch YouTube on your TV. So, in the hope that I can help a few people benefit from the digital world who would otherwise not do so, here is a guide to watching YouTube videos on your TV.

If you have a Smart TV

If you are fortunate to have a Smart TV manufactured in the past few years, you can probably access YouTube directly from your TV. The first thing to say is that for this method to work, you must have a working internet connection in your house, and your Smart TV must be connected to it. All Smart TVs are different, but, as a general rule, the remote control will have a “Home” button on it. Sometimes it will be a big button with a picture of a house on it, sometimes it will have “home” written on it. If you press that button it should take you to a menu on the TV which has various different apps on it. You should be able to scroll through to the red YouTube icon, press it and you will be taken to YouTube.

Once you are in YouTube you will probably be asked to log in or set up a new account. You can ignore this and go through to the “search” menu. Type your favourite County Cricket team into the search box and the first thing that comes up should be that team’s channel. Click on that and you will be taken to all the videos the club has posted, including any live videos.

The following guides are all for people without Smart TVs.

Sky TV

If you are a Sky TV customer you can access YouTube via your Sky Q box. As far as I am aware, if you have an older Sky box (i.e. not Sky Q), you won’t be able to do this. Press the “Home” button on your TV remote, and then scroll through the menu until you see “Online Video”. Click on this one and you should then see the red YouTube icon. Click on it and you will be taken to YouTube. Now follow the guide in the paragraph in italics above.

Virgin Media

If you are a Virgin Media customer you can access YouTube through your Tivo box. Press the “Home” button on your remote control. Scroll down the menu to “Search and Discover”. Scroll down the menu that pops up from here and click on YouTube. Now follow the guide in the paragraph in italics above.


As far as I am aware you cannot access YouTube from a BT TV box. Please tell me if I am wrong.


Now TV is a service from Sky which involves purchasing a set-top box or “stick” to connect to your TV to watch Sky Channels over the internet. Although you have to pay for the Sky Channels, there is also a lot of free content available on this system, including YouTube. You should be able to see YouTube on the main menu of the box when it starts up. Please don’t forget that the box must be connected to the internet. Now follow the guide in the paragraphs in italics above.

Amazon Fire TV Stick

This is my favourite way of turning a non-smart TV into a Smart TV. The Fire TV Stick is an inexpensive and very small device which plugs into the HDMI socket of your TV and gives it all the elements a Smart TV would have. You must connect the Stick to the internet. Once you have set up your Fire TV stick, scroll through the menu until you see the red YouTube icon. Now follow the guide in the paragraph in italics above.

Google Chromecast

The Google Chromecast is a small, inexpensive device which plugs into the HDMI socket of your TV. It allows you to stream content from your smartphone or tablet to your TV. Your smartphone/tablet and TV need to be connected to the same wifi network, and the Chromecast needs to be set up using the Google Home app on your phone or tablet. I’d suggest this needs to be done by someone with at least a little bit of technical knowledge. Once you have set the Chromecast up and connected it to your phone/tablet, open the YouTube app on the phone or tablet, start playing a video and then hit the “TV” button to start the video playing on the TV.

I hope this guide goes someway to helping at least a few people who are otherwise isolated at home and are missing their County Cricket.

I run the Doctor Tech Show which is broadcast live on YouTube at 12 noon every Monday and discusses issues around communication technologies for people without digital skills. If you’d like to get involved please email doctortechshow@gmail.com.


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.

Social Media Response Units

I was listening to the radio (sorry I can’t remember whether the item was on Radio 4 or Radio 5 Live) this morning, and, during a discussion about the implications of the Trump Presidency for business, one of the contributors revealed that American businesses were establishing Social Media Response Units in preparation for the new President attacking them on Twitter as he already has with a number of companies.

In the UK, and probably elsewhere too, there are still countless senior leaders of public and voluntary organisations who have yet to understand how the social media revolution has transformed the world. Surely we are now reaching the point where it can no longer be acceptable for managers to say that social media is not relevant to them, when the most powerful man in the world makes snap decisions via Twitter and hugely powerful global corporations have no choice but to respond via the same channels.

What’s your excuse for not using social media?

