Let me introduce you to two new blogs about neighbourhoods in Birmingham, both run by public servants
Hands on Handsworth is written by Tracey Thorne – the neighbourhood manager for Handsworth in Birmingham. Be Heard in Birchfield is being nurtured by Yvonne Wager – the neighbourhood manager for that particular part of the city. (Click here to see Tracey’s explanation of neighbourhood management.)
Both Yvonne and Tracey are in jobs funded by Be Birmingham – the local strategic partnership. They were inspired to start a neighbourhood blog by their colleague Kate Foley who had been running Life in Lozells – a site set up originally to address the problem of all the bad news you find when googling Lozells. Kate explains in more detail in this video made by the Chamberlain Forum.
What do they do?
They talked to us about helping them develop these sites during the social media surgeries we ran in Lozells last year. Both are built on WordPress with some changes to the backend that make it a little easier to blog and listen to what the web is saying about your neighbourhood.
There’s also a simple events system with mapping, and the sites include a facility to easily turn plans into commentable consultation docs. We also provide a service that ensures the software stays updated, plugins don’t clash etc, plus training and support on using it well.
Tracey is a natural – she really enjoys writing for the site and is on a roll. Yvonne is equally enthusiastic but needs a different sort of support, so it is taking a little longer.
The sites are the neighbourhood managers’ home in a wider web conversation. It’s only fledgling at this stage. The point is that over time they help the neighbourhood managers share information, ask questions, pool expertise and begin to collaborate in new ways with their community. I’m not convinced they should attempt to become THE site for their neighbourhood.
Such an idea concerns me, because if THE site gets switched off or someone begins using it to be self-serving that’s a problem for the whole neighbourhood. Instead I’m interested in how we can nurture a range of online resources and voices in a place. These blogs form part of that process – providing a tool that can also help neighbourhood managers link to and encourage the wider conversation.
What do you think?
It will take time and patience for these sites to bed in – but what do you think? Could you encourage them by commenting a post or do you have any advice for Yvonne or Tracey?