Britain’s ‘Big Society’ is big indeed, according to government figures published earlier this month. The ‘Community Life Survey’ shows that 71% of people have volunteered during the past year, 74% gave to charities, and 79% say they have a strong sense of belonging to their neighbourhood. Across the nation, community groups offer a vast array of activities for local people to get involved in, often led by volunteers.
I’ve been working in Knowle West, South Bristol, for three weeks now. It’s safe to say that I’ve been frequently surprised in that time and nearly always in a good way. One of the things that is particularly impressive about the area is the amount of activities and groups you can take part in, if you know where to look. So far I’ve visited a drama and dance group for teenagers, multiple dance groups for the elderly, several bingo clubs and a film club (the lady who runs this club also showed me her beautiful Barn Owl. A real life, snowy white, straight out of ‘The Animals of Farthing Wood’ Barn Owl!). I’ve also been contacted about a creative writing group, walking groups, a pipe and drum band and a boxing club.
It turns out there is so much to do in Knowle West. It’s all underpinned by the spirit and eagerness to help, demonstrated by the people who make up the community. The groups I’ve mentioned above are all run by volunteers. The kind of people who invite you into their houses and not only offer you a cup of tea, they garnish it with a chocolate tea cake and possibly a visit to the aviary in the back garden to see their bird of prey.
But connecting these volunteers with the people they can help is important if the Big Society is going to maximise its impact. The RSA’s Connect Communites report, published in 2010, stresses the importance of understanding people’s social connections in order to help communities solve problems and develop civic life together.
That’s why I think the Social Mirror project is so suited to the Knowle West area. There are loads of groups and activities to connect people to. There just needs to be someone or something to do the connecting.
Trialling of the app will begin on 11th March in local doctor’s surgeries. If you live in the local area and would like more information about Social Mirror or would like to find out how to get involved you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow us on twitter:@socialmirrorapp or by signing up on the Social Mirror website.
Email Amanda.Kanojia@rsa.org.uk to be added to the RSA Action and Research newsletter to hear about RSA research and action projects beyond social mirror.
The local community turned out in force yesterday to officially welcome Social Mirror to Knowle West, South Bristol. For those of you not familiar with the project (we are humble enough to realise it has not yet reached a level of world wide fame), Social Mirror is a digital tool that allows you to see and understand your personal and community connections: the friends and family you rely on and trust. In Knowle West, we are trialing its use in issuing automated ‘community and social prescriptions’ helping health practitioners and community workers to link people to activities and groups in their local area that might help their health and wellbeing.
The number of attendees at the launch, a perfect 100, not only satisfied the obsessive compulsives among us but showed that the people of Knowle West are keen to be involved in projects that are beneficial to health and happiness in the community.
As well as individuals from the Knowle West area, the event attracted representatives from local groups including GP surgeries, community centres, The Prince’s Trust and many other groups who wanted to know if they could be involved as a ‘social prescription’ (a group or activity the tool recommends) or if the application could help some of the people they already work with.
So what did we learn from the event:
- That, at least in theory (with a couple of tweeks), Health Practitioners and members of the community think that the application is a good idea. It was particularly interesting to hear a couple of health workers describe the tool as something that would make ‘patients’ more aware of their social situation and, even without a prescription, how useful this awareness could be.
- Most people find digital interactions fun. Some of the attendees had never used a computer before but nearly everyone who tried the app found interacting in this way interesting and accessible. I’m not saying the interface is perfect or that there weren’t any problems, just that a well designed interface and accessible medium can definitely extract useful information in a way that maybe more traditional methods cannot.
- Whilst digital exploration and helping the community are all well and good, nothing beats the universal appeal of a free cake.
We will be trialing the app by mid March in local doctor’s surgeries. If you live in the local area and would like more information about Social Mirror or would like to find out how to get involved you can email me at email@example.com. You can also follow us on twitter: @socialmirrorapp or by signing up on the Social Mirror website.