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Theory

    Birmingham, Theory

    Dreams, dreamcatchers and public engagement

    dreamcatcher libraryThe Stirchley Dreams project was born out of frustration and a desire to reposition the community back into the centre of an immediate decision which was due to be made, as well as provide some ideas for the future. And if I’m honest, a lot of it was curiosity.  Having worked in communications roles for years, assisting in campaigns which aimed to consult with the public and internally with staff, I knew only too well how hard this could be to get people to engage with consultations.  But I’d also learnt a lot about why people don’t engage and I wanted to do something which would benefit my community, using the skills I had.

    Why did I want to do it?

    There is a tendency to create a lengthy questionnaire, send it out and expect people to fill them in. Now I love a good questionnaire, but they’re also problematic if the questions aren’t written well, if they’re too long, if they lead people in a certain way with too many closed questions (yes / no type questions) and can take a long time to collate if there are too many open questions. They’re also really easy to ignore.

    A good consultation works to the people it is looking to engage with, so the consultation had to be something that reflected the area – a creative, passionate and fun community.  So it needed to be something that would spark people’s curiosity, but also be relatively simple and cheap to produce as there was no funding.

    The consultation requirement came off the back of an issue which was complicated and had a long of history; there were a lot of nuances but that if you boiled down what was being discussed it wasn’t about nuances of planning legislation, it was about improving the town centre. I took the core of the question, how would you like to see your high street improved, and looked at a creative way to reframe it.

    And so the idea of a dream-catcher was born.

    2019_stirchley_market_august_stirchley_dreamcatcher_6646_5x10_800

    How did I do it?

    Getting hold of a hula hoop and ball of wool was relatively easy, which probably says something about the creative community in the area.  Watching a few YouTube videos and some practice meant that making the large dream-catcher wasn’t as difficult as anyone seems to think. Labels were made from cardboard that would’ve gone into the recycling.

    But more importantly, I engaged other people in helping, initially to sense-check the idea, but also gain enthusiasm and help spread the word.

    If you’re asking the community to engage on something, it is at best naive or at worst arrogant to expect them to come to you.  Instead I took the hula-hoop-come-dream-catcher, the labels and a pile of pens to the local monthly community market.  In the space of four hours we got about 65 labels filled out – some people did more than on, others put more than one idea on a label. After that, I was donated another four hula-hoops and local venues were asked or offered to host a dreamcatcher. So I’ve made more dreamcatchers, more labels and it has engaged more people offering to help.

    The project is currently ongoing, but I’ll report back once it is complete. What I do know is that it has piqued the interest of other areas, so the dreamcatchers may go on tour.

    Theory, Travel

    You can’t go home again

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    I boarded a train taking me back to a place I called home for three years.  I’d visited Lancaster a handful of times in the last twelve years, and each time it felt different – I felt different.

    The first time I went back was a couple of months after packing up my life there.  Boarding the bus I’d caught so many times before, staying at a friend’s house I’d spent many an evening in, laughing and drinking tea…I felt like a ghost, shadowing through the place that so many memories.

    Going back again twelve years later felt just as strange.

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    Theory

    Social media and passive friendship

    coffee-friends

    Social media can be painful because we feel like we’re always ‘on’ and always seeing the best of other people’s lives and comparing it to the mundanity of our own. But what if we stopped seeing social media like that, took an active part in it and used it to better connect with our friends?

    I was talking to my friend C about her decision to deactivate her social media accounts, to give herself some breathing room.  C and I have newly defined our relationship as friends; previously just Facebook friends, Instagram followers and occasional meeter-uppers at events.  But when she said she was leaving social media I dropped her a message to say I’d miss her and I’d like to keep in contact.  I realised that whilst I ‘liked’ a lot of her photos, occasionally comments and watched her Instagram stories, I had never really expressed how much I enjoyed seeing them, until it was almost too late – and I wasn’t the only one.

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    Birmingham, Theory

    Moseley and Kings Heath councillor hustings – April 2015

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    Tonight, Kings Health Residents Forum and Moseley Forum organised hustings for the local councillor election which takes place in May.

