I went to the Restore project to meet with Iris Eiting. We were joined by Suzy, Steve and Tim from the Restore project. I noticed that there was a Knowle West Web computer set up on display in the window of the shop and found out that Kevin had brought it up to the Restore project within days of my meeting with him and Diane.
Iris said that there are a couple of networks that have already been set up in the area for wireless connection to the internet but that she thought there needed to be a more coordinated way in which projects could ensure the basic set up of their technology. She said that she thought there could be more efficient ways of enabling people to have access to an area network.
Tim suggested that there needs to be something like the connexions website, where all regional information can be accessed through an intranet. He said that it would be really useful if there was such a platform for local groups in Knowle West. Steve agreed, saying that there needed to be such a platform for all the people ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’. Suzy suggested that the Knowle West Forum might be the beginning of such a site.
Tim talked about the positive ways in which group emails could be used, so that people have individual emails that they have to read through and then group emails that they can look at when time allows.
Iris talked about ‘time banking’ and told me that it is like a Letts scheme (Local Exchange & Time-Trading Scheme) only it is government approved and is based on hours. She told me that the scheme is set up so that there is a list of services on line that you may want to receive and a list of services that people want. She said that there is money available to support such schemes and added that some people donate their credits to people who don’t have service to offer but are in need of services. For example, some people donate their credits to older people who may need their gardens to be tended. She said that there are other area based time bank schemes such as in Barton Hill, which may have a different remit and be based on different ideas but still use the same basic software. Iris also talked about Freecycle, which is like a free E-bay, and the potential of such a scheme if it was locally based.
Tim talked about Flicker and how key words are used to tag information. He suggested that such a use of key words and tagging information could be useful when trying to make connections locally. For example he said that restore might have included the work ‘shop front’ as one of their tags which would have meant that Knowle West Web, if looking for a shop front to display their computers would have found out about the space available at restore.
The group agreed that there were some platforms for communication that were up and running that potentially could fulfil the role of local communication such as the Knowle West Newsletter and the Knowle West Forum. Iris said that there was the need for such communication between local agencies but that such spaces were also needed in order to stimulate debate about wider issues.
Iris highlighted how technology is moving all the time and referred to mobile phones as a good example of this. She pointed out how mobile phones are being used more and more and that the ways in which they could be used, for example to send emails, were also increasing. She suggested that there could be a messaging service that people could subscribe to locally that would mean people were sent texts about any forthcoming opportunities as they arose. She said that such a service would be useful both for regular events, such as to remind people of the fruit and veg stall at the Park on Fridays, and for one off events such as fun days.
Steve said that he thought there were important questions to ask before investing time and energy in on line projects, such as ‘how many people in Knowle West are on line?’ and ‘how much time do people have to spend searching the net?’ Iris said that this is why she thinks it is worth considering the potential of mobile phones because many people have mobile phones and most people at least have access to one. She added that in a few years time mobile phones would be likely to be something everyone has. However, she said that she thinks there is still a need to ensure people can have access to computers and to the internet. She told me of a scheme at Easton Community centre that is about refurbishing old PCs and suggested that there might be a synergy between this scheme and Knowle West Web. She added that access was also about knowing how to use the equipment and highlighted how difficult it can be to get people to go anywhere for training. To this end she suggested a mobile internet training project, whereby a mobile unit could be set up in different locations for people to be able to visit it on their doorstep. Such a unit could support the initial training needs of people as well as being a resource for ongoing support and trouble-shooting. We discussed the ideas that have already been voiced about such a process and the group agreed that more people might be encouraged to take part if the focus was based on something of interest to local people, like researching family trees. Steve added that it was important to facilitate access to the internet as, because so much information is now available on line, people feel like they are being left out if they can’t access it. However, he said there are bound to be some people who will resist new technologies and will not take any of it on board.
Iris said she thought it was important to pick out interesting things that people can do on line and to use these things as the basis for training. She also suggested that using the plasma screens, currently used for community information, to show people how to navigate the internet might be one way of teaching people about using the internet when they are just waiting in the doctors waiting room or eating dinner at The Park. She suggested that there might be new content for the plasma screens that simply gave examples of the things you can do on line and how to access them.
The group then started talking about the technologies that people do have in Knowle West. They agreed that most people do have cable or satellite tv and Iris suggested that ‘red button technology’ might be of potential use. She said that there could be ways of working with Telewest or with local tv companies to research and implement ways of using red button technology locally. Suzy added that this would also be a way of getting a whole family involved. Iris said that, for example, there could be one day a week when, during the local news, people could press their red button to get very localised information, e.g. about what’s happening in Knowle West.
Tim said that this idea could be built upon as there would be much interest in broadcasting local videos and Suzy added that some sort of community tv station might be ideal. Steve added that tvs are apriority over other furniture in most homes in Knowle West and so he thought that using tv as a means of communicating locally would be ideal.
Iris said that in her experience lots of young people in Knowle West are computer literate and that there were sure to be ways in which grandchildren could work with their grandparents as a way of engaging older people in suing digital technology. She added that photography always gets people interested in something too. Steve suggested a combined approach whereby people might be shown something of the benefits of accessing the internet on local tv.
Iris talked about the potential for competition as a means of engaging people in activities and debate. She said that despite some people’s ethical issues with competitions she thinks that they are a good way of encouraging aspirations. The group talked about the popularity of the dog show at the fun day as an example.
The group also agreed that there was a need for a database of information that was easily accessed that would list the projects that had taken place and had been successful in Knowle West. They said that such a resource was important in order to ensure that people can research what has happened before, so that they don’t keep reinventing the wheel. There are details of organisations on Bristol City Council’s web site, but not information about individual projects or why they have been successful. Tim pointed out how useful the tagging process would be in such a context.
Iris said that it is important to find ways of using digital platforms to try to coordinate the voluntary sector better. Tim added that there is also a need to do joint marketing with statutory organisations. Iris added that local networks also need to include local businesses so that as well as residents and agencies, businesses are involved.
The group agreed that they thought the best way to communicate locally would be through television as this would allow for communication with the whole estate. They suggested that local media companies such as HTV and BBC Bristol as well as local radio stations would be important to get on board. Iris then talked about how a group of young people have recently collected and put together a petition regarding the local playing field. She said that local people had lots to say, as in this example, but that what was often lacking was a platform from which to say it. The group agreed that digital technology could have a role in establishing some sort of local speakers corner.