Friday, 01 May 2015

Getting by? Back in the early 90s I got disillusioned with being part of a circus of people talking about those who experience exclusion, too frequently in their absence. I tried (largely unsuccessfully) to get funding for what I called ‘Voices’ projects, whereby people’s own experiences were recorded and this constituted the text, with or without context. At one point I had a list of eight or ten sub-projects, but funders could not be persuaded. The nearest I came was with a project in Derry, Northern Ireland, but I don’t know what happened to the small amount of content created. More recently, I was part of a successful example, A series of doors, presenting the experiences of young people in poverty. It’s tempting to say now that ‘Liverpool has done it’, because a range of Liverpuddlian agencies have worked together to produce the Getting by? report. And they’ve done it supremely well. Try and get your hands on the hard copy. The project has documented 12 months in the lives of 30 families living in poverty in Liverpool where one or both parents are working. The website has included video clips as well as monitoring the political context and providing a clever connection between sources of help and advice, and the advisors’ take on the provision of that support. The report shows what you’d expect: these families are invariably hard-working, financially astute, and often enormously resourceful, but still have insufficient means to raise themselves out of poverty. And these are families with paid employment. The foreword quotes Beatrice Webb up-front: ‘Poverty is not due to a weakness of individual character, but is a problem of social structure and economic mismanagement.’ With a frankly unpromising general election in view, what chance that those who are in positions to do something about the social structure and the management of the economy will take any notice?
Community development and digital inclusion – SMILEY baseline report published The baseline report for the SMILEY evaluation of community development and digital inclusion (Social Media Initiatives in Local East York), co-authored by Alison Gilchrist and myself, is now available here. The report explores the results of a survey carried out in Derwenthorpe and the neighbouring areas of Tang Hall and Osbaldwick. Joseph Rowntree Foundation is developing a programme to deliver digital inclusion interventions and support existing digital inclusion initiatives in these areas. Our role is to assess the impact of the programme activities, which are intended to support the development of social links and networks between residents within and between these three localities. Our results suggest a sharp contrast between those who recognise and appreciate the potential of digital media to contribute to local life, and those who do not. We found that for almost half of those who have been involved in a local community issue, this has come about as a direct result of online contact ('once', 'a few times', or 'often'). But at the same time, a significant 40 per cent of respondents did not see any potential in local community uses of the internet, either through connecting with active local groups, or as a way of raising and influencing local issues. In several respects we found that approximately 20 per cent of respondents seem to experience digital exclusion. For example, eighteen per cent say they are ‘not very’ or ‘not at all’ comfortable trying out new digital technologies twenty-two per cent say they lack, or lack confidence in, their online digital skills one person in five does not expect that the internet could help them to keep in touch with friends or social contacts locally. The baseline survey was conducted between November 2014 and January 2015. It was carried out by five community researchers in Derwenthorpe and the surrounding areas. Download the full report. There’s more on the SMILEY project here. Our evaluation will go on to examine if and how JRF's interventions lead to the improvement of digital skills and literacy, generate a positive online identity for the area, and support community development and the integration of Derwenthorpe residents with neighbouring communities.

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