Choice and cameras


I want to upgrade some of my digital video kit, but the seemingly endless choice of models and advice out there has left me in a daze

Like a stuck record, I come back to an issue I blogged about in 2013 here, and in 2012 here. The difference here is that I’m going to be applying ‘my choice’ in a market where it feels the products on offer (and the advice that goes with it) are seemingly infinite.

“If people are faced with a limited amount of information, limited time and a limited ability to learn how to scrutinise what little information they have in front of them, the choices that they make may not be the same if given increasing amounts of all of those variables.”

My words in Do you have time to think? My point being that information, ability to scrutinise that information and the time you have to scrutinise it (along with the ability to make a choice – eg finance-wise) all have an impact on decisions you make.

An incredible journey with digital media in 2014

I’ve been making and uploading my own short video and audioclips on a regular basis of late. (See here for videos, and here for audio). The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive – not so much for the quality but that because someone happens to be filming, publishing and publicising from meetings, community events and small performances where previously there might have been no one. In the process of doing all of this, I’ve noticed the limitations of the kit that I have. Hence being able to ask slightly more informed questions. Yet at the same time, I don’t feel nearly as informed as I would like to be before parting with several hundred quid on a new gadget.

Where do I want to get to with all of this?

I want to become an informed practitioner of digital media. I’m not aiming to be a professional film maker or anything like that, but I want to do more than turn up, set up kit and press ‘record’. Ditto with editing – I want to do more than turning down the background noise, turning up the voice or music enhance options, or tweaking the anti-shake toggle. I want to get to the stage where the video and audio are as they are because of conscious decisions I have taken with the kit, rather than relying on the auto-options.

The context for me will remain community action and local democracy for quite some time. I think there’s altruistic and historical merit in capturing this sort of footage for generations to come. Career-wise, whatever I end up doing (assuming my health recovers) I hope the knowledge I acquire will enable me to ask informed questions of those I will work with.

So…back to the cameras. The problem is…?

So many brands, makes, versions and models to choose from. What direction is the industry going in? What sort of price should I be aiming at? What sort of kit will be too expensive for the sort of thing I want to do? Camcorder vs DSLR? Which ones are ‘the best’? (That last one being a bit of a silly question because it ultimately depends on what the user wants to do!)

The other thing is personal principles with electronic waste. I’m tempted to go for a second hand model. I don’t feel particularly compelled to break the bank for a brand new one when a higher spec second hand model for the same (or lower) price will do just as well. I like the idea of a camcorder because it fits into my shoulderbag easily and discretely. I’m not so keen on the bulky shape of DSLRs – even though several people who do digital filming professionally all seem to be using DSLRs today.

Accessorise, accessorise, accessorise!

The squeakiness of my existing cheapo tripod messed up some recordings despite my various attempts to resolve this. So on looking at a new one, the young me is all ***Wow!*** at the thought of upgrading to this… until you look at the price tag. The only thing I have of that brand is this mini tripod that can also be a mini camera holder out and about. It significantly reduces camera shake. While filming Malka Kovalenko & Bity Booker at Hotnumbers Coffee recently (See here), I lent the gadget plus phone-holder to one of Malka’s friends who was also filming but with a smartphone. She said the attachments made a huge difference. I’m also learning about the benefits of remote controls – it’s awkward starting and stopping recording having to press the gadget that’s doing the filming. Yes, you can solve it in editing by clipping the ends, but it just doesn’t ‘feel’ right.

Which brings me to the next issue of ensuring that whatever I buy has the right adaptors/sockets/ports to link up with existing kit. This is where standardisation makes sense. This for me is an EU-wide issue: It’s a ‘You have got to make your stuff compatible with stuff made by your competitors’. Were it not for an ink cartridge refill place in my neighbourhood, this would be a bit of an issue for me as my printer doesn’t like generic print cartridges. It makes sense for a firm (not naming names) to lock people into their brands. Whether it’s printer and cartridges, hardware and software to even washing machines and washing powder, it reduces competition and raises prices without the guaranteed increase in quality.

Thinking ahead with future purchases

I have in my mind the type of shots/clips I want to film – and just as importantly the effects I want to achieve. The clip below was something as a complete beginner I was (and still am) incredibly pleased with.

The speed of the train combined with the still water and the flat countryside followed by the slow but majestic appearance of the large wind turbine for me is quite something. But filming while in motion is not easy. Browsing through a book that I ended up purchasing today, the authors made a point about the risks of trying to film while in control of, or on the back of a moving vehicle. The point they made about motorbikes is well made: Both camera operators and riders train hard to become skilled and safe in this. It’s not a case of jumping on the back of someone’s wheels.

The other thing that made me go ***Oooh!*** was this piece of kit. The footage in the review below (as well as the author’s comments in the piece) speak for themselves

Now, everything doesn’t have to be expensive. For example rather than spending lots of money on a proper camera track, you could do this:

Just think of the fun you could have with those accessories applied to something like…a council meeting! There are a number of movie tricks that can be applied to such meetings that can make an individual councillor look like a superhero or the head of an evil organisation. We covered this at film skool. It’s probably why the cameras for BBC Parliament are dead still – you don’t see filmed footage where the camera is moving or zooming in or out. For obvious reasons, the TV footage has to be as ‘neutral’ as possible.

Now, in the grand scheme of things I won’t be forking out huge amounts of money on all of that expensive kit. I don’t have the money and couldn’t really justify the purchases at this stage even if I did. I’m not going to jump in at the deep end because finance aside, technically and knowledge-wise I’m not ready for it yet.

Posted in Social media | 2 Comments

Be the change – Cambridge: It’s over to you


As tickets go on sale for Cambridge’s first big community action ‘unConference’, some thoughts on how an idea from 2011 turned into something real

What’s ‘Be the change – Cambridge’ on Sat 13 September about? Click here. Where do you get tickets? Click here. Want to volunteer on the day and get a free hoodie? Email me at antonycarpen [at] gmail [dot] com.

Bringing together over 200 people from across Cambridge’s diverse range of communities and getting them to agree on what our city’s big problems are is one thing. Encouraging them to come up with ideas that they can put into action is quite another. But we’re giving it a go. We’ve been very fortunate with sponsors that have stepped forward to meet the event costs. See who has stepped forward already on our sponsors page here. Some of you might be surprised at who is stepping forward to support a community action event such as this.

Strength in diversity

Although this has been something I’ve been pondering and planning in my mind for nearly three years, it was Dr David Cleevely and Anne Bailey who challenged me to turn these thoughts into something concrete. Ceri Jones joined us recently as the creative brains behind our website and brochure. We’re all from different backgrounds in more ways than one. The big benefit of this is being able to bring different insights to the challenges we face in putting on an event such as this. I’ve probably learnt more from/as a result of the aforementioned trio in the past couple of months than I probably think.