Get in touch if I can help you with your journey – john.popham@johnpopham.com

A Manifesto for Social Tech in later life

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Yesterday I ran a second Connected Christmas event at Lower Edge Day Centre in Rastrick, Calderdale. There was a mixed group of some who were there for a second time, and some new participants. I hope I was able to open their eyes to some new possibilities. I know we all had a good time again, which is what it is really about. One lady told me she was really disappointed that there had been no carol services on the television over Christmas. Even though she has her own laptop at home, it had not occurred to her to go online to find any she could watch. I was able to help her find carol services on YouTube. One gentleman was an ex-chef. We chatted about his favourite dish, roast goose, and found a video of one of Jamie Oliver’s assistants cooking one. He put up a robust argument that her methodology was wrong.

As ever with these kinds of events I learn as much as the participants. One of the lessons was about degrees of digital exclusion. The lady with her own laptop is a retired accountant. She uses her machine for two main purposes, one is creating and modifying spreadsheets, which is a particular interest of hers, the other is for talking to her grandchildren in Australia via Skype. She sees her laptop as being for those purposes and has to be coaxed to explore its other possible uses. She is unlikely to appear on any official statistics about digital exclusion, she will be counted by the statisticians as being online, and it is great that she is able to see her grandchildren on the other side of the world while she talks to them, but, she is not exploiting the technology to anything like its full extent to improve her life.

The retired chef was an interesting case. I asked him if he used the internet at all. He replied “No. There’s just my wife and I, when we’re at home we don’t have any use for that kind of thing”. I asked if he had friends and family who used the internet. He said that he did, but they lived busy lives and would be too busy to talk to him. But, for me, that’s exactly the point. It use to be difficult to talk to people in distant locations; the internet has changed all that. But many have still not caught up with this fact. These means that a lot of older people are living lives remote from their families and support networks when they could be closely connected with them online.

It was recently announced that there will be free wifi in all NHS premises. This is a massive step forward in helping people who need healthcare to stay in touch with their networks and access information. But it really must not stop there. Huge numbers of socially isolated people spend time in social care settings, whether these be Day Centres, Care Homes, or other facilities. In the case of Care Homes, they probably spend a lot more time in such facilities than they do in NHS premises. Ask yourself how you would feel if you had no wifi or tech in your house. And then consider that 50% of older people currently spend at least some of their time in Care Homes. That could be you. What would you do if cut off from the ability to use online networks and services?

There is a dangerous assumption that social tech has passed older people by, and that they therefore have no interest in it. These assumptions are made by professionals, relatives, and by older people themselves. But my work, and that of others, has proved that the right approach can result in older people being persuaded that social tech both has benefits for them and can be mastered. This approach is about careful and patient exploration of people’s interests and how their lives can be enhanced; it is emphatically not about putting people in classrooms, on courses, or chasing numbers rather than wellbeing. And social technology can open up so many opportunities for older people including:

  • reducing social isolation
  • allowing people to tell stories about their lives, and about treatment and recovery
  • building confidence for the adoption of telehealth and telecare.

So, here is my manifesto for a social technology revolution to transform how technology supports health, wellbeing, and social inclusion among older citizens.

  1. Health and social care professionals need digital skills training themselves, and to understand how social technologies can improve the lives of the people they work with. The most enthusiastic of them need to become digital champions (example DigiWards);
  2. The commitment to free wifi in NHS premises needs to be extended to Social Care settings, including Day Centres and Care Homes (example Ashton Park Care Home);
  3. Events such as Digital Tea Parties and Connected Christmas need to be adopted as the approach to interest older citizens in social technologies;
  4. Recognition needs to be given that digital inclusion of older citizens is a long term process, not a one-off event;
  5. Schemes to recycle tablets to ensure older people can access social technologies at reasonable prices need to be developed;
  6. Research and development of online social networks for older people needs to be further explored;
  7. The benefits of social technologies for older citizens needs to be promoted to their relatives and families.

Please get in touch (john.popham@johnpopham.com) if you can help with any of these objectives.

Channel You

Thanks for the kind reference, Jon

Jon King

"What's my motivation?" “What’s my motivation?”

When I pitched for my present job, I majored on capturing the stories of positive people so as to inspire other people to act positively.

