Inspiring digital ideas from community projects

Photo of 2 copies of Creative Citizens Variety Pack

The Creative Citizens’ Variety Pack is a beautifully designed and curated collection of stories about ways which 12 very different community projects have made use of digital tools to help and support people and make a difference in their corner of the world. Reading through the pack gave me lots of ideas, and introduced me to some new digital tools which I’m starting to make use of.

The whole pack is available to download for free in a pdf book format here, which is wonderful but doesn’t do justice to the hard copy pack. I was generously sent three copies of the printed pack by Dan Lockton from the Creative Citizens project and so will pass two on to Digital Dudley readers – see below for more on that.

But first here’s an overview of the pack and some highlights from me.

I love the description of creative citizens in the welcome section:

What do we mean by ‘creative citizens’?

Everyday millions of people do something creative, from knitting and genealogy to photography and choirs, sometimes organised in community groups and networks, sometimes not. The crossover into ‘citizenship’ begins when there is a social, political or civic element to the creative work.

The welcome pages also explain that in terms of ‘digital tools’ the authors have included all sorts from well-known and used social networking platforms (Facebook, Twitter etc.) to one off creative technology projects. The pack is then divided in to four sections, with case studies in each.

The first section is about Supporting Each Other Locally – ways that digital media has been used to bring people with something in common together, connecting and supporting each other in their local area. The Tidworth Mums case study is a brilliant example of how a Facebook Group can be used to great effect, and the What Others Can Learn section on the fourth page may be useful to groups in Dudley thinking of using, or already using Facebook’s Groups function. The Allsorts youth engagement project offers some really helpful advice at the end of the case study:

Be prepared to change setup. The way people use social media and the sites they prefer to use change all the time, and with young people they can change quite fast. Don’t invest in too rigorous a structure as you may find you have to change, or even abandon them.

The Cannock Connect newspaper pilot story was particularly interesting to me, as I work with residents in Coseley who produce their own newsletter, and I’m working on a newspaper in relation to work I’m doing in Wrens Nest. In the ‘digital tools used’ sidebar in the case study the was listed, which was really helpful to know about and I’ll be using in the next week!

Photo of some pages from the Creative Citizens Variety Pack

The second section of the pack includes two case studies around Telling Stories – using digital tools to help people’s voices to be heard locally and beyond. The Story Machine is a beautiful idea and would be simple to develop or adapt in all sorts of settings. The Digital Commonwealth project used the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games as an opportunity to encourage all sorts of stories to be shared, not only those which mainstream media focuses on. The thinking behind the ways the project encouraged use of digital tools really resonated with me from workshops I’ve taken part in around social reporting:

Use what’s in your pocket. Digital Commonwealth encouraged people to use familiar technology to shift from media consumption to production, rather than learning specific tools that later become obsolete. Participants often use Facebook and YouTube socially or personally, but workshops showed people how they can contribute to online conversations by capturing existing, but often unheard, narratives. Once participants felt confident using their own mobile devices for producing as well as consuming stories, the Digital Commonwealth project encouraged them to apply this beyond the Commonwealth Games.

I’ll blog about the final sections of the pack in the next few days, as that feels a lot already!

Get your hands on a lovely copy of the pack

 As I have been sent three copies of the pack, I thought I’d share one copy with my colleagues at Dudley CVS, and offer the other two to Digital Dudley readers. The packs will go to the first two people who email in a story about ways they are using digital tools and what others can learn from their experiences – whether in the context of an organisation, team, a local group or club, or as a creative citizen. The stories will be posted on this site as guest blog posts. I’d love to hear and share stories from people living, volunteering or working anywhere (it needn’t be Dudley), and in any context (community, local government, health, business, social enterprise, activism … ). Anything between about 300-800 words. Send your story, plus your contact details including a postal address to
The authors of the first two stories received will get the Creative Citizens Variety Packs.
If you don’t have the energy to write up your full story, please do feel free to add a brief comment on this post about what you’re up to and what you’re learning. You’d be surprised how helpful things like this can be for others.

