Preston is a nice place. Oh, and Local Gov Camp North West (Part 1)

Crafting the agenda at LocalGovCampNW
Crafting the agenda at LocalGovCampNW

Preston & LocalGovCampNW (Part 1)

On Saturday I attended Local Gov Camp North West, or #LocalGovCampNW as it’s known on Twitter. Whilst it’s only a couple of weeks since UK GovCamp, I couldn’t resist going along, even though it’s quite a trek from Hampshire to Preston.

I travelled up by train on Friday evening. There were only four carriages and it was standing room only all the way; it was also very, very warm. Problems on the west coast line meant that the train was even more busy than normal. The conductor kept apologising for the cramped conditions, her tone increasingly desperate as more squeezed in at every stop. Eventually I made it to Preston and checked in to my hotel. A meal, couple of glasses of wine, and a decent night’s sleep sorted me out.

A stroll in Preston

Sunrise over The River Ribble, Preston
Sunrise over The River Ribble, Preston

On Saturday morning I woke up early and was out walking at 7am. It was a glorious morning, cold but with blue skies and dazzling sunshine. I’ve not visited Preston before and really didn’t know what to expect. The best I could conjure up was an old Beatles lyric which mentioned something about it having 4,000 holes. I hadn’t even got that right, as that was Blackburn, not Preston they’d been referring to. I had to accept, my local knowledge was zero.

Statue of Edward Geoffrey Stanley: The Earl of Derby 1799-1869
Statue of Edward Geoffrey Stanley: The Earl of Derby 1799-1869

According to the map on my ‘phone, something called Avenham Park was nearby, so I went to have a look. It was wonderful – quiet, full of interesting artefacts, well maintained lawns, and a lovely view over the River Ribble.

I learned a little piece of history during that early morning stroll thanks to a statue and Wikipedia: Edward Smith-Stanley was the 14th Earl of Derby. He was Prime Minister of the UK three times, and was one of only four British Prime Ministers to have three or more separate periods in office.

The walk gave me an appetite and I went to find a bakery for breakfast. As I walked to the venue I glanced at an Estate Agent’s window (I think it was Hazelwells in Winkley Street) and saw that every property in their window had its own QR code. What a perfect use for QR codes – house hunters just scan the code to see more information, even when the shop is shut. I didn’t know then, but QR codes were going to be a recurrent theme throughout the day.

LocalGovCamp North West

Ken Eastwood had managed to book the Arts & Media Centre in Fox Street for LocalGovCampNW. It was a good choice of venue, with a nice, friendly atmosphere.
I knew Simon Whitehouse had arrived through an alert on Foursquare. In fact I knew I had arrived as he listed me as being one of the people there with him! There were fewer there than expected. I guesstimated about sixty, compared to the hundred or so who had signed up on Eventbrite. It wasn’t surprising, as the media were once again forecasting Snowmageddon.

Crafting the agenda at LocalGovCampNW
Crafting the agenda at LocalGovCampNW

Within five minutes I was learning interesting stuff: Ric Roberts from Swirrl told me about ‘Building the Internet of Things‘, some work that’s taking place in Manchester with Madlab using Arduino. They are looking at the potential to crowd source data like pollution and temperature in central Manchester. I remember Alan Holding first mentioning it at the Lovely Data Transport Hack Day almost a year ago – great to hear about a bright idea being taken forward.

Ken kicked off the day by asking everyone to introduce themselves and say in a word what they were looking for. I was nearly last, and by the time it got to me, all my single word answers had been used by someone else: sharing, learning, collaboration, support, knowledge, and cake.

Attendees with ideas for sessions were then given a minute to make their pitch. I was faced with the camper’s quandary as I was interested in pretty much every session, but could only attend one at a time. Ideas for sessions included:

  • Communication at all levels in the council
  •, what’s going well, and how can local gov learn from it
  • Hyperlocal on the high street – what can we do to help
  • Organisational change – do we need to change the whole culture of how we think in order to change the way we work
  • Use of social media to get messages out
  • What can we do to humanise Systems?
  • Open data for bin collections
  • Volunteer teaching for old people on digital / computing
  • Publishing data on equalities – big pile of information and how to make it accessible to everybody (and at the same time use it to improve ourselves)
  • How councillors do (or don’t) use technology
  • How to open your sessions up to the world by live streaming
  • Open source – why we’re not using it more often
  • The role of community learning
  • Wikipedia, particularly libraries and use of Wikipedia volunteers
  • How can social networks bring people together from different sectors
  • Lightning session, three minutes each, to talk about whatever we like

In part 2 of this post I will list some of what I felt were the best bits of the day, and try to suggest how we might get even more out of future camps.

By Mark Braggins

Walking, usually with my two ex-racing greyhounds. Interested in lots of stuff. Work: Business Development and Research at Drawnalism