    Tonight’s event, which took place in the hall at Kings Heath Primary School, was well attended, with a surprisingly few empty chairs.  With six of the seven candidates in attendance (no sign of UKIP’s Rashpal Mondair), it was clear that there was an appetite for community involvement and after a brief three minute introduction by each of the candidates, the rest of the time was given over to questions.

    Candidates in attendance

    • Mike FRIEL – Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition
    • Luke HOLLAND – Independent (on Twitter as @lukeeholland)
    • Martin MULLANEY – Liberal Democrats (on Twitter as @mullaney3)
    • Elly STANTON – Green Party
    • Martin STRAKER-WELDS – Labour
    • Owen WILLIAMS – Conservative (on Twitter as @vwozone)

    Questions ranged from issues with cuts to the Library of Birmingham, problems with traffic on Kings Heath High St, green waste bins and council tax rises – oh and I even got in one about the much promised local train station.

    Rather than write up an account of the hustings, I live-tweeted the whole thing instead.  Here’s a link to a Storify, where I’ve pulled together and sorted the tweets to give you a better flavour of the evening: https://storify.com/lauracreaven/moseley-and-kings-heath-hustings-april-2015

    Photo by Community Spaces Fund, used under creative commons.

    Birmingham, Theory

    Kerslake debate

    Last Wednesday I went to the city council chambers for a public hearing on the Kerslake Review, organised by Pauline from News in Brum. The event was organised because of the lack of debate around the report’s release; “We are bringing the city together to debate the topic the council won’t.”

    For those asking what is the Kerslake Review; “In July 2014, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, and Sir Albert Bore, Leader of Birmingham City Council commissioned Sir Bob Kerslake to conduct an independent review of corporate governance in Birmingham City Council.” – Taken from gov.uk, where you can find the report in full.

    The debate itself was led by a panel. Chaired by Diane Kemp from Birmingham City University, the panel also included: Pauline Geoghegan of News in Brum; Alex Yip Vice-Chair of BCProject, Business Director; Sohail Hussain, a West Midlands Youth Commissioner; Catherine Staite from Institute of Local Government at University of Birmingham; and David Bailey, Professor of Industry  at Aston University . Deliberately not the usual faces but an impressive line up never the less, one panelist admitted to having not read the 68 page report he was asked to give an opinion on, which felt a little disrespectful. However the majority of the three hours, a strict timeline as the room was being paid for privately by News in Brum (helped out with an impromptu donations on the night), was given over to the floor.

    Whilst there were a few conspiracy theories and agenda pushing, these were thankfully minimal and the majority of speakers were considered and thoughtful. There was a real feeling of love for the city, mixed with a sadness that things have gotten this bad, but a desire to move forward and improve; “Birmingham used to lead the way, now what are we leading the way in?”  Speakers from the floor also questioned the links between regional/local government and central government, issues around devolved powers, and a feeling that Birmingham was missing out on funding compared to other areas of the country.  It was clear that there were a lot of informed and passionate people in the audience, with a real desire to see things improve.

    Ultimately, whilst the opportunity to talk seemed cathartic, I do wonder what good it will have.  A report on governance felt like it was asking the council to get its house in order, and as there’s been no official forum to debate within the council, it seems that ideas on improvement from residents are even less likely to be heard.  A video at the beginning of the debate illustrated that most people didn’t know about the review and with low turn-outs for local elections, it’s hard to really get a grip on whether residents really understand what their role is with engaging local government, and if they feel there is any at all.  Still at least through the evening’s efforts there is some record of the residents of Birmingham speaking up, officially or not.

    I left feeling like there were a lot of people wishing the city well, but no clear, agreed idea of how we the residents, the council itself and both groups together move forward.  I wonder; what happens next?