Photo of a Creative Citizens Variety Pack with a post it note on saying “this could be yours!"

Online sites and apps to help lending and borrowing between neighbours

As part of some work I’m doing in Wrens Nest I’ve been doing a bit of research in to online sites which help neighbours to lend and borrow household items and tools. We’re setting up some Sharing Sheds which link to projects people have started, and we know we can fill shelves and sheds with all sorts of things people don’t use most of the time. We also know that people love getting together to do things like gardening, cooking and crafts, so it makes sense to pool what we’ve got and find ways to share things.

Image with text saying things we could share  - examples of pots & pans, tools, garden equipment, toys & games

If we decide to use an online site or app to help us, some key considerations for me are:

  • That it can be easily used from a mobile phone. So it would need to have apps available. This is because lots of people we’ve been working with tend to access the internet through their phone. There are a few who don’t have smartphones and so use a PC or laptop at home, so a website is still useful. But apps are needed to increase likelihood of take up by the majority.
  • The barriers to entry and use are as low as possible.
  • The site is a UK one, or used extensively in the UK (there are some great, well used sites in the USA but which aren’t being used here).

Drawing on existing knowledge of sites, and using Google to find more I’ve noted below what I found. I looked at:

  1. Ecomodo
  2. StreetBank
  3. Peerby
  4. Streetlife

If you have experience of using any of these, or know of others, please do add a comment or email me (

1. Ecomodo 

Launched in April 2010, Ecomodo is “an online service that enables people to lend and borrow each other’s everyday objects, skills and spaces with confidence. They can do this for free, for a fee or for charity. Ecomodo facilitates the transaction to make good returns for all.”

What I love about Ecomodo: you can create lending circles for a neighbourhood, or set it up to encourage people in a school or workplace to lend and borrow things. It is also set up to help lenders that choose to, to raise money for a good cause.

Reasons it’s not what I’m looking for in this instance: there isn’t an app available, plus the sign up doesn’t integrate with Facebook or any other social media and is relatively lengthy. Also while you can opt in to insurance cover for an instance of lending (it’s not blanket), that gets translated in to a hire charge for the borrower.

Aspects I feel could exclude people from using Ecomodo are that

  • you have to say you are at leat 18 years old
  • you have to be a verified PayPal user

2. Streetbank

Streetbank was also launched in 201, by Sam Stephens in West London “as a way of getting his neighbours to share items such as a step ladders, power drills and hedge cutters; things that sit idle in people’s homes and gardens for the majority of the year. His vision was to help people to save money, cut down on waste and reduce their carbon footprints.”  By October 2013 skills and items worth more than £1 million had been listed on the site, which now has 60,000 members worldwide. (source: NESTA)

Things I love about Streetbank:

  • It also encourages neighbours to share their advice and skills, teaching languages, cooking and DIY.
  • You can say if you want to lend items or give them away.
  • You can easily see what’s been offered, and the site tells you how far away the person offering is from your own postcode.
  • You can also easily see requests in your neighbourhood and who your neighbours are using the site.
  • You can change your neighbourhood size in your settings.

Reasons it’s not what I’m looking for in this instance: as with Ecomodo, there isn’t an app available, plus the sign up doesn’t integrate with Facebook or any other social media (though the sign up form is nice and short).

3. Peerby

Peerby was launched in May 2013 and is “the largest online sharing community in the Netherlands. With Peerby you can share and borrow items from your neighbors in a fun and easy way.” Because the site grew rapidly, an English version of the site was quickly launched. I signed up and had a play with the site and app. I got a nice email from Eva welcoming me. By which point I’d tried to verify my account with a phone number, but it was set up to only accept Dutch numbers. I emailed to ask if a roll out in the UK was likely and Eva replied to say that are encouraging Peerby use worldwide and will be fixing the bug in the app around phone numbers. In the meantime it doesn’t stop UK use of the app and sharing.

