What is talk about local?

Talk About Local gives people the simple skills and support to find a powerful online voice for their community.  We draw inspiration from sites in places like Kings Cross, London, Stoke-on-Trent and Digbeth in Birmingham.  In those places people just got on with talking about their communities online to spread local information, campaign on local issues or tell positive stories about the places in which they live.  Talk About Local helps train and motivate people in their communities to find their own online voice for free.  You can see a film of William talking about community sites to an audience at  Guardian Activate in 2009 – it’s still valid today.

We see many communities campaigning on local issues, organising themselves or just having fun talking about day to day stuff on the web.  Often luck is involved – a community with a good online voice has just been lucky enough to have a person there who can publish on the internet.  We want as many communities as possible to have these skills, for free as a public service.  We train and support people, formally and informally.  Much of our work has been with the UK online centre network.

How does Talk About Local work?

Talk About Local works with people in their communities to help them find a more powerful voice online.  To pass on the skills required to create and run local websites we either: train a trainer who is embedded in the community – like Nyree who helped create this Doddington, Cambridgeshire site, or we work with local people to organise a session on the ground that the talk about local team attend in person – like this site in the estates of West London.  Sometimes we mix this up a bit if that is what a community wants and visit to support the trainer as we did in Kington, Herefordshire.  Some folk have created great sites just by following instructions on our website, like this community litter busting site in Kidderminster.

Talk about local shows people how to use simple, free yet powerful platforms like wordpress.com or ning.com to express themselves.  We then stay in touch with and help people who have set up a site as their site grows.  We provide all sorts of aftercare – we have turned up at a fete and run a stall to sign people up, we support by email, skype, phone – whatever people find helpful.  We also have a website that provides hints, tips, training materials and helps people answer questions – you don’t have to have been through one of our sessions to use the site.

Any examples of good local sites from talk about local?

There are some above but also have a look at Aller in Somerset, the minimalist Parish Post in Shropshire, Moretonhampstead in Dartmoor, some very active citizens in Bramcote, Nottingham, a community trust in Heeley Sheffield, Peter, in his 70s in Cricklade,  Wiltshire, workers and residents on the Priory Green estate in London or tenants and residents of the Brunswick Centre.  Sometimes trainers have used our approach to help support existing sites like the wonderful team behind the map of graves at FORCEM.

Each site is very different in content, style and maturity and the team works to support the sites creators in different ways.  Some sites were set up by people trained in uk online centres, others by uk online trainers, others by talk about local running a session on the ground.

How do you find and train trainers on the ground?

Our main delivery partner has been the UK online centre network which has a huge network of trainers embedded in deprived communities across England.  We have worked with them to reach over 100 communities so far with more to come.  We work with wide range of other partners if you would like to be one , drop us a line info@talkaboutlocal.org .  Our payment and contracting terms are straightforward.  When we can, we usually train trainers remotely using Cisco Webex – anyone with a modern web browser can take part in a training session – you don’t need to have Webex yourself.  We use Webex because it saves everyone taking part a lot of travel time.

I want one of these websites in my community when can Talk About Local come and help me?

If you want talk about local to run a session in your community, drop us a line via hello@talkaboutlocal.org and we might be able to help.  If you are itching to get going right away, we have simple guides on our website that can help – as Ian did with his site in Kidderminster.  We also have a load of suggestions for things to write about if you are having a dry spell and other resources.

What if I already have a website for my community or local campaign?

Great, well done.  Are there things you have wanted to do with the site but have never been able to figure out?  For instance how to post up simple videos, how to run a petition or a poll or perhaps make a campaign you are running more effective? Then maybe we can help you and put you in touch with other people who run sites like yours .  Drop us a line via info@talkaboutlocal.org.  You can also follow us on Twitter @talkaboutlocal which we use to spread examples of good practice and other hyperlocal tit bits.

Look, I really want an online voice for communities I work with and am prepared to pay for it

We welcome paying customers to support the free public service Talk About Local drop us a line via info@talkaboutlocal.org or the contact form below.  You can pay us to run Talk About Local sessions in places you specify – we don’t charge the people who attend.  We charge a training rate comparable to standard forms of IT training.  For instance talk about local was contracted by Camden Council in May 2010 to deliver talk about local training in deprived communities – Camden have written this up in a blog post.  Broxtowe Borough Council hired us to work with people in Bramcote to give locals a site they owned and ran independent of the council.

How is Talk About Local different from other ‘hyperlocal’ projects?

There are some great hyperlocal things going on out there.  The philosophy behind Talk About Local is ‘teach a man to fish…‘ We want to give people skills to publish for themselves on the web.  We think that the best hyperlocal platforms are those ‘owned’ by people in their communities.  So Talk About Local is more about people and public service than technology platforms and advertising.  We are also one of the few companies to be deeply rooted in years of running community-driven local sites ourselves outside of the day job.

Our approach to public service was enabled by our enlightened initial investors (4IP/Channel4, Screen West Midlands and Advantage West Midlands) allow us to empower people without having to seek a commercial return from people direct, nor from advertising on websites.  We think that the more content people produce about their communities online the more commercial platforms can thrive.  We have a good  range of corporate customers that provide us with funds going forward.

How can I help?

Talk about local is about partnerships.  We are interested in working with anyone who is trying to promote community activism on the ground.  Please drop us a line info@talkaboutlocal.org

Are you competing with newspapers?

No, not at all.  Good local sites are a boon to local papers, who can’t afford the density of journalists on the ground that a volunteer network supporting a good local website will have.  In Kings Cross for instance, the Islington Gazette regularly borrows or follows up on issues covered by the local website and runs them in the paper.  We are all happy with this relationship.  Also, we shall not be competing for advertising revenue.

Can I invest in Talk About Local?

Yes we are building relationships with companies looking to invest in communities through their corporate social responsibility programmes, with Local Authorities and with Regional Development Agencies who are keen to invest in original internet content in their patch or to empower communities in a modern way.  If you are working in this area then we want to hear from you and figure out how we can work together.  Drop us a line via info@talkaboutlocal.org or the contact form below.

Who is behind Talk About Local?
I am William Perrin, a community activist with a background in Kings Cross, a deprived area of London.  I have used the internet there to support local campaigning and community cohesion.  I believe very firmly that the internet alone doesn’t change things – it is the action of people that gets things done.  The internet allows people to act more effectively with our elderly democratic structures and public services.  So I quit my job and set up talk about local.  You can find out more about my professional background on LinkedIn.

The talk about local team comprises Mike Rawlins, one of the founders of the marvellous PitsnPots website in Stoke-on-Trent, Nicky Getgood the founder of Digbeth is Good and Clare White, a community activist and web entrepreneur from Stoke-on-Trent and Karen Strunks a Birmingham photgrapher who runs a great blog for Wake Green Park.  We draw on a wide range of external expertise from other partners as needed.

Edit history – most recent revision – May 2011, updating, especially site examples. Building on ongoing revisions since substantial rewrite early January 2010, original Autumn 2009.