I’m currently working in Knowle West, talking to local people and organisations to gather together their ideas about using digital media. The collation of this information will then:
o Inform the project plan and the contents of the bid
o Evidence the needs and aspirations of people in Knowle West regarding use of digital media
o Generate ideas for wider debate prior to the bid being made; e.g. through this blog
I will therefore be regularly posting edited versions of the dialogue I have had with local individuals and organisations.
Dialogue 1: Knowle West Web: 6 October 2006
I went to The Park to meet Kevin and Diane of Knowle West Web. The conversation began with Kevin and Diane introducing me to the two volunteers who were present. Kevin then voiced some concerns about the digital challenge bid and Knowle West Web’s potential role in it. Kevin said that he thought the council would end up paying a big company to install internet connections in Knowle West as the job was too big for Knowle West Web or any such small community organisation.
I suggested that the fact that I am collecting information from community groups, to inform the bid, implies that the decisions are not going to be ‘top down’ but based on the real experiences, needs and aspirations of the local community. I said that I thought there would be ways in which the asset of Knowle West Web and the experiences of Diane and Kevin would be important in informing the way in which the council went about installing equipment and that because of their experience in the field they would be valuable assets themselves to the delivery of the work that the bid sets out to achieve.
I asked Kevin and Diane about their roles and how what they provide is more than an installation service. They explained to me that the way they work is more flexible than any big company could be and that they ensure that they can respond to different needs as and when they arise. For example, they realised that some people they have connected to the internet may have difficulties connecting outside of office hours. To address this they arranged for phone calls at their office to be diverted to their home so that as and when people have technical problems in the evening Kevin can go out to assist.
We talked about the technical support service they provide and how they are able to do this through training volunteers to be able to repair computers and address technical issues. We also talked about how accessibility was not just about installation of equipment but was also about supporting people to be confident users of the technology. We talked about the role Knowle West Web has in familiarising people with the technology and how the community based nature of the organisation means that local people trust Kevin and Diane in ways that might not be achievable by a large international company. We agreed that these elements of familiarisation and trust were what distinguish Knowle West Web from a large company.
Kevin told me that the project may not still be open by the time the bid is submitted as their rent has risen to a price that makes it difficult for them to afford. We talked about the issues they face regarding making money through sales of computers. I suggested that Kevin and Diane themselves are the assets, in terms of the bid, because of their extensive experiences and skills.
Edited transcribed video footage
Kevin: I’m Kevin and me and my wife volunteer and we run this small community network which is called Knowle West Web. Diane does the paperwork and secretarial work for the job, Kay’s a volunteer and comes up here a couple of days a week and has learnt a lot more in the time that she’s been coming here, she does repairs the same as me. Mark’s another volunteer who comes up a couple of days a week, and it’s the same work that he does, repairs, and he helps run the project that we’ve got running here. I come here every day to keep this project up and running for the community. We’ve got a small wireless community as well that we’ve got about 70 or 80 people on. I do any work I can to keep the project running, we sell computers and do repairs. Anyone that comes in through the door and wants work done we give them our knowledge, our information.
Roz: What do you thinks the most important thing about what you do?
Kevin: It’s a small project for the community and we try to help out the community instead of the community going to mainstream shops and being charged a fortune, we charge them cheaper prices so that’s about the main thing we do, is cheaper spares and repairs than people can get elsewhere. The other main thing is the internet access that we put in for the community and the technical support we give. If people phone up and say they’ve got a problem then we go and see to it. That’s the main reason the project was set up in the first place. So we could build a community using wireless internet.
Roz: Do you think people are more likely to phone you for technical support because they know you?
Kevin: Yes, they phone us for technical support because we are the people who put the computer and the internet in their house.
Diane: I’m Diane and I do the paperwork and make sure the bills are paid on time. When we had funding to do the installations I phoned everyone up and booked them in for their installations and made sure all that ran smoothly. I’m also the one who people speak to if they’ve got a problem and I try to make sure that it’s sorted out quickly. If someone phones me up at ten o’clock in the morning I try very hard to make sure that it will be solved by half past ten.
Coming from this community some people think ‘why should I bother?’ But if you keep having that attitude then the community goes down hill, you have to think it’s for the generations to come and I just feel that what we do here is an asset. We have a disabled person on our network who couldn’t even get out of his own house. That’s less of a problem now because he can order things to be delivered to his house. But he didn’t have a computer table, but that wasn’t a problem, we went to get one for him, and we didn’t charge for that, that’s the type of personal service that we offer, that I don’t think anyone else would offer, that we actually go into people’s houses and set up their computer. And we’re there 24 hours a day; when we go home the phone calls are diverted to our house, so if there is a problem, especially when there are disabled people and vulnerable people on the network its important that we can reassure them, ‘that’s okay, we’ll sort that out for you’, I mean if they’re house bound what else is there for them to do, they need to be able to access what’s going on, and through a computer they can access what’s going on.
Roz: So it must make a real difference to their lives.