What I love about Peerby:

  • There are handy categories of things you can borrow including games, gardening, home improvement, baking and cooking and party! These fit with the sorts of sharing we want to catalyse in Wrens Nest.
  • You are encouraged to add a little bit about why you want to borrow an item – apparently requests with stories receive more offers.
  • There’s a nice visual of where people are in your neighbourhood.
  • You can sign up with Facebook.
  • The app is lovely.

Reasons it’s not what I’m looking for in this instance: from what I can tell it seems to be request-driven. So it wouldn’t help us to list what we have in Sharing Sheds.

4. Streetlife

Streetlife is “a free and simple website for neighbours to connect and share news, views, recommendations and resources.”

Things I love about Streetlife: It’s easy to sign up, and you can login with Facebook. While there is an area called ‘give, lend and borrow’, there are also areas for clubs and groups, local conversations, lost and found, classifieds and local politics. There is an app which is really easy to use.

Reasons it’s not what I’m looking for in this instance: I work with the amazing people of Wrens Nest, but I don’t live there. So I can’t help to administer an online side to Sharing Sheds through Streetlife. (I am however a Streetlife member for my own neighbourhood in Sandwell.)


In summary, I don’t seem to have found exactly what we need, so we’ll probably start with good old paper and pens, and perhaps some Google Sheets. I’d love to hear from anyone who has thoughts or experiences to share around these sorts of sharing sites.

Why I love the informality of social media surgeries

One of the most brilliant things about Social Media Surgeries are the connections people make with each other. At this week’s Social Media Surgery in Stourbridge Catherine Growcott from International Cuisine Association popped in to bring along her colleague Sangeeta Rangwami. International Cuisine Association are an inspiring and dedicated group of people bringing their skills and experience from industry to a social enterprise which aims to change people’s lives through learning about food from around the world and developing confidence in cooking.

Sangeeta and I were working through the pros and cons of Facebook Pages, and the fact that under Facebook rules organisations and groups shouldn’t set up a Facebook Profile – they are only for individuals.

We were then joined by Aneela Hanif, who was fully sighted until her early 20s, and is in the process of setting up a new group called Vision Division to support people going through experiences similar to hers, or looking for something a bit different to more traditional groups supporting partially sighted people which tend to involve people who are much older and not necessarily facing challenges of working or getting work.

The three of us took a whistle-stop tour of twitter. On the spur of the moment I chose the National Trust’s twitter stream to explain to Sangeeta and Aneela how to write engaging and friendly tweets, use hyperlinks and what hashtags are used for. It was a rather wonderful place to start, I’d fully recommend delving in to the National Trust’s tweets – for their warmth of tone, amazing pictures and gentle awareness raising of relevant issues.

As is often the case at a Social Media Surgery, we spent as much time learning about each other’s work as we did about social media. Sangeeta and Aneela started to connect ideas about what they do, and Sangeeta invited us over the road to International Cuisine Association’s teaching space on the High Street in Stourbridge, which has a healthy take away and noodle bar on the ground floor, called Taste. Catherine showed us around and ideas were bubbling up about cooking sessions for people who are partially sighted. Sangeeta expressed a desire to learn about what support partially sighted people might need in relation to learning to cook. Catherine generously offered Aneela’s group free use of the space.

I can’t wait until both of these Stourbridge based organisations are using social media, as I am keen to see what collaboration and learning develops online and offline.


Making our neighbourhoods healthy event shared online

Last Thursday Dudley’s Health and Wellbeing Board hosted an event which focused on a priority in their strategy around making our neighbourhoods healthy. As a member of the Development Group which supports the board, I was involved in the planning and preparation of the event. For a number of reasons, primarily (in my view) a lack of exposure to and experience of using social media among council officers, the various Health and Wellbeing Board events held over the last eight months haven’t involved much, if any, sharing through social media platforms.