At the same time, all four of us (and more besides) seem to be coming across similar problems with the way our city functions. By this I’m talking about systems and processes rather than individuals. Only recently we saw (in my opinion) another failure of local systems and processes – see here. What in the systems and processes of the partnership allowed for Cambridge City Council not to be represented on the board of a Greater Cambridge partnership? What also allowed for the lack of diversity on the board? (Only one of the 13 seats being held by a woman).

What do you do when someone puts their trust in you?

That’s probably been one of the biggest emotional burdens to deal with on my side: Other people putting their time, effort and resources into a vision or an idea that I have had in with the belief both in the idea and my ability to deliver it. This is very different from the world of public policy where in the grand scheme of things you are either playing with ideas or scrutinising the mistakes made by others but not yourself. Having worked in public policy as well as having run an audit function in the civil service, I’ve seen where things have gone wrong and looked into why in projects and programmes across the country.

It’s a very different emotional sensation when responsibility for delivery primarily falls on you – even more so when you are carrying some of the financial risk. I remember feeling the latter when first commissioning my original digital video guides for social media (see here). Spending public money on an investment is one thing. Spending your own money on an investment is quite another.

Turning growing interest into ticket sales, and attendance into actions

I’m really pleased that a number of councillors across Cambridge have stated publicly they are going to attend – including the Leader of Cambridge City Council, Cllr Lewis Herbert. One of the reasons is the event is going to be different to the traditional area committees we have in Cambridge – the community forums where people can raise issues with councillors for the latter to solve. Our event on 13 September is where everyone takes part in scoping the problems, identifying solutions and ideas, and then taking action to make things happen.

The conversations the four of us have had (me, Anne, David and Ceri) have indicated strong interest from a variety of fields. The common theme that is coming up is how people feel Cambridge needs an event of this type:

  • Something different – and that will challenge existing ways of doing things
  • Something that is big – on a large scale
  • Something that unleashes the talents from across the different communities
  • Something open to those at the top of large institutions to the resident who feels that no one is interested in them
  • Something that won’t be forgotten about after the event is over

On turning attendance into actions, I’ve taken inspiration from Walthamstowe MP Stella Creasy. Her way of working on community issues is to invite whoever raises the issue to be part of the solution rather than expecting the MP/MP’s staff to deal with the issue alone. Similar principles apply with our event. Area committees (see here) and our local MP’s surgeries (in our case Julian Huppert’s – see here) already exist where people want local or central government to take action on their behalf.

A natural worrier organising an event

I probably won’t sleep for the first fortnight in September! But dealing with that is part of the planning process. Hence bringing together experienced and talented facilitators from a range of backgrounds to help the workshops run smoothly. For events as large as this, and to ensure we get as much information and as many ideas out of the workshops, one person cannot micromanage. Knowing that the workshops will be in good hands is a big weight off of my mind. It’s also part of the learning process having not organised a big event like this before. Being the main organiser means learning how to delegate, allocate tasks and ensure things are done rather than doing everything yourself.

Managing expectations

I’ve come away from many an unConference buzzing with excitement in recent years – although less so over the past 12 months. The reason for this is I didn’t see the exciting things from those unConferences transferring into life in Cambridge. I remember a few people a couple of years ago telling me that Cambridge wasn’t ready for an unConference for public services along the lines of UKGovCamp. Hence having to adapt the unConference model to make it fit Cambridge’s unique circumstances. In this case, it means spending the morning in sessions where we collectively identify the problems to solve, and go into more detailed problem-scoping in the workshops before lunch.

Cambridge as a city is full of ideas. Over 2 years ago I went to one such event where people were pitching lots of interesting ideas. I was one of the pitchers:

I have no idea what actually happened to the idea though. Hence I believe we need to get agreement and community consent on what our city’s problems are before looking at what our roles are as individuals and groups in solving them. If the idea fits, or can be adapted to solve an agreed problem, the greater its chances of becoming an action.

Next steps?

There are still lots more things to do on the essentials side. One of the things I’d like to have for the 2 weeks before the event are a series of short digital video clips/vox pops with people from across Cambridge submitting their suggestions for issues they would like to discuss, and potential solutions to problems.

Be the change – Cambridge: It’s happening!


Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Learning by doing


Continual learning by doing – in particular from lots of little mistakes, errors and oversights that I’d normally beat myself up over (metaphorically, not literally)

I’m in the process of adding content to the Be The Change – Cambridge website – which  Ceri Jones designed for our joint long term project.  In fact, we’ve added ***loads*** since many of you last saw it. It’s evolved from all things Puffles towards this big event of ours on 13 September 2014. (If you want tickets and are reading this after 04 August 2014, click here). On updating content, I had to remind myself that there was little different between adding content on here and adding content on that website – both use WordPress. The challenge I’m having is filling in some basic gaps. My learning in this field (making websites) hasn’t been in sync with my preferred style of learning – in a group with a logical progression.

What’s been the most interesting bit for me is doing things using technology that when I first started in the civil service were technological niceties rather than essential parts of a planning process. How many of you now take Skype calls and/or conference calling for granted? I remember the days when senior managers were intimidated by the technology or frustrated by intermittent connections that it never reached the full potential with them. This in part is where Cllr Dave Briggs’ post on digital transformation becomes important. How can people like me make all things digital ‘easy, relevant and accessible in a manner that helps people overcome their fears’? I have fears about it too.

Not conforming – and being seen as a little different in the process

The above-song by Australian musician Bity Booker who was at Hot Numbers Coffee off Mill Road covers Malvina Reynolds lampooning post-war conformity in the US. The thing I’ve been trying to break out from – with some success in 2014, is conforming. Once the institutional reins are no longer there, you have greater freedom to try out new things. The Be the change – Cambridge project is one such thing. At the same time, I’m meeting a number of people separately who are also experimenting with or pioneering digital in their fields in a manner that is bringing about greater learning and culture change.

In my case, going out and doing the filming has been the hardest initial barrier to overcome. The next one is moving from beyond some of the basic standard tools to the more advanced ones that I have access to but have not really made work to their full potential. One thing I’m also mindful of is consent – in this case public consent with filming. It was something I mentioned in a previous blogpost and the more I ponder over it, the more systematic I need to be with it. i.e. Having printed consent forms to hand and business cards stating specific links to where I’m uploading footage to and for what purposes. The question community reporters and citizen journalists have to repeatedly ask themselves is ‘How can I make it easier for the public to understand what I am doing in order to give informed consent?’

