Dialogue 6: Roz Hall of Knowle West Media Centre (KWMC) meets Anita Pearce from Knowle West Neighbourhood Management. 10 October 2006
I travelled to the neighbourhood management office where I met with Anita Pearce. Anita told me that she uses digital photography most of the time to take photos of all sorts of things. One example is that she regularly takes before and after photographs of spaces that have been cleaned up, another is that she photographs community events. She explained that such images are important for evidencing and communicating the work of the team to the wider community. She said that she photographs anything that might be of interest to the local community so that the images can be used in the newsletter.
Anita then told me about the street reps and their involvement in the clean up day. The digital photos taken of the day were important content for the news-sheet that was produced about the day.
Anita said that she also takes photos of things as a tool for making comparisons. For example she is currently collecting photos of parks, and is asking others to take photos of parks using digital cameras, to compare the parks in Knowle West with those of other areas.
Anita also told me about a fact finding visit to Bournemouth and how photos from that day had been important in collating and disseminating what happened through including images in the report about the day.
She talked about the ease with which digital photography can become part of such processes given the simplicity of downloading and using digital photos in other documents.
Anita also told me how residents, especially young people, are encouraged to take photos for publication in the newsletter. She underlined how important it is to then credit the people who have taken the photographs in the newsletter. She said that this stimulates an interest in the newsletter amongst residents as people like to look through it to see if there is anyone they know in it; either someone in a photo or someone who has taken a photo. She said that people recognise the newsletter and that’s how they understand neighbourhood renewal.
Anita also told me about posters made about the walkabout and how through KWMC they had linked up with a printing company to have these posters produced.
Anita said that the residents on the steering group are always clear about the newsletter’s role and that they feel strongly that it is their newsletter. People aren’t keen for their contributions to it to be edited because of this sense of ownership. She added that residents should be fully supported to maintain control of their newsletter. Anita also said that it would be easy for some residents to be put off by professionals trying to determine the contents of the newsletter as some residents would not be confident enough to challenge such interventions.
Anita said that people often use photography to evidence trouble spots, such as burnt out cars, if they want something to be done about it. She also told me that she has used photos within her blog about the work she does. For example she took photos of a grown over pavement, and then photos of how it looked once it had been addressed through new fencing. Such before and after images are useful to show what the types of things that the team can do and how they can have positive impact on the local environment. She said that this had been a useful exercise but that her workload had prevented her from doing much more work like this.
Anita talked about the to the neighbourhood management small grants that people can apply for. She then told me about the DVD, entitled ‘Where’s the money gone?’ which has been produced to communicate to the local community how these small grants have been spent. She said that they had also organised a day event for people to come along and find out how the grants had been allocated, but that not many people had turned up. She said that the DVD was much more useful as more people were likely to watch it than were likely to turn up to an event. However, the event had been useful in that a group of young people had made an excellent presentation about how they had spent their grant. Their presentation was so good that they have been asked to train people at Eagle house in using power point to improve their presentations.
She told me more about the street reps scheme, and how one of the important aspects of their role is to let local people know how to report things. They also use digital photography to evidence issues and change.
Anita also talked about the planned Knowle West citizen’s panel and how people are invited to sign up, in order that there is an average representation of the population, via the internet. She told me that this is used a lot by Bristol City Council to ascertain ‘average’ opinions.
Anita talked about the possibility of holding meetings on the internet, and told me about the scheme that Mandy had explained whereby residents were bought computers in order to engage in meetings.
Anita said that the ways in which she used digital photography were really useful and powerful and that she would like to be able to extend on this practice. She said that the only issue is to do with time and how little of it there is. She told me that because she is a local person people often come to her for advice even when it isn’t strictly linked to her role, because they know and recognise her. So she ends up juggling lots of important things.
She said that one way in which she could envisage extending on the use of digital technology for the neighbourhood management team would be in order to address the issue there is for people around reporting issues. She said that local residents often want to report something but don’t because they don’t want to be seen as someone who ‘grasses up’ their neighbours. She told me that people can report things on line to Bristol City Council but not locally and she said that it would be really useful if they could. She said that some sort of on line forum or chat room where people could remain anonymous would be one way of addressing such issues.
Anita also said that because of the geographic location of their office people drop in for all sorts of information and so they end up doing lots of work that is about signposting. She suggested that there could be ways of signposting people, through the use of digital technology, more effectively.
The other way in which digital technology could be used more effectively is in joining up the work of different agencies. She said that the projects that happen are done well, but people don’t necessarily know about other people’s projects that are happening. For example, she told me that one resident had commented that even though she goes to lots of meetings and events she had found out more about what was going on by attending the weekend away because of the informal chats that time permitted during that weekend.
She summarised that people aren’t necessarily inclined to come to meetings, even people who have been funded by neighbourhood management, but that the communication that does take place is really important, so digital technology has an important role to play in creating platforms through which people can share information about different projects, what they do and what they have done.