I was therefore grateful when the lead facilitator for Thursday’s event, Catherine Wilton from Think Local Act Personal, asked before the event about hashtags. Catherine isn’t an intensive user of social media, so it’s great that she thinks about it in event planning. We agreed to use the hashtag which Think Local Act Personal (TLAP) have been using for their work with Health and Wellbeing Board (HWBs) – #TLAPHWB. I quickly created handouts for participants with the hashtag on and information about where content would be shared online following the event e.g. Stority and Flickr. I was also grateful to the team at Healthwatch Dudley, for the loan of their 4G mobile broadband device which enabled us to use wifi in Wrens Nest Community Centre during the event, as the Centre doesn’t have wifi yet.

Once you’ve sorted that as an event planner, much of the rest is down to the online community. Thanks to some great tweeting and sharing of photos on twitter during the event, I was able to quickly pull together a Storify archive from the event. I uploaded photos from my camera and my phone to Flickr here. Together, these tasks only took an hour, which I was easily able to in the evening on the day of the event. There are times which more curation and explanation in Storify is useful, and when more consideration should be given to use of photos on Flickr and thus time put in to editing. However my objective was simply to convey some of the key messages from the event, show the fun people had and try to get across the connections that people made.

Here are just a few of the tweets shared from the event by people in organisations in Dudley.

Matt Bowsher is an Assistant Director in Dudley Council and active user of twitter:

Stuart Johnson is our Police Chief Superintendent and uses twitter in a really friendly way:

Mark Ellerby from Summit House often shares interesting things he hears at events on twitter:

And Donna Roberts from Dudley Council was the twitter superstar of the day, ensuring that there were photos online and that the story of the event was shared in real time:

If you have tips for sharing online during events please reply below. If you would like any advice around using social media in events in Dudley please just ask.


Happy Birthday to @Dudley Vols and Volunteering Counts blog!

I love the exuberance in this post by Eileen Fielding on her Volunteering Counts blog, so thought it was worth sharing here. Hope you enjoy it.

Happy Birthday to @Dudley Vols and Volunteering Counts blog!.

Eileen was a brilliantly enthusiastic contributor at the last BostinCamp. We’ve got another BostinCamp coming up on Tuesday 25 February – click here for details and to register.

Using social media in Community Forums

Apologies for the lack of posts at the end of last year, I don’t know where the time went!

Our social media surgeries in November and December bought together people doing brilliant things in their communities and organisations, and helped them increase confidence and skills in using social media to help them. The next social media surgery coming up is on Thursday 20 February, from 6pm at Cafe Grande in Dudley – click here to register.

BostinCamp on 5 November was a great success, the 100 tweets shared during the evening are archived here. Something we heard about during the evening was Tim Sunter’s experience of using social media at a Brierley Hill Community Forum meeting organised by Dudley Council.

local saying "community forums, a new way to have your say"

logo from Dudley Council website

The 10 regular community forums held across Dudley borough are designed to “give people direct access to councillors and Dudley Council through regular drop in public meetings” (from Dudley MBC website). During consultation about the community forums when they were first proposed there were hopes from active citizens that social media would be integral to the process (see this report from a participatory workshop at which people voiced this aspiration). However as the forums were rolled out this time last year, use of social media wasn’t being actively encouraged or facilitated.

I was therefore really pleased to see that Tim Sunter (@Brierley _Hill) was live tweeting from a community forum meeting last July. I was also intrigued that in doing so Tim had prompted a discussion during the meeting about using social media. You can see the conversation in Tim’s Storify archive (go down to the sub-title use of twitter in future meetings). I just love that the simple act of sharing a contribution made by someone using twitter and not present at the meeting impressed and changed the views of people at the meeting who had thought that using twitter at the meetings would exclude those who didn’t use it.

photo of people at BostinCamp

BostinCamp in November 2013

Tim shared this story with us at BostinCamp, and also another really interesting continuation of the story. Knowing that a number of people who are interested in what is going on in Brierley Hill don’t use twitter, Tim emailed his curated Storify archive to everyone on the mailing list for the Brierley Hill Community Forum. 21 individuals replied to Tim’s email, including 2 local councillors, with responses being very positive, aside from the 5 people who couldn’t access Storify through council computers.