    ‘Kerslake Debate 2: Child Poverty in Birmingham’ takes place at Parkside Lecture Theatre, Birmingham City University, near Millenium Point on Friday 13th March, 6.30-9pm. To book a space, visit http://newsinbrum.com/

    Related articles

    My tweets from the evening https://storify.com/lauracreaven/kerslake-debate-my-tweets

    Birmingham Post – Birmingham development centres too much on ‘glamour projects’ http://www.birminghampost.co.uk/news/regional-affairs/birmingham-development-centres-much-glamour-8701880

    Chamberlain Files – Andy Howell slams council’s ‘shocking’ partnership record and ‘disgraceful’ refusal to debate Kerslake Review
    http://www.thechamberlainfiles.com/andy-howell-slams-councils-shocking-partnership-record-and-disgraceful-refusal-to-debate-kerslake-review/

     

    Birmingham, Theory

    Death Cafe Birmingham

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    Ever given up a sunny Sunday afternoon to sit around and talk death with a bunch of strangers?  I did last week for Birmingham’s first Death Cafe, which took place as part of The Electric’s Shock and Gore festival.

    The Death Cafe is a voluntary group, developed in London by Jon Underwood and Sue Barsky Reid.  There objective is simple: ‘to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives’.  Birmingham’s first meeting was held in The Victoria Pub and organised by Carrie Weekes, a soon-to-be undertaker, and Sharon Hudson, a palliative care nurse specialist – with sweet treats from Conjurer’s Kitchen, and a room rather surreally decorated for a themed Dr Sketchy’s later.

    With a three-course list of questions, we sat in groups of eight and discussed attitudes to death, end of life care and what we’d like to see at our own funerals.  It was interesting to see the diversity of ages and experiences – from those working with people at the end stages of their lives, to people caring for elderly relatives and those who were just curious.  It also fascinating to see people’s experiences of talking about death in the everyday; from parents whose children didn’t want to discuss ‘what happens if…’ to those who’d written wills and had paperwork sorted for every eventuality.  Topics of assisted suicide, organ donation and the debate about knowing how long you have left were all covered too.

    Cake pop & menu

    Cake pop & menu

    It sounds strange, but I left the Death Cafe feeling oddly energised.  It gave me the opportunity to think about my own experiences with death, how better to live and questions to ask of loved ones.  For a few hours talking about death, I felt oddly more appreciative of my family and my life.

    Would I go back?  You know, I think I would.

    Check out http://deathcafe.com/deathcafes/ for information on the next Birmingham Death Cafe.

    Online stuff, Theory

    Congratulations on the smug political status update

    I’ve wanted to write this for days, but it felt a little improper to do so before polling stations closed and results were read out.

    Pre-election and even on the day, my social media feeds have been full of mockery of political parties, jokes about delayed election days for certain voters and a number of other equally silly things.  I’m sorry, call me a killjoy but I don’t get the joke.

    I like democracy; sure, I think my opinion makes the most sense (otherwise why would I hold it) but I like that democracy is ultimately about the masses deciding.  The right of a political party to exist, no matter how much I agree or disagree with their policies, is part of what makes this a great system.  But a philosopher once told me that you argue against something’s strongest points not its weakest.  It’s why I’ve always been against no platform policies and more recently why I’ve been annoyed at these Facebook statuses and tweets – and I love sarcasm.  Sure, mocking something is kind of arguing against it; but is it really an effective way to changing people’s minds – are you even reaching those people who are genuinely planning on voting for those parties you vehemently dislike so much?  Maybe the question should really be were you even trying to reach them via social media?  Because to me, at least, it just looked like a group of smug self-congratulating updates which spectacularly failed to do anything useful – and the results seem to agree with me.

    So here’s my plea – and you may call me idealistic for it.  Next year it’s a general election and if you care so much about whom people vote for, get off your bums and do something useful.  If you’re passionate about a political party then join them and hand out flyers and speak to people to convince them to your party is best.  If you’re passionate about not voting for a certain political party then effectively debate with people who might be tempted to vote that way about why that party’s policies are incorrect and what the alternatives are.  Point out flaws in an argument in a way that will actually engage with people.  Talk to people who feel disengaged, tell them to register their dislike of all the parties by spoiling their ballot so their voice is counted.  Stand for election.  Hell, start your own party if you like.

    But above all, do something that might actually count.