What makes a good place

With funding from the Skills Funding Agency and support from NIACE, MADE has been running workshops for residents as a way of encouraging them to get more involved in improving their neighbourhoods.

MADE organised and ran digital media workshops for residents from eight neighbourhoods across Birmingham, Coventry and Walsall. We organised site visits to Castle Vale, Selly Oak and West Bromwich for residents to find out about design. participants took digital photos and set up Flickr galleries to find out and record what people value about their own places and identify what could be improved. They set up their own local blogs, used Twitter and posted information onto Facebook.

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.

36 people took part in these digital workshops. Most had had little digital experience at the start of the workshops 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!' 

There are now five blogs, two participants are using the internet to research local 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 their photos and animations are on show as part of The Art of Architecture season at The Public in West Bromwich until 20th May 2012 (free entry). 

'I'm dyslexic and my spelling's awful so I don't use computers. But it's been really good having a go at the blog'

MADE has been working in partnership with Accord, Midland Heat and Fircroft College of Adult Education on this project.