The aim of this project was to use digital media as a way of encouraging groups of housing association residents to explore their neighbourhoods, find out about place-making and get more involved in local decision making in their neighbourhoods.
Groups of residents from Birmingham, Coventry and the Black Country were taken on site visits to different neighbourhoods across Birmingham to give them an introduction to the principles of good urban design. They also explored and took digital photos of their own neighbourhoods. The residents then received support to help them download photos to different digital platforms, including websites or blogs about their local areas, to help build their confidence and skills in using computers. Residents also met tutors from an adult education college to find out about future learning opportunities.
With funding from the Skills Funding Agency and support from NIACE, MADE, in partnership with Planning for Real, the Accord Group, Midland Heart and Fircroft College of Adult Education ran a series of workshops for residents in early 2012 as a way of encouraging them to get more involved in improving their neighbourhoods.
Digital media is now a fundamental part of everyday life, and people are starting to use it to influence what happens in their own neighbourhoods. Many community groups have their own Facebook pages and electronic newsletters to tell people about community events, and of course the internet is a source of information about recent planning applications.
But there are still plenty of barriers – limited access to computer or smart phones, not having an email address, never having used Twitter.
Residents from eight neighbourhoods across Birmingham, Coventry and Walsall were invited to digital media workshops. These were followed up with site visits to Castle Vale, Selly Oak and West Bromwich for residents to find out about neighbourhood design. Participants took digital photos and set up Flickr galleries to find out and record what people value about the places where they live and identify what could be improved. They set up their own local blogs, used Twitter and posted information onto Facebook.
Thirty six people took part in these digital workshops. At the start of the workshops most residents had limited digital experience, and everyone felt they have learned something new during the programme. Participants used the cameras to learn about their own and new neighbourhoods, and were able to try out different digital platforms, including setting up blogs and Flickr galleries and sending tweets. For many, these informal practical workshops helped overcome the ‘fear factor’ of using computers. One participant commented:
‘My daughter told me to go online to get a quote for insurance. So I booked a computer at the library. When I got there I couldn’t find the dot button on the keyboard, and the librarian just told me I needed to Google it. So I gave up. That was a fortnight ago – and today just now with you I’ve set up my own blog!’
Since the workshops took place, there are now five blogs, two participants are using the internet to research local history, two are using their new skills to get support for community gardens, and five of the groups are starting to develop action plans or spatial neighbourhood plans.
An exhibition of the photos and animations produced at the workshops was on show as part of The Art of Architecture season at The Public in West Bromwich which ran from January to May 2012. For this exhibition the residents were asked to choose themes and photos under the heading ‘What makes a good place’. They identified history and green space as being particularly important, along with places which feel looked after, clean and homely.
The ‘What makes a good place’ programme was developed and delivered by MADE, the centre for place-making in the Midlands, in partnership with Planning for Real, the Accord Group, Midland Heart and Fircroft College of Adult Education. The programme was funded by the Skills Funding Agency and managed through NIACE.
The Skills Funding Agency and NIACE encourage learning organisations to share good practice. If you are interested in delivering a similar scheme to encourage residents to get involved in designing their own neighbourhoods you can find full details on the programme on the MADE website.