Tag: community

Crafts, Social Justice and Social Media #makingforchange

Craftivism Making for change

A couple of weeks ago we spent a whole week out of the office working with a group of 16 – 25 year olds  on the #MakingforChange project –  using Craftivism for social justice campaigns. The project was developed by Craftspace a Birmingham based organisation that creates “opportunities to see, make and be curious about exceptional contemporary craft.”

So what is Craftivism? Craftivism is a form of activism that is centered on practices of craft.

It is low level, often non confrontational activism that allows people to participate, slow down and discuss the issues at hand.

The making for change project introduced Craftivism as a way for the young people to talk about the things they cared about, and they had a week develop a campaign and a craft project that they could deliver to an audience. They worked hard to understand what social justice meant, what it means to campaign using craft, and to experiment using different craft techniques before their showcase on the Friday evening

The campaigns they ran included many topics from environmental concerns, with recycling and the declining bee numbers to loneliness and race issues, such as immigration and stop and search.

So where did Podnosh come in?

Well we’re obviously not artists or social justice campaigners in our day jobs, so we concentrated on what we knew best. Data and social media. For any campaign to be successful you need to have the facts and figures to back up your claims, and have a audience to share them with. So that’s what we worked on.

We introduced the idea of data, search and social media early on, before the group had even decided on what campaigns they would like to run, and then stayed around throughout the week to offer one on one support to help them with their specific projects .

In actual fact the one on one support was particularly useful because while we didn’t plan for it to be this way, as the groups and individuals were exploring issues and coming to us for help finding data we were able to help them refine their ideas and their message.

For instance one group Vishal , Rahul , Sanam  and Terell, came to us wanting to look at some very broad issues around stereotyping and racism, with a desire to do something that reflected their experiences, but they didn’t know what. They were thinking big, but didn’t know what they wanted to say. It was only by sitting and talking to them about issues they had faced and showing them some available data that they narrowed it down to stop and search – and the disproportionate amount of minority youths that get stopped – something they had first had experience of – and that refining of their message shaped their campaign.

Stop and Search Data

On the other hand another individual, Siandana came to use with a fully established idea – she wanted to to run a campaign about waste, but focusing on how litter can kill wildlife and had already developed a craft project around recycling plastic bottles into bird feeders.

Recycled bird feeder

She just wanted help on finding facts and figures to help prove her point and hopefully spread her idea further. We looked at what numbers would help her and we settled on data about the amount of time it takes different types of rubbish to break down, which she displayed on her table and hung off her feeders as discussion starters for whenpeople we busy making.



We also helped her consider using hashtags to share her reuse or recycle for wildlife message if she was to continue with her campaign, and she decided that #GoodRubbish would be a nice play on words – she actively encouraged people through the showcase evening to tweet pictures of their makes using the tag,


These are just 2 examples from the week, in all there were 6 different campaigns we supported, and all of them just as interesting.

Sarah ran a campaign to Save the Bees, Mahnaz on integration in communities and what it means to be British. Heather looked at the stigma around mental health and Jaswant  explored issues around isolation and loneliness.

We supported all of them in one way or another and it’s been really pleasing that since the project has finished both Mahnaz and Sarah have been in touch for some extra support as they are both interested in taking their campaigns further – and continuing making for change.


Live Streaming Council Committee meetings – How we helped Birmingham City Council Billesley Ward Committee get online.

I’ve mentioned about how we’ve worked in South Birmingham in conjunction with the South Birmingham Community Safety Partnership when we wrote about what Austin Rodriguez , South Birmingham Safer Places officer had to say about the project.

What I haven’t said yet is that we’ve been working on a second phase of the surgeries with him.

Austin has been doing a great thing empowering the people he works with to use social media to talk to each other, to improve where they live and  to  build a stronger communities and with him we’ve continued to build on the momentum from phase one of the project.

In February we were holding a surgery in Bartley Green that  Alex Buchanan  – Ward Councillor of Billesley – attended. He came along with Austin with the idea that he’d like to trial live streaming his ward committee meeting .  Birmingham City Council have been live streaming their meetings from the council house and he wanted to see how he could make that work locally.

The Technology

Out in the community centres and church halls where community meetings are usually held there isn’t the infrastructure the council have  – there isn’t high speed Wi-Fi or  high definition webcams and high quality controlled audio. Nor is there a bespoke website to send the feed to,  so we had to look at what was available. 

Councillor Buchanan had invested in a laptop with a webcam and a decent microphone so we decided Google Hangouts would be the way to go, using the On Air function to stream to Youtube, which also meant it could be shared via other platforms and embedded into blogs – We spent about an hour looking at how this could work for them and then on the 20th February they put it into action.

Some observations – Be brave.

You can see in the video above that while the camera was positioned in such a way that the whole top table could be seen – the microphone struggled to pick everyone up. As the people farthest away from the set up took their turn to speak at times the audio wasn’t very clear at all but then they weren’t using a multi-directional mic that can pick everyone up like at the council house. What they had was a small mic plugged into a laptop  –  but  it could have been moved to pick up more voices.