Learn a little but often

That’s the journey. I tried the one-day immersion with digital video and it didn’t work for me. If anything, it was the lack of a follow-up with the group and the tasks. For me, one-day courses/workshops work when you’ve learnt the basics and reached a barrier that is insurmountable without expert focused help. There are still gaps I need to fill with the ‘little and often’ process, but I feel I’m getting towards the stage where I can ask informed questions about the content I’m publishing.

Taking the above video, which is of 16-year-old Malka Kovalenko who played support to Bity Booker that evening (in the first video embedded in this post), I positioned the camera on the other side of the room deliberately. Natural light from behind was the reason. It killed the video footage of a band I’d filmed in the room previously. That said, the light quality (despite Simon Fraser’s best efforts mid-film (he’s the proprietor of Hot Numbers Cafe)) isn’t great. In this case, I sought & received consent from Simon, Malka and Bity to film that evening. One of the things I might look at should I get improved kit is how to plug that into any sound systems that venues have. In Malka’s case her performances were rudely overshadowed by people talking loudly.

A curious mind with some end goals in sight

Another digital video clip I took recently was this one from Cambridge City Council’s East Area Committee.

From a Cambridge Cycling Campaign perspective, it’s fairly straight forward – that’s who the speaker (Martin) is addressing the committee on behalf of. From the campaign’s perspective, it’s great to have this on film. It’s much easier to hold councillors to account on specific commitments. From my perspective, I filmed and published this to show others how straight forward this sort of filming is. When it came to my questions, I mentioned to people in the room (and also at a workshop that same week) in a Shape Your Place website context that many of us have the equipment to film council meetings & upload footage.

At the same time, I’m also putting myself in a ‘work in progress’ context. Managing my own expectations are just as important as managing other people’s. This is where feedback loops are ever so important. Carrying multiple camera batteries or a mains plug along with a couple of larger memory cards are today’s learning points. At the same time, I’ve got a choice to make on balancing mobility with quality of footage I want to take. The greater the latter, the more kit you have to acquire and carry with you. What I like about what I currently do is that I’m using a device that many others have, along with cheap accessories. I don’t want to get to the stage where I’m permanently carrying a tripod and lots of kit.





Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Not even all the waters in the Pacific Ocean can put out these fires


On the failure of international politics

I was going to write a blogpost about the failure of international politics in the face of fires so big not even all of the water in the Pacific Ocean can put them out.

…but then it got consumed by the flames.

International politics and international institutions – including media institutions – are all on public trial. And with every violent death of innocent civilians and children (irrespective of nationality, creed or ethnicity) that results from their failings, they are damned even more.

Humanity: you’re better than this.

Posted in Party politics | 1 Comment

‘Mayor of Cambridge gets soaked opening mini-water park’ – Thoughts on community reporting


Want to see a short video of Cllr Gerri Bird getting soaked? Of course you do! But what is the role of a community reporter that the likes of Shape Your Place are encouraging? And how do you manage the risks?

Here’s Cllr Gerri Bird, the Mayor of Cambridge getting a drenching from one of the new water features recently installed at Coleridge Rec.

(Note the schoolboy error of forgetting to turn the phone horizontally!)

I picked up a reminder on my phone that this was happening while I was having a coffee around the corner at Balzano’s. (No, I don’t get a free coffee for that link). Hence wandering up to see what was going on. Despite the clouds and then the rain, there were dozens of people there. I also recorded this short interview with The Mayor in the pouring rain.

Jeremy Paxman I am not

Should I be? What is the role of a community reporter? Should I be asking the difficult searching questions that you’d expect from a local government reporter such as Chris Havergal of the Cambridge News? What should the relationship be between local bloggers/tweeters that follow local democracy in a small geographical area and elected politicians – or even public officials such as council officers?

As you can hear from the interview, I’m not asking difficult questions. For me, context matters. If it is a community event, then councillors are at the event to meet people in the community they otherwise seldom meet. As I turn up to council meetings fairly regularly, I don’t think it’s right for me to monopolise their time on council business. Rather, I think it’s better for councillors and the community to run short interviews that get councillors to explain what brings them to a given event and to comment on what they observe. And that’s it.

“Why is that it?”

Because the moment someone with a reputation (good or bad) starts asking about contentious issues at a community event, the instinct for councillors is to get all defensive. That doesn’t help anyone. If there is something that needs raising – and a couple of families spoke to me about commuter parking by the park (Cambridge railway station is in walking distance) then I tip off councillors that I’ll be raising it at a future area committee meeting.

“That’s making it easy for them, isn’t it?”

Yes and no. Yes because it means they have time to prepare a full answer, no because they can’t get away with a ‘holding reply’ if the issue is otherwise in the ‘too difficult to deal with’ pile. Having put awkward questions to councillors without notice at area committee meetings in the past, I’ve found you don’t get substantive responses. They’ve had no notice to do any research. The more notice you give them, the more substantive the response tends to be.

At the same time, councils & councillors know that if I want to ‘get on my high horse’, I’m more than capable of doing that. (Though to what impact is debatable!) In one sense, standing for election involves standing up on and for something – not that I want to stand for election again in the near future. The general feeling not just in myself but with others is that I made lots of good points well – so let’s start working on them. Hence preparations for Be the change – Cambridge – of which we’ll have some exciting news formally announced early next week (including tickets).

Safeguards – especially at events with young children attending

Today was a textbook case – the opening of a mini waterpark in a residential park in Cambridge. As a child we’d sometimes go paddling in what was effectively a paddling pool with a few boulders thrown in. Although the pool is now half the size, the other half has a host of water features and fountains making it much easier for the little ones to cool off in the hot sun.

Although there was an official photographer there taking photos of everyone (see the Council’s official photo on Facebook here) I was more than a little uncomfortable taking photographs in that environment. Hence I restricted my photos and videoclips to that of The Mayor getting soaked and the official ribbon-cutting.

Ask nicely first – the responsibility I have

In the case of young musical performers – such as Grace Sarah and the young musicians here, or with buskers such as Tom Korni at the end of this blogpost, the responsibility is on me as the person filming to ask for consent to film rather than assume consent has been given unless someone comes up to me telling me otherwise. Even with adults it’s at least polite to ask first, & not go off in a huff if consent is not given.

It’s also made me think about having some copies of consent forms with me at all times just in case. Over-cautious? What are your views? The difference between me as a sort of ‘digital community reporter’ versus a national news journalist is that I live in the neighbourhoods that I’m reporting on. Hence it makes sense for me to proceed with caution. I don’t want to get the wrong side of everyone in my childhood neighbourhood. On the other side, I don’t have to be responsible for a national news brand.

‘I’m not a natural for journalism, so why do this?’

For those of you that like the term ‘comfort zone’, I’m way outside of mine doing all of this. The problem for Shape Your Place in Cambridge is that so few people are doing this sort of digital journalism. Despite backing from local councils, the SYP team simply do not have the funding to run the sorts of training courses that could get people going. I’ve taken the ‘Be the change you want to see’ viewpoint and started doing this sort of filming and reporting to show to other local people what can be done with technology more than a few of them already have.

