The future of the high street

Hugh Flouch was invited to speak at an RIBA Building Futures debate recently, for the inevitably doomed but thought-provoking motion ‘This house believes that the future of the high street is online’. Within the traditional spirit of debating, Hugh managed to put across a sense of genuine regret at the demise of many traditional high streets around the country, while pointing both to the ongoing transformations in terms of online markets and the enormous potential for local social online to be blended with the interests of local traders. You can read a review of the debate by Tom Young on the RIBA blog.

Workshops for community groups

We’ve been working on a series of workshops for community groups for the Lambeth Forum Network in south London. This is an umbrella group whose members spotted the need for deeper understanding of social technologies in their roles. The series includes two starter sessions, one for the unsure and one for the converted, with subsequent sessions on particular tools, platforms and channels such as Facebook, Twitter and MailChimp.

Participants were slightly surprised – and appeared delighted – that we did no hands-on tech work in the three hour starter sessions. We avoid the risk of overwhelming people with naïve enthusiasm for technology. The sessions are soundly based on our long experience of the community sector, and understanding of the principles of communicating with people about local issues. If you’re interested in a similar series in your area, please get in touch.

Local Trust event on enterprising communities

We had the chance to contribute to a stimulating event organised in Birmingham by the Local Trust, exploring alternative approaches to local economies. Lively workshop sessions included redesigning the high street, developing cashless economies, and the knotty theme of ‘fair finance’.

Local online channels in low income neighbourhoods

We are just finalising our report on local online channels in low income neighbourhoods. In 2011-2012 we worked with residents in four areas to explore the potential for local online channels, and set up and maintain their own site. Three of the projects were supported by the Big Lottery Fund and the fourth by the Barrow Cadbury Trust. The report will be available shortly.

Is internet time different?

Finally: I gave a ‘lightning’ presentation to an ESRC workshop on ‘Time and community’ – Is internet time different? Local online channels and community action. I offered examples of the immediacy of online; the ways in which expectations in the timescales of agencies and residents are now sometimes reversed in the online world, with officials struggling to keep up with local action in some cases; and the refreshed appeal of local history online. You can read my personal take on the workshop here.