A lot of my work centres around Public Health messaging and I made the point that the public is bombarded by warnings and entreaties; to do something-or-other less or more…or not at all. Yet, withal, some people simply won’t act. Is it because they aren’t listening or do they think themselves immune?

I suspect it’s because they’ve convinced themselves that the message doesn’t apply to them. In which case, no amount of top-down hectoring is going to change their behaviour or their minds.

“What if” I asked “we were able to provide a first hand account of someone who did act?”

We would ask them a little about their circumstances, ask them what prompted them to act and, most significantly, ask them how they feel now. Could that…

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Using Technology to reconnect older people with their communities

These are some more thoughts on using technology to benefit older people based on my Connected Christmas experience.

2014-12-17 16.19.06

I’ve been struck by meeting a number of older people who are actually quite fit and healthy, but who seem to have slipped into a way of behaviour that is almost “expected” of them by society. Like the gentleman I met in Urmston who told me that his confidence has gone, and that means he rarely goes out or socialises in the lounge of the sheltered accommodation complex where he lives. I firmly believe that we can use new technologies to re-engage people like this with their communities, and to allow those who are not so mobile to have some degree of contact with what goes on around them. Instead of people sitting at home, or in a care home, a day centre, or sheltered accommodation lounge, depressing themselves by absorbing the latest bit of back-biting or family-feuding from the TV soap operas, why not engage with something local which has the potential to contribute positively to their lives?

I think these are compelling reasons for increased efforts to to get local community organisations to use social media, live video streaming, podcasting and other methods to cover local events. At Urmston, the video pub crawl proved particularly engaging, suggesting that even simple video tours of the neighbourhood could help to re-acquaint people with their surroundings and increase their sense of engagement with their communities and their former lives. And what could be achieve using gadgets such as Oculus Rift to immerse people in the lives of communities they formerly had strong ties with?

As I often argue, I think we can use technology to “re-humanise” society, rather than going along with the dystopian predictions of everyone forgetting the personal connections while they stare at screens. This is something I think we need to work on, urgently.


Our Politicians still inhabit the 19th Century

So, Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour Party, is calling for a weekly public questioning of the Prime Minister. I’m not going to debate the merits and demerits of this suggestion. But I am going to question the proposed format; which is that people turn up at the Palace of Westminster and deliver their questions in person.  So, you only get to question the Prime Minister if you live in London or can afford the time and money to travel there from wherever else in the UK you might live.

Once again our politicians demonstrate their nineteenth century thinking. Just as they believe that faster trains are the answer to our modern communications needs, they maintain that politics has to be done in London, in person.

Well, I’ve got news for them. The internet has given everybody the tools to make their opinions known. If politicians ignore that and continue using vastly outdated methods of communication they don’t have much of a future.

The Top 50 Digital #PowerPlayers14 in #ukhousing

Very honoured to be listed at Number 2 alongside some people I really admire

Paul Taylor


You want to get to the list don’t you? 

Hold on. It’s coming.  

Before you look at the Top 50 influencers please read this guest post from Shirley Ayres who kindly agreed to collaborate with me on #powerplayers14.

For me…it sums up perfectly what it’s all about….

When the first Power Players 50 list was published I was surprised and complimented to be included.The list was intended as light hearted fun but the interest generated in who was included and why sparked a very lively debate.

I was delighted to be invited by Paul to collaborate on the #powerplayers14 list and we agreed that we needed to widen the criteria. We accept that Klout is an imperfect algorithm so added in scores from PeerIndex. We also invited public nominations. You can read the criteria we used here.

We wanted to create a different kind of list celebrating the diversity of…

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Social Media: We’re all advertisers now

I was asked to go on BBC Radio Sheffield this week to talk about how people are using social media to make public complaints about products and services. You can listen to the section from the programme below.

The item was stimulated by the story of a woman from Chesterfield who, frustrated at the lack of response to a complaint against Talk Talk, had resorted to contacting them via her dog’s Facebook account. This ensured that the company woke up and started listening to her.

I think this illustrates how social media and new technologies are now putting power in the hands of ordinary people which previously would only have been available to those with money and / or political power. All this person was doing was deploying tactics which had formerly been deployed by big companies. Remember the adverts featuring a dog tangled in toilet roll? Yes, you remember it because the company involved spent a lot of money creating those images. Now, ordinary people can disseminate images like that using social media.