The past few years have taught me that calling on other people to do things you are not already doing yourself can only go so far. It seems to count for a lot more when you go out and do the thing yourself, then return having the experience (and footage) from which to speak from. It reminds me of the second half of this blogpost – posted the night before polling day 2014 with Puffles on the ballot paper. The now deputy leader of Cambridge City Council, Cllr Carina O’Reilly challenged me to do some street canvassing. In the week before the election, me and Ceri Jones did exactly this. Hence the above-linked blogpost talking about the learning from that. Afterwards I felt I could look the other councillors in the eye. I also noticed that current and past councillors commented positively on standing and campaigning publicly vis-a-vis those with strong opinions but who don’t stand themselves.

Separating the role of community activist and community reporting

Publicly in my view it’s essential to separate the two. About 15 years ago, The Independent Newspaper when it was a broadsheet tried to do this. It had one section for news and a separate section for comment and analysis. Today its detractors will argue it is anything but. That said, with newspapers generally what they do not cover is just as important as what they do cover (and in what tone).

With the out-and-about reporting, my aim is to report rather than ‘preach.’ Listening to one of the residents talking to me about problems of commuter parking and the risks to children, there was a little bit of me that wanted to explain some of the constitutional niceties of two-tier councils and its relation with national government. But I held back because at the end of the day people just want the problem solved, rather than be given a complex explanation as to why their problem hasn’t been solved.

“How does community reporting help?”

Familiarity with ‘local civic people’ for want of another term. Digital audio means people can hear the voices of people being interviewed, and digital video means you get to see and hear them. With cuts to mainstream journalism and news reporting over the years, there are fewer opportunities for people to get themselves into mainstream local news. At the same time, with more people using social and digital media more regularly, it’s easier to share digital content that you might otherwise miss if you didn’t buy the paper that day or came home late from work and missed the local news show. In that sense, it generates a level of familiarity.

By showing what can be done, I’m hoping that others will be thinking: “Well…we can do that too!” (And better!) At the same time, and in particular at community events I hope it will also show a more ‘human’ side of councillors. Because with news you generally tend to see councillors in a party-political or campaigning context. You don’t get to see some of the complex casework they have to deal with, or the input they have in helping organise community events. If through community reporting more local residents feel they can have a reasonable conversation with their councillors, hopefully more will get in touch – not just to have problems solved but also to see what they can do to improve their local area.

Posted in Cambridge, Events I have been to, Party politics, Public administration & policy, Social media | 1 Comment

Grace Sarah leads the musical line in Cambridge


A stunning musical set by one of my favourite musicians – a humbling experience to have watched her grow over the past 18 months

I first heard about Grace when she was featured on BBC Look East in late 2012/early 2013.

Not long after, she invited me and Puffles to a gig she was playing at – which I blogged about here. Fast-forward 18 months and Grace has not only completed her GCSEs & enjoying a well-earned break, but has grown musically and is really blossoming. This was the fourth time I’ve seen Grace play. The first at the Portland Arms, then for Oxjam at The Emperor Pub and also in London where she supported English Sporting Defeat (also on the line up at the Portland Arms gig earlier) at a club on Denmark Street, not far from where I used to live in London.

What’s lovely to hear in her music is how over time she’s taken her earliest songs and experimenting with them. With her new songs, she is now stretching her vocal chords – noticeably hitting some glorious highs (as her cover of ‘Pianoman’ reveals), as well as some moody low alto numbers.

One song, three film versions

Rory from MusicNetEast was filming for the Acoustic Sounds Project, and had a much better camera than me so he’s probably got the best footage. My camcorder and phone were tested to their limits by Grace – an incentive for me to get some much better filming kit. Both my devices struggled with the light. That said, the footage is reasonable and gives a glimpse of just how good Grace is as a musician.

The above track was filmed on my 2011 vintage camcorder that I bought for PufflesCamp 2011 in Brighton. Without an optical zoom (it’s digital only) I’m pleasantly surprised how well it came out given the distance we were from the stage. (i.e. on the back row of the J2 auditorium).

Same track filmed at the same time, but with my camcorder recording as much of Grace’s set as it could before the memory card ran out (schoolboy error), I was able to move down to the front with phone and external microphone. Interestingly, I found the acoustics to be much better in the performance at the front of the gig than at the back with the main cameras. The wind noises you can hear every so often are coming from fans at the side of the stage.

There’s lots more footage of Grace and other performers, including:

Ellie Dixon above. She played a lovely track called ‘Going Places’ – one which made me want to see her play it supported by a big band/orchestra because it has that much potential.

Although the video didn’t come out well – cameraphone at the back of the hall, the audio did.

Hazel Meades above – who going by her Soundcloud page has an incredibly diverse musical portfolio. Although her performances this evening were acoustic guitar/vocal, there’s a rebellious streak that comes through with her stage presence between songs.

I’ll add further things in future posts, but as it’s 2:15am and as I have to be at Rock Road Library for a Transition Cambridge-backed event in the morning (i.e. this) I should call it a night.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment



Pondering on an emotion that I fear I’ll never feel in the way that I wish I could.

Socrates scores for Brazil against Italy in a titanic clash between two footballing giants in Spain 1982

Socrates scores for Brazil against Italy in a titanic clash between two footballing giants in Spain 1982

You’d struggle to find a scene of such chaotic euphoria and its opposite at a 21st century major football tournament – not least because of the all-seater stadia. Supporters of both sides mixed together on the terraces. In this photo, one side is ecstatic at Brazilian striker Zico turning one of the toughest defenders of the era Claudio Gentile inside out before setting up Socrates (see the video of the goal in the latter’s obituary here), and the other the opposite.

As far as football goes, it was either Michael Owen’s goal against Argentina in France ’98, or probably the goal-feast at Euro ’96 between England and The Netherlands that I felt any sense of euphoria in a football match. In both cases a childhood of football played a huge part. Yet this side of the millennium…well…it simply no longer excites me. As far as sporting events go, probably the Paralympics 2012 (which I took Puffles along to – twice) is probably the only time I’ve got anything more than moderately interested in international sporting events in recent times.

2012 was probably one of the worst years of my life – not least because of a big mental health crisis, the impact of which I still feel every day. Not being able to work full time hours means in this economic climate I’ll never be able to have a place of my own – which then has a knock on impact not just on what you can & cannot afford, but on your own self esteem & even things like going out socialising or even dating.