Tim generously prepared a wonderfully mind map of all the responses which you can see here. Below are a couple of responses he flagged up to share with us:

“I think it is really good way to open the meeting up to a bigger audience. would be really good if the council did it safe you doing it for them and people can give live feed back to issues.”

“I think that life has made attending meetings like this difficult, but this allows people to be in the room if they care and not just if they can make the meeting. Certainly a huge leap in transparency. Thanks for sharing.”

And here’s a great response from a local councillor demonstrating openness to sharing and to figuring out which social media tools to use (which can be rather confusing) :

This is really good – how do you link into it – do you have to be on twitter or could I go in through one of my Facebook pages?”

The next BostinCamp will take place on Tuesday 5 February from 5.30pm – more details and online registration here. Do come along and join us, it’s great to drink coffee, eat cake and talk about social media.

BostinCamp is back!

Photo of Laura Broster and Joy Clarke at BostinCamp in August

Laura Broster and Joy Clarke at BostinCamp in August

If you are interested in social media, local government and voluntary activity why not join us for our second event?

BostinCamp will take place Tuesday 5 November between 5.30 and 7.30pm at the Secret Coffee Club, Pearson Street, Brierley Hill (just off the High Street). Arrive any time from 5pm. There is free parking and wifi at the venue. Register here if you fancy coming along.

BostinCamp is an informal, out of the office chance to learn things, meet people, listen and contribute and make our corner of the world just a little bit of a better place. There is coffee, cake and good conversation, plus the invitation to go for a curry afterwards if you are really enjoying it!

We’ve got three great sessions planned (no death by powerpoint, simply sharing and discussions).

Citizen tweeting: Tim Sunter (@Brierly_Hill) will share his experiences of tweeting live from Community Forums and other events, and the reactions of people around him and online. He also manages a hyperlocal site, Brierley Hill Blog, so perhaps we’ll hear about that too.

From novice to navigator: Eileen Fieldling from Dudley Volunteer Centre (@DudleyVols) will share her boundless enthusiasm for social media one year in to her journey. Expect some stats, some great ideas and probably mentions of our many amazing volunteers in Dudley borough.

Social media, local government and citizen participation: Hear what it’s like for a politician using social media. From his twitter profile perhaps we can expect Cllr Pete Lowe (@CllrPete) to talk about family, politics and football. Hopefully he’ll share what works for him and other councillors who are actively using social media to connect with people.

We’ll be using the Twitter hashtag #bostincamp for the event. 29 people came to our first camp (read about it here). Register here to join us.

Social media and social movements

Could Twitter and Occupy help our charities, trade unions and voluntary organisations to both stay relevant in the times ahead and live our values through the ways that we organise?

LiamsThis question is asked, and answered, by activist Liam Barrington-Bush in his new book Anarchists in the Boardroom.  Liam went to Oaxaca, Mexico in May 2012 to begin weaving together stories from grassroots social movements, online uprising and forward-thinking businesses, to paint a picture of what it might mean for an organisation to be ‘more like people’. Part of Liam’s writing process involved online conversations. I took part in some of these on his blog, and then supported the crowd-funding campaign to get the book published. It has been great to been a little part of this journey, and I’m delighted that thanks to our ongoing online conversations Liam has arranged to come and share his thinking and stories with us in Dudley. We’ll be discussing the ways that digital technology is changing the ways that community groups and voluntary organisations in Dudley borough work.