This seems obvious watching it back but again it comes back to the fact this was a trial and a learning experience. What it needs next is just a bit of bravery, Bravery to do it again and to take what they’ve learned doing this and apply it. If during the meeting they were willing to pause proceedings by just a few seconds to re-position the mic before people took their turn to talk this would greatly improve the quality of the audio, make better use of the technology they have available and improve the experience for the community watching.

In saying that though it is fantastic that Councillors are looking at ways to open up the local democratic process to more people, and live streaming of meetings is definitely a good way to go. The fact that Councillor Buchanan was willing to even consider giving this a try is fantastic and who knows what could be next? What other public conversations could take place in – well – public?  

Erdington Social Media Surgery: A volunteer helping a volunteer learn from a volunteer…..

Rinkoo Barpaga at Erdington Social Media Surgery

This is Rinkoo Barpaga, Rinkoo attended the Erdington Social Media Surgery this afternoon for some help telling the story of a project he’s involved with.

In 2 weeks time he’ll be flying to the states to take part in a series of workshops and training sessions with deaf community groups, theatre groups and comedians to learn how they approach putting on events for the deaf community over there hoping to bring the knowledge back to the UK to make things happen over here.

Not photographed is Rinkoo’s interpreter (who politely declined to be in front of the camera) a volunteer who had come along to act as a sign interpreter so that Rinkoo could sit and learn with me as Rinkoo himself is deaf.

It was a productive session which as always was adapted to best suit the person learning but in this instance involved a 3 way conversation and a lot of pointing but  there was something really lovely about how it came together, a volunteer helping a volunteer come and learn from, had it been someone else other than me teaching him, another volunteer.


Community Lovers Tour Of Birmingham: Emma Woolf – Friends Of Cotteridge Park

Cotteridge Park is the second stop with our guests from Holland and it was a beautiful day for a walk in Park, and weren’t the only ones to think so.

We arrived to find Emma Woolf of Friends of Cotteridge Park elbow deep in wood chippings in the Forest School with a group of girls from a nearby school.
Cotteridge Park

The Forest school is just one feature the group have introduced since they became involved with the park – You can read about that in their chapter here:

But essentially, Emma tells us, It’s all about forging partnerships with volunteers, local schools and the local community. Today in the forest school, Year 9 field volunteers have helped create a path around the area using wood chippings from the railway that runs alongside the site, Contractors were there over the weekend cutting back and chipping  the trees from over the tracks, “Can you chuck that over here?” Emma asked them, so they did and now it’s been put to good use.

Cotteridge Park

They’ve also been cutting back the willow to make archways along the paths. The girls, Emma notes, like the craftier stuff and the boys, who usually come along to help Sunday mornings, like the heavier work like turning compost. Wendy, one of the other volunteers at the park, remarked of the paths the group were creating, the girls do curved lines the boys would have done straight ones.

Cotteridge Park

Working Together

We run the park in partnership with the local authority. They own it and they deal with the day to day upkeep so we can innovate. For instance one project is around outdoor excersize. Adults and children working out together in the park … this works on all levels but most of all because there is no funding for pretty green spaces but there is for health. Parks are outdoor gyms, we can keep people healthy and make our groups sustainable by applying for grants for things like walking groups, running groups etc…

Cotteridge Park

We have 20 volunteers who help out regularly, but in addition to that we have 700 on our email list and different people get involved at different times. They are more likely to come along if it’s something they’re interested in and that’s ok. We’d rather they come an do a bit of something they like, be that weeding or building, than feel obliged to do something the don’t like and not want to come back again. in addition to these volunteers and our daily visitors, 5000 come annually to COCOMAD and we make the whole event free as far as possible.

Involved community

Cotteridge Park
Not everyone likes what we do, Some people think us working here brings people in and in turn causes anti social behaviour, but we think the opposite is true. Having people here using the park deters ASB and on the whole the community are proud of the park as they’ve done it themselves.

Even the kids get involved with things like litter picking and we hold regular spray paint workshops that they attend, decorating the park for themselves so we have very little problems with graffiti.

The pride the community have in their park really showed when we had our Green flag judging – the place had never looked so tidy, everyone was out in force picking up rubbish and making sure we looked our best.


(Paraphrased from the questions and answers with the visitors)

How does the partnership work out?

A. It’s been nothing but positive, we have a really good relationship with our park manager. We have a good understanding of their position, they’re restricted by funding so can’t do it all, but we can get them to support us. We can fund-raise and apply for funding to make things happen where they can’t and that works for all of us.

For instance the land for the Forest school we bought for £7000, £4000 raised by collections. £3000 donated. We bought it and then handed over the ownership to the local authority for the people of Cotteridge.

What do you fund-raise for?

A. Everything needs funds, be it the tennis courts need relaying, or for new the benches. Then there’s the festival we apply for grants, ask local business and have buckets in the park.

Is this your full time job?

A. No I’m a volunteer, it takes up time  – but it’s a break away from my day job and I enjoy it. I get to play outside all day, in my wellies. I probably spend up to 2 days time working on the park, but I’ve now become involved in a city wide network “Birmingham Open Spaces Forum” which involves and supports other groups and that takes up some more of my time too.

Cotteridge Park