The curse of depression lingers on…

Things have been rubbish for a lot of us for a very long time. Think back to the economic, political crisis of the late 2000s and ponder to what extent things have improved for the many. This isn’t a party-political point. You only need to look at the media & wonder what would happen if everyone decided they were going to put their weapons down for the day. The wider global context isn’t something anyone can be content with…unless they are an arms dealer perhaps. My point is even if something is going well personally, the mess that is the wider world puts a dampener on it. Is our personal happiness limited by the unhappiness of the world around us? In my case it most definitely is.

Yet I’ve somehow learnt how to grind through the depressive symptoms that crushed me during my teens and early 20s. Only now am I getting some sort of a feeling that I’m emerging from it all while at the same time avoiding the ‘pretend to be confident and it’ll be all OK’ approach. The latter ‘worked’ to some extent – in that it got me to places and events that with hindsight I’d have never have got near, such as going to grand balls full of ballroom dancers – whether locally or in a palace in Vienna. My first ballroom ball (described in this post) was one such euphoric experience – one where you can forget about your past & future & simply enjoy the moment for what it is. Yet so much of what was good in those days never lasted. Why? Because the mindset wasn’t one of being true to myself and the sort of person I wanted to be.

“Be part of it!”

It’s as if every marketing company is trying to tap into our innate desire to be part of a wider collective that achieves something greater than the some of our parts. “We sell niknaks – be part of it! We sell expensive properties! Be part of it!” One of the big new developments is inviting me to be part of it – not that I have the hundreds of thousands spare to be part of it. Inviting people to ‘be part of it’ – ie being part of something positive puts an onus on the person doing the inviting to remove as many of the barriers as possible. As far as music goes, in Cambridge this is what The Dosoco Foundation is helping support. You’ll be hearing more about them in future blogposts.

Talking of London 2012 earlier, there’s this photo much talked about at the time in the media.

Just for a moment Cambridge’s ducal couple were able to forget there were lots of photographers there not interested in the sport but in photographing their reactions. Yet on the part of the former, it’s understandable how they felt very much part of London 2012 in the way that others perhaps felt differently. Remember the run-up to the Olympics wasn’t good. I blogged about it here. What made the Paralympics more exciting for me was seeing the achievements of people who could do more despite their disabilities than most of the general public. When going to see professional artists, one of my criteria over the years has been: “Are they doing something inspiring that I could never do/hope to achieve?” During my dancing days I was incredibly critical in my mind of performances that didn’t meet that standard, even though publicly I acknowledged that for first-time watchers they would have been inspiring for them.

Becoming part of something takes time and effort – and success in your endeavours isn’t guaranteed

If I’m honest with myself, since 2001 the groups, organisations and societies I did long term regular voluntary work for were ones that I never really felt the sense of belonging. This was despite on some occasions spending more than 10 hours a week outside of a full-time job doing unpaid work for them. For me to feel the sense of ‘euphoria’ that I’m looking for, I need to feel that sense of belonging first – sharing both the failures and successes. That was one of the things that struck me about Cambridge Labour Party’s victory in the 2014 city council elections. The people celebrating the hardest were those that had taken the electoral kickings in 2009. I dare say the same will be the case for the Liberal Democrats post-2015.

Close friendships and relationships

Both of which generally have eluded me over the years. (I’ve blogged a few times on the curses of loneliness in a variety of contexts from personal to public policy). There are times that stand out for the right reasons though. For example when I had my own place in Cambridge, having friends round to watch England vs France in Euro 2004. Seven of us – all blokes in a stereotypical beer & junk food scene in front of a big telly talking football. My house, friends from different friendship groups with a shared interest watching & discussing the same event.

In a lover/relationship context, having just had a messy split which again caused my mental health to implode, I found myself with two opera tickets going spare that I had got a month previously. Fortuitously – and at my lowest point I was whisked off my feet by someone new – just when I least expected it. I had never been to an opera so when I found out there was going to be a performance of Bizet’s Carmen I thought it would be nice to see what an opera is like – one where I’m familiar with at least one of the musical pieces. The latter, being more than familiar with all things choral and classical music chose to come with me even though she had actually sung some of the parts in performances. Having her as my ‘personal guide’ whispering a combination of brief explanations of what was happening (despite the text-LED translations above the stage) along with sweet nothings that you do in the ‘besotted-with-each-other’ stage marks that out as one of the most romantic and euphoric moments of my life.

The next generation 

Having arrived back in Cambridge earlier than planned from a training workshop I was delivering in Suffolk, I popped into the Cambridge Botanic Garden for one of their ‘summer sound’ events. The Yorkshire band ‘Steppin Out’ were playing.

The above filmed on a cameraphone due to battery running out on camcorder. What you don’t see are the hundreds of people behind me and the camera enjoying the evening sunshine and the music. Primary school children where conspicuous by their presence. I spotted one parent taking a photograph of four nursery-school-aged children beaming from cheek to cheek. A memory that makes even the coldest heart melt. It’s the sort of experience that every child should have.

It reminded me about the next generation of my family, which I see regularly as they live close by. With my niece now walking and learning to talk, she’s at the stage where she can recognise and distinguish between individuals. Recently when I popped my head round the door after being out, she ran up to me and gave me a big hug – completely spontaneously. I didn’t see it coming. She’d not done anything like that before. Even though she’ll never remember it when she’s older the emotional power of that hug was immense – to the extent that I felt almost paralysed by it.

“Welcome to the new age, to the new age, to the new age” – Euphoria in music

Here’s the Dowsing Sound Collective missing the 2014 World Cup Final

Bonus points if you don’t spot me in the video above.

It’s not for me to say what makes people tick musically. It’ll be different for different people. If there is something in common though, it’s scale. Lots of people in a packed big venue with a love and familiarity of a similar type of music – or alternatively an open-enough mind to embrace a new style of music. The biggest proper music festival I’ve been to is probably the Cambridge Folk Festival – on numerous occasions. It has been taking place in my childhood neighbourhood since before I was born so is a permanent feature.

I’ve not been to any of the ‘mega-festivals’ or the large classical or stereotypically middle-class ones. Much as I’d like to experience them, I don’t have the close friendship group to go with that would make it meaningful to me. It’s strange when I see acquaintances on Facebook posting pictures of them at such events. My reaction isn’t: “I wish I was there with them” – because I’ve not met the other people in the picture. Rather it’s more: “I wish I could feel similar emotions with a close group of friends at a similar event.”

Facing down my own demons

On the back of a timely and powerful article by Louise Kidney, published in The Guardian here, I’m in this continuous battle against my own mental health demons. One of the reasons Louise’s article is so powerful to me is that so many of her experiences sound similar to mine.

“Underneath all of this, of course, is the bubbling narrative of failure. I failed. I let every one down. I was supposed to be kicking ass and instead I was quietly dying, all the systems going off line, giving up, giving in, all the fight sucked out of me by cognitive absence.”

