Dialogue 4: Roz Hall of Knowle West Media Centre (KWMC) meets Annie Beardsley, Neighbourhood Arts, The Health Park on 11 October 2006
I travelled to Knowle West Health Park where I met with Annie Beardsley. Annie told me that digital photography is used a lot in her work for marketing and publicity but the equipment they have is quite archaic and so what is produced is limited. However, she said that digital photography is useful in terms of being able to upload images easily onto the website of activities that happen at the Healthy Living Centre. She told me that people involved in the groups that meet, at the Health Park e.g Art Club and Women of Worth, look at the web site to find out what is happening.
Annie said that the use of the internet, especially regarding its potential use as a research tool, has been an important element of the art club at the centre. She told me that animation was also a very popular process and that digital photography as part of an animation process was also of interest to people.
Annie told me that there used to be open access computers in the café at the healthy living centre. These computers weren’t massively used, but every time there was an art club session there, young people really wanted to use the computers, but there wasn’t the necessary technical support to enable them to use the computers in the ways they wanted to. She said that these computers are missed by the young people who attend the art club. She said she thought this was to do with the instant nature of using the computers, whereby you can take a photo and upload it to the website instantly, and that this satisfies short attention spans. She added that for young people in the art club it was important that they accessed computers in the centre as this meant extra support for school related work, and greater computer literacy through using it in ways that they found to be fun.
She also told me that adults use digital photography and the computers to make exhibitions of work or cards. She said that people have generated ideas for micro-businesses, selling things like cards, using digital technology. Annie told me that she thinks that digital technology is an important tool for people in this respect. She said that the accessibility of digital technology means that people can develop greater self-confidence through developing skills in things like digital photography. Annie mentioned Cheryl’s walking group and how this group have learned about digital photography and have documented their walks successfully, adding images to the website. She said that this process has been an important one for the group.
She also told me that digital photography is used as an evaluation tool widely in and around the centre and that as such it proves to be a very important tool. She said that there are loads of photos that have been taken as evidence saved on CD and the website.
Annie said that it would be great if there were the resources available to be able to respond to all the demand there was for access to digital technology. For example, it would be great if all the people interested in making cards to sell could do so. She said that at the moment people’s ability to do so is reliant on them having access to their own computer and an appropriate printer. Annie said that she can sometimes print cards for people but as her role is a more strategic one and she is only employed for two days a week she isn’t able to dedicate much time to practical aspects of the work such as printing people’s cards.
She then talked about the wider set of organisations in Knowle West and pointed out that, in her experience, all the different organisations have separate web sites with nothing driving any communication between them. She said that it is important that money is spent on developing the use of the web as a more networked means of communication, to ensure better communication between agencies. She said that she thinks people are quite isolated in their own work environments and often only see the internet as a marketing tool rather than as a potential tool for two way communication. Therefore websites are often seem quite static and information is uploaded and just stays there. She feels that the internet has meant an improvement for communication with the outside world, but what has not improved is the communication between units here in KW.
Annie said that traditional meetings still happen but that in some ways the web has broken down the sort of face to face communication that happens in meetings. She suggested that this is because it is difficult to find time for quality communication to happen and the internet hasn’t helped that. She thought that maybe overuse of email as a communication tool was causing this. She said that for all the investment in digital technology to be worthwhile there needs to be work done to address the quality of digital communication. She said that so far the presence of websites has not made a difference to the isolated ways in which people work in this neighbourhood.
Annie said that in her opinion the internet hasn’t done anything to break down barriers between people in this community and that it would be interesting to investigate how it could be used in this way.
She told me that she was aware that young people love doing digital animation work and that it would also be great to expand on the opportunities there are for young people to be involved in such work because of the valuable outcomes there are regarding young people having chance to exercise their imaginations. She talked about how animation is accessible as it links to young people’s own interests but how it also gives young people the power to create their own stories. She talked about how young people have been fascinated to see their own images and work on a website and how their on line presence is important to them as a way of them, and their work, being recognised. She suggested that there was something about ‘fame’ that had resonance for young people and which stimulated them to want a presence on line. Annie added that she works hard to ensure that projects use a variety of media for this purpose, to ensure that the opportunities presented through projects are aligned with people’s own aspirations. She said that there is something aspirational for young people about having work on the internet in a way that is similar to, but at the same time distinct from, having work in print. She said that this difference is about the prevalent nature of technology in advertising and billboards. Digital technology is popular with young people, and technologies like MP3 players have a certain status. She said that this impacts on young people who are consequently hungry to be technology savvy. She notes that such hunger did not seem to be so apparent with older people but that it would be great to have more resources in order to be able to develop creativity with older people using digital technology. She said that such an approach might go some way towards reducing phobia amongst older people about digital technology.