Diane: yes, especially when you look up and say ‘well that’s not a problem, we’ll get that for you’.
Roz: Do you think there’s something about being flexible that’s important?
Diane: Yes, you have to be flexible, and sometimes I find being here, you have to have a good ear as well, they might panic if their computer goes down because they need it to do their coursework and people want reassurance. If someone has a problem and their computer is down and they need to use the computer to do their coursework, then I’ll say ‘well come into the workshop and we’ll repair your computer and they can go on one of the other computers’. You wouldn’t get that anywhere else. You wouldn’t get that at PC World. You couldn’t do that. And not only that, the charges we do make are the bare minimum because people cannot afford it. I’m not saying that noone in Knowle West has any money, they do work, but they don’t earn mega-money. But if you go to a high street computer shop you’re talking about £30 as soon as you even get through the door, that’s why this is needed in Knowle West, to let people have access to what we do, so that kids can do their homework, and if you’re housebound you can log on and get your shopping from Tescos, you don’t have to go out to do it.
Also, I see myself as a listener. Like with our volunteers, if they’ve got problem they can come around here and talk about it and I’ll reassure them that they’re doing good. Our volunteers need somewhere to go, they want to learn more, and all they want to do is learn and learn, so why should that be a problem? Anthony comes here from the drop in centre, and what I do make sure is that if Anthony and Kay are here that I’m here as well, to make sure that everything is running alright for them. Having a disabled daughter I’m still working in a similar way, basically giving an ear to anyone that has a problem, and reassuring them that there isn’t anything that can’t be worked out. The only bug bear that I’ve got is that I have to say ‘no’ to people who want our internet and PCs because we haven’t got the funding. When people come and say they need a computer because they want to do a college course but they can’t afford to get a computer, and we’ve got the computers, and the internet and all this here, but no money to be able to give the equipment to them, that, I think, is shameful. Especially as we’re giving our time free, so we’re putting a hundred percent into the work we do here, and I feel that sometimes we are let down by the funding because it’s not as though the community’s not benefiting from it, because it is, in lots of different ways. When we started off it was in the Evening Post and everybody loved it, it was great, but now we’ve faded into the background.
Roz: How do you think you might be able to extend what you do?
Diane: When the media centre is rebuilt and our link there is stable we would be able to get further out and then get more homes on line, because we know there is a demand there, so we could get more people on that internet, giving more people access, so it would benefit the community in a great way. Hopefully we could even get over to Hartcliffe and bridge that gap there, to bring South Bristol into the wireless network. As far as I’m aware, that’s what Tony Blair wanted, not long ago, was for every home in the UK to have access to the internet, so this is what we’re trying to do.
Roz: What do you think makes what you do different to a big company?
Diane: Because I’m from the community. The big companies are only interested in shareholders and profit. We don’t make profit. We haven’t got shareholders. What we do is for the community, it’s totally different. At the end of the day they’re only interested in their bank balances. If you had a problem and you contacted a big company, it would be, ‘oh well, an engineer might be available by the end of next week’. It’s totally different here; if there’s a problem then we can go and sort that problem. It’s a personal, friendly, family community, that’s what I want to try and make it – a family community – where they can say ‘Oh I’ll phone Diane and she’ll come and sort it out for me’. That is where we’re different. We’re not in it for the money. If it was about money I wouldn’t be volunteering.
Roz: Do you think it makes a difference that people trust you?
Diane: Yes, and what usually happens, as soon as we put an install in, the person goes and tells their neighbour and their neighbour goes and tells their neighbour. It’s brilliant. We’re really helpful and people know that nothing is too small or too big for us to do. If you’re housebound, or for whatever reason, we will come to you. It’s about trying to make a difference in the community but not for a year or two but for a long-term difference. And to say ‘we can make a difference, we can achieve something’. That’s how I think we’re different, we are trying to make a difference. We’re not sat in going ‘if we could do this or that,’ we’re actually out here making a difference. Also, having our volunteers coming in and learning things makes us different. People say this isn’t like an ordinary workshop, it’s totally different, it’s more friendly, like a family. There are things we have to adhere to, but we try to make it fun. If it’s not fun why do it?
Kay: I’ve been coming here for about 13 weeks, and I knew nothing about the inside of computers, I knew how to use a computer, but in 13 weeks I’ve learnt a lot. I’m about to take some exams about how to rebuild and programme computers. That’s all because of what I’ve learnt here. I’ve learnt a lot. I’ve got a lot still to learn. It’s just a matter of retaining it up here and just getting on with things. That’s basically it really. I still make mistakes and still forget things but thankfully I’m helped out.
Mark: I’ve increased my knowledge as a volunteer. I have learnt a lot through being here, especially about being friendlier. Because it is friendly here, it’s relaxed. It’s also about being voluntary here, so it’s about what we’re doing for other people instead of what they’re doing for us. It’s about the interest you’ve got here, and it’s a base for learning. I could go to college and learn or do voluntary learning, and I’m doing voluntary learning because it’s hands on straight away and that’s the other good part about it.