This was how I often felt when I was on the Fast Stream. ‘Work hard, play hard’ is fine when things are going great, but when they are not it crushes you. It crushed me. Hence looking back on my days in London, I can’t think of many – if any – euphoric moments. The bubbling narrative of ‘not failing’ (along with the financial pressures of London living and pre-existing mental health issues) sapped the energy I needed to enjoy my time down there. That’s not to say I regret the London move. It was both the breaking and the making of who I am today.

Euphoria is temporary, is hard work, but ‘oh!’ the life memories! 

The concert with the Dowsing Sound Collective? Two days of sleep and general inactivity for the rest of the week to recover it took me. Worth every minute of it, but that’s the nature of mental exhaustion. It takes years to recover from the sort of mental health crisis I went through in April 2012 (see blogposts from the time – I blogged through it!) That and collective music is part of my solution of facing up to those demons. Re-living past bad stuff in therapy/counselling has sometimes had the opposite effect. In my case 2014 has been as much fighting those demons with positive experiences rather than over-analysing the past. As far as the first six months of 2014 have been concerned, two things stand out that are Puffles-related:

  • Getting your dragon fairy to appear in a Basement Jaxx-produced music video (See here!!!)
  • Having nearly 100 local residents consciously voting for your dragon fairy in local council elections ahead of four political parties – and getting an article in The Guardian (despite a ‘we don’t want to win’ message)

Recently, it’s been all Dowsing Sound Collective and Be the change – Cambridge. And with good reason. Both are long term commitments on my part, including time, emotions and financial. This brings me back to my first radio interview I did for BBC Radio Cambridgeshire in the mid-1990s on the day of my GCSE results. A hot sunny day, I had just opened the envelope with my results and was shaking as they were far higher than I had expected. Some bloke then grabbed me, shoved a microphone in front of my face and asked:

“How do you feel about your results?”

A family friend recorded the interview when it was played on the radio. The reporter said in his report that the common theme was: “All that hard work paid off”. This picked up on one of my comments, which was along the lines of:

“So many people have worked so hard to get the results that they deserve”

Euphoria? In that case there was something that involved lots of hard work over an extended period of time in partnership with lots of people too. The amount of work that went into the Dowsing Sound Collective’s gig at Bury St Edmunds on 13 July 2014 is also testament to this. My favourite track from that gig was ‘Every Teardrop is a Waterfall’. Here’s Coldplay’s version – live. I’ll leave you with tat.


Posted in Cambridge, Events I have been to, Mental health, Music | 1 Comment

Playing with digital audio


Digital video is only as good as your sound. So getting to grips with what you film means ensuring you have a good sound too

I’ve been playing with digital audio ever since I got my last laptop – mainly trying to get various songs to play at a tempo that you could dance ballroom or latin american dances to – with mixed success. Even though I don’t really do much dancing these days, my mindset towards music is one forever affected by dancing. I’m always asking what steps go with any piece of music that has a reasonably regular percussion beat to it. It seems strange to think my first blogpost on ballroom dancing was nearly three years ago, and my first lesson in Cambridge nearly 12 years ago. Must be getting old!

Learning the basics of what makes good sound in the face of complicated software

I’m talking about the editing process here – something that brings the talents of a skilled sound engineer into their own. It’s not just a case of turning up the volume by any means. Being part of the Dowsing Sound Collective these past four months has given me insights into what ‘good sound’ is – and how you go about achieving it. Take ‘Reality Checkpoint’ composed by Andrea Cockerton about Parker’s Piece in Cambridge here:

I was one of the many voices in the background singing on this recording. The ‘recording’ in my memory is different to the one on this recording for a variety of reasons – not least my position in the collective when we were singing it. Editing inevitably takes something out of the performances we hear. Audio professionals will be able to explain why this is better than me. In non-technical terms, the bass and piano had a vibrancy that moved my ribcage – you could feel the rumble of the low frequencies as well as the energy of being in a room with over 100 other people singing co-ordinated parts from the same song sheet. (The HistoryWorks team took some photos of us – see here).

Transferring vinyl to digital

I had my first go at this with a record I bought for my very young relatives. We had this many moons ago in my childhood but it disappeared in a clear-out. Hence getting hold of an even older copy that’s now about 40 years old & is so hard to find that there are also no digital copies of the album – this being Tom Paxton’s Children’s Songbook. Paxton’s a Vietnam-era folk singer, and critic of war. When I posted a link to the lyrics to a track called The Thought, a number of you were struck by its power.

DJ Puffles on the wheels of steel

DJ Puffles on the wheels of steel

Spending a humid Saturday afternoon experimenting with electrics, I managed to hook up some of my brother’s very old decks to my laptop and play about until something seemed to be transferring. Here’s the result.

I’ve not worked out how to get rid of that low level hum/buzzing noise that you can hear – even though the software I have seems to have an option that allows you to do this. The problem is when I activate it, it zaps the rest of the track with it.

Filming on Friday at The Junction

I’ve been granted permission to film the brilliant Grace Sarah at The Junction in Cambridge later this month. (8pm this Friday 25 July, free tickets – details here). I’m tempted to simply place my existing camcorder on a tripod & press ‘record’, leaving it at that. I have neither the knowledge nor the kit to try anything that’s synced up with the lighting and sound at the venue. I also don’t want to be one of those camera-people who wanders in front of the audience trying to get the right shot.

Preparing to film but then not filming at all

I was going to put up another vlogpost last week. The problem was the noise from the neighbours playing loud music next door to the cafe I was at. Incredibly frustrating when you’ve carried your kit there, but that’s part of the deal with photography & filming. You don’t get everything working out spot on first time and every time. Despite everything that I had there, there was no point in filming because a messed up audio would have ruined it.


Apart from an ‘Oooh! This is actually more than quite interesting’ perspective, the footage I’m filming seems to fall into four themes:

  • Vlogposts – me talking to the camera about things on my mind
  • Interviews or filming others speaking to the camera
  • Musical performances
  • Documenting who has said what and when at given events

Now, in one sense all of the above could be done without the visuals: It’s the sound that really matters content-wise.

Being multi-skilled

With professional productions, you have different people doing different things, specialising in them and being good at them. When you do what I do, you’ve got to do all of what they do and try and get it to a standard that makes it watchable/listenable. It’ll never be professional broadcast standard, but that’s not my aim. It just needs to be of a standard that allows whoever is in front of the camera to get their message across to a wider audience. That’s why I find the collection of videos on my vimeo page as a personally interesting ‘documentary’ of my own journey playing with digital video.

Having the patience to research and read

If the content of all the books I’ve bought over the past 15 years were in my mind I’d be a very well-read chap indeed. But I’m not. I need people around me in order to get me started on things. Hence why the digital film school was just what I needed for the summer term. That’s just my personal learning style. Others are independent starters. On my side, I look out for the people & organisations who I can work with and provide that impetus to do things.

The changing world of digital audio – away from copyright and towards collaboration?

Basement Jaxx’s Power to the People Project is but one example of a high profile group releasing the master copies of a track and inviting people to do things with it. Pop Will Eat Itself did the same with Reclaim the Game (Funk FIFA) – see here and note both the instrumental version and acapella/vocals only versions. I blogged about the track here. We still want our game back.

Talking of world cups, despite the best attempts of various institutions to restrict online footage of past tournaments, some of the compilations of commentary and football. My favourite one is this one featuring Brazil’s 1982 team & commentator Luciano Do Valle.

Then there’s this one featuring Mexico in 2006. Mexico were my work sweepstake team that year. Football-culture-wise, they’re a bit like England. Passionate fans, demanding media, One or two superstars, qualify well then crash out to the first half-decent team they encounter, normally at second round or quarter finals stage.

“Your point?”

As in this NESTA infographic, we’re going beyond being passive recipients. I like the idea of being a co-creator and co-operator with others when it comes to making things. It’s the opposite of the mass-produced blandification of the high street that we see these days. Coming back to the point about editing songs to make them play at a tempo that you can dance ballroom to, the challenge there is having the major creators making things in a format that the rest of us can do things with, and having a legal framework that facilitates rather than impedes this.



Posted in Education, training and exams, Law and legal issues, Music, Social media | 1 Comment

A public accounts committee for every town hall?


Could Ed Miliband’s new policy for local government energise local democracy?

The reports are at the end of this page -> summary and full. It was featured in The Guardian here. The report covers a number of things, but the bit I’m interested in is establishing local systems of scrutiny and accountability across what is a fragmented public sector.

‘That’s not a city council issue, that’s a county council issue’

This was a phrase I heard incumbent councillors explaining to members of the public while on the campaign train with Puffles. In the grand scheme of things most members of the public couldn’t care less which public body is responsible, so long as it is done well. One of the most frustrating things for the public and councillors alike is the structures and systems don’t work for them. The structures are complex and take time to understand and navigate – time that most of the public don’t have. At the same time, they prevent local councillors from taking action on issues the public would like them to take action on because it’s outside the scope of the organisation they are elected to. The comments posted here by Cambridge City Council Leader Cllr Lewis Herbert, and the Communities portfolio holder Cllr Richard Johnson explain this in more detail.

Local institutions ignoring councillors – will this become a thing of the past?

Because when it comes to ignoring council committees, some of Cambridge’s taxpayer-funded institutions have got form – as the minutes and matters arising item here show in one case. There are several others that have been ignoring correspondence from councillors and council committees. I’ve gone on public record calling such behaviour ‘a contempt for the council’ at the first full council meeting of the current administration. (See item 14/36/CNL here).

Some of the significant policy questions will be answered should Miliband’s Labour Party win the 2015 election. Page 32 of the full report (titled ‘Stronger accountability for public services’) does not state for example which institutions will be subject to local public accounts committees.  This is where civil service teams take the main principles of a policy and start working through the detail. For me, any institution receiving taxpayer funding beyond a minimum level in return for delivering a public service should be subject to such committees.

What powers should committees have? For me, I’d like to see something along the lines of public duties to co-operate in the now defunct local area agreements. The text in Part 5 Chapter 1 of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 indicates how such duties could be drafted into law, rather than having the need to give committees powers of summons. That said, giving committees powers of summons could be a last resort if such duties were ignored.

What would the impact be?

For a start it would force local public bodies to start working together more co-operatively. Councillors could look at a particular problem and call the responsible organisations to appear before them. The sights and sounds of the heads of organisations squabbling in front of councillors and the public is something the former have an incentive of trying to avoid. The Openness of Local Government Bodies Regulations 2014 (very recently approved by Parliament so the website needs updating!) – in particular Regulation 3 gives the general public the right to film and report such meetings using social media. (See the explanatory notes at the end of the regulations in the link above).

A combination of proposed and recent changes in the law, with digital media

The way local media and independent community reporters are using digital media to open things up is helping people find out about things happening in their area. That’s been my experience anyway.

For me, it only needs one person viewing my digital film footage who was otherwise unable to attend a meeting to make turning up and filming worthwhile. The data on downloads and views is showing an even more interesting picture. Since I started uploading lots more digital videos, more people are viewing my vimeo page. It’s not been anything spectacular on my part. In the grand scheme of things I’ve sat there holding a camera and filming. The talent is with the people in front of the camera & the makers of the tech.

Take the Cambridge Lakes meeting in my previous blogpost as an example, the data shows over 50 views in 24 hours. (The ‘downloads’ are showing ten times that figure, but I’m treating that variable with a pinch of salt). Note the context of the two clips I uploaded is ‘hyperlocal’ – they apply only to a minority of wards on one side of Cambridge. They are not ‘big news stories’ that would have people flocking to them going viral. But that’s not the intention. If the impact can get a handful of interested and motivated people involved in a local project, then that’s good enough for me.

Thinking digital

This is where Cllr Dave Briggs‘ short document Thinking Digital (which is a superb read for local democracy types) indicates how this could be done in terms of changing systems and structures. My favourite parts:

“Hire for attitude, not skills or experience. Both skills
and experience can be learned. Not so with attitude.

What are the attitudes [local government should be] looking for [in potential new staff]? Curiosity, willingness to learn, cooperation, openness.

No organisation can do everything on its own. It needs  to work with others, in a grown up way.

Many partnerships involve organisations doing what they were doing anyway, separately, then meeting up to talk about it every so often. That’s not collaborating.”

The last quotation from Cllr Briggs’ slides speak volumes to me. How often are public sector staff barred from attending cross-body meetings because they are the wrong grade? It was only the senior staff during my civil service career that had the regular cross-organisational meetings. The more frontline and junior staff (who were a hive of ideas & awareness more often than not) were stuck in the silos. Social and digital media users are breaking down those silos. Good.

But…Ed Miliband, Tristram Hunt and Education Policy

They both talk about local directors of schools’ standards – see the press release here and a BBC comment piece here. It’s always difficult for politicians to let go! I understand why Hunt’s gone for this: schools and hospitals are two of the most politicised issues in public service delivery. Therefore if as a future education secretary he’s going to get blamed for any bad stuff happening, he’ll want to have the levers of control to do something about it. Hence having local directors outside local council control and directly accountable to Whitehall. Again, the devil will be in the public policy detail. Think of the number of local council areas affected. (Over 100 with an education/schools remit). Then think of the support staff needed. Then think of the relationship with OfSted. This could get messy.

As I’ve stated before, the centralisation of education policy in recent times reflects successive administrations’ failures to deal with failings in local government. My take is central government simply does not have the organisational capacity to manage schools from the centre. Far better to strengthen local councils as institutions & give them a greater encompassing role in the delivery of public services generally rather than artificially breaking them up into little bits.

Posted in Education, training and exams, Law and legal issues, Party politics, Public administration & policy, Social media | 1 Comment

Uniting East Cambridge – with a lake or three


How a former quarry and current ‘problem area’ could be turned into something for the community in a part of town not brilliantly served with things for people to do 

The website for the Cambridge Lakes Project is here. Their Facebook page is here. Every summer we get stories like this. So rather than keeping people out, how about turning the old quarry lakes into a facility that people can have access to? I went along avec camcorder and tripod at the invitation of the project group to a meeting at St Martin’s Church Hall – in my home ward where Puffles and I stood for election in May 2014.

Unfortunately I arrived just after the presentations started, so wasn’t able to film the very interesting history of the site. I managed to film the second and third presentations though.

The above video – apologies for the not great quality (I’m still learning!) featuring an in-depth presentation by Andreas Mitchell is the first time I’ve seen anyone really explore the issues beyond a scoping phase. Hence I’m glad I was able to get it on film for others to see. The team is also asking people to complete a survey which Amy talked about in the next video below.

The survey is now available at

A project big, exciting and radical enough to bring together the wards of Coleridge, Romsey, Cherry Hinton and Abbey?

In a word: Yes.

(Even though the lakes and the path of the brooks and streams don’t sit so easily with the city council’s area committee setup).

I remember when Steve Turville, the chairperson of the group, first mentioned the project to me. This was back in 2012 around the time it was featured in the local paper. Knowing what I knew of local council systems and processes, I thought the idea was splendid but could not see how it would get through local government, let alone getting the funding to make the project a success. So to see it get to this stage is testament to the huge amount of work Steve and the team have put into it.

Over fifty people came along to the meeting – mainly from Cherry Hinton but a handful from Romsey and Coleridge too. The local Lib Dems and Labour parties were represented by Councillors Kilian Bourke and Dave Baigent, which was good to see. I wonder whether at such events our elected councillors could wear the name badges they have, so that people less familiar with the council and councillors can easily spot them. Amongst other things it would help combat some of the views about the visibility of councillors.

‘Yeah – where’s Puffles?’

A couple of people asked me where my dragon fairy was. A fair question given that Puffles was on the ballot paper in the most recent elections in the ward where the meeting was taking place. But here I was in ‘community reporter’ mode. As with the Mill Road depot meeting (see here), my focus was on digital content. ie ‘Get stuff on film, do some quick edits to improve sound and stabilisation, get it up on my vimeo page and share’. A sort of ‘Richard Taylor for South Cambridge‘ if you like. (Richard films lots of local council meetings).

In my case it’s fewer ‘strong opinions’ from me (as that was what the election campaign was for) and more filming what other groups are presenting – enabling them to reach a wider audience. It chimes with my Be The Change – Cambridge projectThere’s only so much you can talk, plead, persuade, encourage and ‘threaten’ (not in a malicious way – but in an ‘I’ll stand against you at the ballot box’ sort of way) people and parties to do the things you want them to do. Sometimes you simply have to set the example yourself. ‘Be the change you want to see’ as I am often heard saying.

A city of civic pioneers?

We’ve got more than a few. But as a city we’ve not given them the support we need over the years to make what they do something great. Andrea Cockerton and Dowsing Sound Collective along with the Dosoco Foundation, Mel Findlater and the You Can Bike project, Andrew Entecote and the Net-Squared social media surgeries, Jennie Debenham, Anna McIvor and friends in Transition Cambridge – as well as those in  Cambridge Sustainable Food City and Food Cycle Cambridge. Neil Prem’s Future Possibilities (& his 30 day challenge). Also the Cambridge Science Centre. We have our civic pioneers. For those that want to, the challenge – as NESTA in London state – is how to make them big.

Are we reaching a defining point in Cambridge’s history as a city?

More than a few things tell me that we are. Interestingly, several of the local politicians from the four main parties active in Cambridge have indicated similar. (The Greens being number 4 rather than UKIP being number 4 – having secured over 5,000 votes in the recent local elections to UKIP’s 300 or so.) You won’t see that reflected in the party political debate locally. The focus of those debates are defined primarily by the structures and constraints imposed by Westminster and Whitehall. For example councillors have to debate then formally vote on a budget. If they don’t do this, your bins don’t get collected.

What makes this era interesting and challenging for Cambridge and the surrounding area from a civic pioneering perspective is we’re getting towards a critical mass of people and organisations that want to be part of the solutions. This may not be reflected in voter turnout or engagement with councillors, but it is reflected in many other ways. It’s as if people and groups are doing things despite [national] party politics rather than because of it. This has a noticeably different feel to what things were like in 1996/97.

Be the change you want to see

This is what I’m unleashing in the autumn –  and yes it will remain work in progress. (eg Website updates and logo not yet sorted).  I’m still recovering from an awesome weekend singing with the Dowsing Sound Collective in Bury St Edmunds. Here’s the collective in Ely in 2013 if you missed it.

(See the second half of this for my write up of the Bury St Edmunds performances). On the community reporting side of things, a few of us have tried to encourage people to do community reporting and make digital videos for Cambridgeshire’s Shape Your Place website. – with very little success. This is one of the reasons why I’m making digital videos as part of community reporting. My blogposts go up on this blog, and the digital videos onto my Vimeo page (see here) which I then embed into blogposts as I have done here. Where I can’t film, sometimes I record an audio version of speeches – such as here.

“Why do this?”

Accessibility & a permanent record.

I’m not really interested in debating who said what at which council meetings. I’m more interested in filming presentations and performances and making them available to a wider community audience. Having paid for an upgrade, I now get detailed data on the digital videos. Put it this way, the short digital videos of others presenting seem to be more popular than my recent blogposts!

But then, I like this. For a start, it takes the focus off me. The digital videos are a much better way of bringing other people and their ideas & talents into the conversation. On social media pages of local groups, they can have conversations about the content that I filmed. One of the reasons why I’ve disabled the comments on my Vimeo account is that I want the online conversations to take place elsewhere (ie on the pages of the community groups rather than on a page I would then have to moderate).

The feedback I’ve had so far has been splendid – mainly on the accessibility point. People have expressed appreciation at being able to see and hear who said what. While social media makes it easier to share, someone still has to go out there and create the content. For now at least, that’s what I’m experimenting with – even though I’m still a beginner with the camcorder.


Posted in Cambridge, Charities and Big Society, Events I have been to, Puffles, Social media | Leave a comment