Social Media Surgery movement wins the Prime Minister’s Big Society Award – hurrah!

Big Society Awards 2012 logo looks like a street name plate

I’m very excited to be able to say that the Prime Minister has recognised social media surgeries with a Big Society Award for 2012.

The Big Society Awards were set up by the Prime Minister in November 2010 to acknowledge individuals and organisations across the UK that demonstrate the Big Society in their work or activities. The aim is also to galvanise others to follow.  David Cameron said this about the surgeries:

“This is an excellent initiative – such a simple idea and yet so effective. The popularity of these surgeries and the fact that they have inspired so many others across the country to follow in their footsteps, is testament to its brilliance.

“Congratulations to Nick and all the volunteers who have shared their time and expertise to help so many local groups make the most of the internet to support their community. A great example of the Big Society in action.”

Thank you for such kind words – to which we responded formally with:

“It’s wonderful to have recognition for everyone who has organised a social media surgery or turned up to volunteer their help.  I think the surgeries work because they are simple.  They are very easy to organise, fun to do and not in the least bit intimidating for people who want some help. They give active citizens and community groups the confidence and skills to use social media to campaign, organise and hold power to account.  They’ve grown because of the passion and energy of bloggers and voluntary groups up and down the country.”


The idea of a social media surgery originated with Pete Ashton – who used them with people who were looking for free help from his consultancy supporting arts organisations. We then applied the relaxed approach in a new way, scaling it up and putting together two sets of people – lovely helpers from the Birmingham Bloggers group (started in 2007) with the fab active citizens I’d had met through the Grassroots Channel podcast.  The first was in October 2008. It was only supposed to be a one off, but it turned out people enjoyed themselves so much we kept them going – and they started to spring up in other places.


Since then this simple approach has grown into something of a movement, with surgeries so far happening in 60 places in the UK and at least four other countries. They have also become part of our business, using them to help organisations internally and encouraging and supporting our clients to run them for their own communities.  We’ve also built the social media surgery website to make it easier for people to organise them and find them.  In 2010, the Central Birmingham social media surgery won an award from Creative Birmingham’s Invisible City’s Media Circus.

This Big Society Award is great recognition for anyone who has organised a social media surgery or turned up to volunteer their help.  I’m going to be mention a few specific people (which is dangerous):

  • John Popham for taking the idea and spreading it throughout the shires of northern England, to showgrounds and trains
  • Josh Hart for investing huge amounts of his love and his brain in, which makes it possible for the surgeries to grow without killing us all
  • Hannah Waldram who, when working here at podnosh, refined how we organise them then, through her next job at The Guardian, helped them flourish in Cardiff
  • Our own Gavin Wray for patiently keeping the Central Birmingham surgery working whilst teaching loads of others how to run them well
  • Tessy Britton for telling me that social media surgeons are militant optimists and for nominating the surgeries.
  • Tom Watson for nagging us to do something on blog action day 2008 – hence the first surgery.

Also a thank you for Lawrence at The Studio – who lets us use his Birmingham venue for free (and all the other people who share their venues without charge).

You might like to follow the surgeries us on facebook.

Beside those there are almost 400 volunteer surgeons, particular the people who came to the first one in 2008,  and the people who have stepped up to create their own:

Social media surgery managers

In no particular order, here are some wonderful people who have organised social media surgeries over the last three years, all of them remarkably generous people who give their time and love to help make the places they live in a bit better:

Thank you all.


  1. Congratulations! Thank you for the mention, very kind – all credit to the surgeons who assist at the Roath SMS: Matt Appleby, Paul Byers, Nicole Rugman and Jessica Best; and of course to Hannah and Ed for setting up the Cardiff SMS, and Ed for starting Roath SMS.

  2. David Wilcox says:

    Often the (apparently) simplest ideas are the best … if there are exceptional people to back them up! Congratulations to all for showing what big society should be about.

  3. Hello Nick

    Well done it’s a great idea. And one that should be happening in every village, town, city all over the world on a regular basis. I’m inspired to renew my efforts here in Drimnagh.

  4. Kate Norman says:

    Kudos also to Equality Cumbria’s Mohammed Dhalech (@midhal) for getting things going here.

    Eden Rural Foyer (Penrith Venue), Hannah Stewart at Freerange Artist (Carlisle Venue), Lindsey at Cyberbarn (Upper Eden Venue), Langsdale & Ambleside Mountain Rescue (Lake District Venue).

    Plus ALL the volunteers and attendees at the events held in Cumbria. Too many names to mention.

    • Nick Booth says:

      Thanks ate for adding names – so many people have volunteered, some surgeries were set up by one person, now run by another. Great work in cumbria – we should try and come and see you sometime.

  5. Excellent news and well deserved. Very glad you’ve been recognised for the work.

    Time for a long march south. Not a lot action south of the Watford Gap 🙁

    Maybe then you’d be in line for a Gong?

    • Nick Booth says:

      That is true – not so much down south but the odd plan afoot – Brighton is starting this month – 3 surgeries in different neighbourhoods through We Live Here, the council, public-i, podnosh and demsoc – also possibilities in Kent. London is curious – need very neighbourhood ones I think.

  6. James says:

    Congrats to everyone involved, especially those at Podnosh for encouraging the sharing of knowledge in a really laid back and friendly environment.

  7. Alison Smith says:

    Huge congratulations and so very well deserved 🙂

    I had no idea what I could achieve and went along to my first surgery at Fazley Studios in 2009 after I’d just set up pesky people blog. Nick was one of the first people I met at the birmingham social media cafe.

    Being able to learn how to do simple but great things with blogs, for me it was as basic as adding you tube videos, url links, resizing pictures – all gobblygook to me when I started – it was an eye opener. It was brilliant, welcoming and so relaxed.

    The help I got has really made a big difference to what Pesky People has become. SO THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!

    Congratulations to everyone involved and everyone who works hard to make the surgeries take place everywhere.

    So the rest of the country is to be covered next 🙂

  8. Joanna Geary says:

    Sorry for being a bit late to this but a HUGE congratulations to Nick for making the Social Media Surgeries the great success that they have been – bloody well done!

  9. Lorna Prescott says:

    Well done to Nick and all those giving their time managing and helping out surgeries, and those who come along to learn, connect and share online. Thanks for the mention, and I must add a mention for my partner in crime at Dudley SMS, Melissa Guest, who took my desire to start a surgery and made the connections to bring it in to reality, and without whom Dudley surgeries wouldn’t be the success that they are.

  10. chris says:

    That’s great news! I think you all do a great job and have helped us massivley with our website etc ! so a very big thank you from everyone at Birmingham Helping Hand

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