While we probably won’t hit the anticipated 60 people booked to attend the Book Launch in London on Wednesday, there has already been lots of interest in Dudley CVS’s Voluntary Sector Network event with Liam on Friday 4 October (places are free – book here) and Dudley CVS’s Building Blocks programme is also offering free places on a training session with Liam on the afternoon of Friday 4 October (details and bookings here).

For any readers in or around Birmingham, there’s also an informal meet-up with Liam arranged on Thursday 3 October, from 5pm at Brewsmiths coffee shop, see more and RSVP here.

Connecting local business and community

tweetup logo with twitter birdStourbridge Tweetup (StourTweetup for short) is a free monthly social event held at Moochers Jailhouse in Stourbridge.

I recently met Phil Fellows, the driving force behind the events to find out more about what happens at StourTweetup and what it was that motivated him to organise Tweetups in his own time.

Phil is the Managing Director of Swinford Graphics and works hard to promote and connect local businesses in Stourbridge through a ‘best of’ franchise, the Best of Stourbridge. Phil explained to me that he wanted to do something that was for everyone, and that was different to the usual networking offer for businesses. He also wanted to create a platform for local charities and community groups to raise their profile and a little funding.

photo of Phil FellowsPhil wanted to create something which would bring together members of the community in and around Stourbridge, local business owners, business leaders, action groups, clubs, and organisations. He heard about tweetups from a colleague, and liked the idea.

A tweetup (twitter meetup) is a face-to-face meeting of Twitter users. As explained by, a tweetup involves the physical presence of twitter users and may be held anywhere, from coffee shops, to hotel lobbies, to restaurants. Attendees generally have not met in person and do not actually know each other, but have already been acquainted online through the various groups or lists they follow. A tweetup may be organised around a particular subject, or may be arranged just to socialise, make friends and establish contacts.

Phil is an active twitter user, but knew that not everyone involved in businesses and local groups in Stourbridge uses twitter. So he developed the StourTweetup website and promotes the events on Facebook as well as twitter, and of course face-to-face.

It is free to attend StourTweetup events, and they are informal, relaxed opportunities to build relationships with people who run or work for local businesses and people involved in local charities and community groups. You can arrive from 6.30pm, and come and go as you wish during the evening. A guest speaker from a local charity or community group usually takes to the stage around 8pm, with more networking afterwards. Raffle tickets are sold (for £5) and all the money raised goes to different charities or community groups in and around Stourbridge, often whoever it is that has spoken at the event that evening. Since StourTweetup launched this June Mary Steven Hospice (@MSHospice), Tidy Stourbridge (@TidyStourbridge) and GigCaritas (@GigCaritas) have had the opportunity to tell people about their work, and benefit from raffle takings.

A Tweetup is coming up!

This month’s StourTweetup takes place on Wednesday 18 September, with the guest speaker from Dudley Stroke Association. You can book your place here and follow on twitter: @StourTweetup If you don’t know anyone when you arrive, look out for Phil (pictured above) and he will give you a warm welcome and introduce you to a few people.

Social Media Mini Bytes

strawberry rssA fair amount of my work involves working with people in community contexts, and supporting people from all sorts of organisations and groups to work with different communities in ways which are empowering for all involved.

Four years ago a group of us started to develop training and networking sessions for people who have roles which require them to work with communities. This was in response to findings of some research we carried out in which we discovered that a lot of officers and volunteers don’t feel confident about doing this sort of thing. It can generate feelings of worry and stress – even though when they take the plunge they often have really good experiences. We call our programme of support around this ‘engaging together’.

Questions about social media in relation to such work are arising more and more. It might be that people are wondering how social media could help with community consultation. Or how they could use social media to make connections and build relationships in communities. Maybe just even to find out what’s going on.

In response to that my colleague Donna and I are running a series of short sessions in order to help people a little, with a view to using what we learn to develop more in depth learning opportunities. Our Social Media Mini Bytes series will invite people to explore opportunities, challenges and practicalities of using social media to engage communities in empowering ways. The sessions are free to attend.

The details and registration pages can be found from these links: