February saw the end of our sessions teaching carers for Carers Lewisham. Sadly this is probably the last time we will be teaching carers for them, as they have lost their contract to manage support for carers from Lewisham Council. Another organisation has been offered the contract. Perhaps unsurprisingly the reason I have been given is that this organisation are cheaper. The council is having to make £30 million in cust by 2021, and is still £8 million away from finding them in the budget, according to a recent News Shopper article. This is even given a quite terrifying £12 million funding gap in children's social care. This is a result of central government funding cuts, an issue that seems quite beneath the national news radar, given the importance of not making a decision on Brexit.
These cuts have been felt across the range of community organisations in Lewisham, many of whom we work with. The "Stronger Safer Communities" Select committee made it's decision on main grant funding on March 12. Some organisations, such as Voluntary Action Lewisham, and Lewisham Community Transport, have lost all their funding, and will probably have to close if their appeals are not successful. A significant number of organisations have lost a substantial amount. However the Rushey Green Timebank have been recommended £30k more than they requested. I am an active member of the Time Bank, and worked on the Lewisham Local website, which is one of their projects , just over a year ago, and built the website of the Wildcat Wilderness (another one of their projects), from scratch. In my opinion they are the model of what a community organisation should be. They intervene in the the locality, running very sucessful projects which actively engage local residents. However, I don't think these awards are given to organisations by way of congratulation. It seems hard to believe that this increase in funding won't be accompanied by a requirement on the part of the Time Bank to take on some of the former responsibilties of organisations that will be closing. We will have to wait till 2nd August when the appeals process is over to find out.
On a brighter note, this month I have been working on a new website based in Ladywell, where I live. Ladywell Live is a new site, supported by Assembly funding money, whose aim is to keep Ladywell residents up to date with what is going on in the area. Tony Major, a Ladywell resident, and former Financial Times journalist, is managing the project, and adding content. The quality of the content is particularly high, and the site is attracting attention immediately since it was launched earlier this week.
I built the site using the Soledad theme. This is a paid-for theme, and the improvement in the design quality that can be achieved is evident. Over the last month I have been continuing my journey of experimenting with different paid for options (in trial versions) to find the most cost effective way of creating professional looking sites easily. I have looked at Envato Theme Forest, and Elegant Themes. However, I decided in the end that these were too expensive. What I have gone for is using the Elementor plugin with the professional version of the Astra Theme. The professional version of Astra comes with a lot of ready made sites which can be hacked. Using this combination of tools I have re-built the Ewart Community Hall site. I'm pretty pleased with the results I can achieve using this method.
On 12 March I went to the OneDigital event "Making Digital Accessible for Everyone". It was held at the Post Office Tower. The aim was to look at Digital Exclusion and what are the most effective ways of tackling it. There was nothing particularly new presented at the event. However, I think there is increasing agreement about what digital exclusion means. The broad consensus, which I agree with, is that it is a form of social exclusion, and it doesn't require IT experts to tackle it. For all the benefits of new digital technology, we are in the process of creating a new form of social inequality if we don't understand the need to share these benefits. This position was very well represented in a presentation by Douglas White of the CarnegieUK Trust. At the end of the event we were invited to the top of the tower for nibbles. I have never been to the top of the BT Tower before. On the lift up I was trying to explain to the younger passengers why this was a milestone for someone who grew up in the 70s, when the BT Tower was a symbol of modernity, like Concorde or the Space Shuttle. From the revolving platform we looked out onto a grainy London Landscape and were blessed with a double arch of bright colour. I got a picture.
There are two projects in the pipeline which hopefully will give me something to talk about in my next update. One is the new digital hub which is going to start at the Lewisham Irish centre in May. This will be our first "pop-up" digital hub. We will have laptops, and we will have to get them set up for each event and then taken down again. The other project is the ongoing connection we have with the Lewisham Wellbeing Map and its founder, Tim Bradley. Tim has been running a series of meetings at his new base in the Bellingham Leisure centre, where he is supported by the Bellingham Community Project. These are excellent networking events. Through them I have met developers who are helping my research into using mapping technologies, like Open Street Map, using Leaflet. I have also met people from the Open Data Project. These people are giving me help in my work towards the Techy Tea searching website which I am working on. I'm not giving out the URL yet, but watch this space.