Weird…But In A Good Way
a 30 something mom's random thoughts on parenting, life and other stuff.

Last night while the country seemingly went insane with looting and rioting in London, Nottingham, Liverpool, further afield and closer to home in Birmingham, the WV11 Facebook page and Twitter feed came alive with rumours that there was rioting and looting at Bentley Bridge, Wednesfield and further afield in Wolverhampton.

We were very pleased to report this was NOT true.

There was no trouble at Bentley Bridge and while there have been some reports of “minor damage” in the city centre this morning – there is nothing obvious that I could see on my way to work. I am shattered we spent a large part of last night relaying police updates to our Facebook and Twitter followers  and talking online to Wednesfield residents who could see that there was no trouble going on on their doorsteps.

At times it seemed like an uphill battle when twitter searches determined there were so many people convinced the main retail park in our area was burning to the ground – even though if they’d looked out of their windows a distinct lack of smoke in the sky could have waylaid that particular rumour, but we stuck at it and eventually we stemmed the tide and finally after much effort we got the point across. The people spreading misinformation started repeating our message that there was nothing going on, directing people to the official police streams – and in some cases saying they “Feel awful and a right scare monger” when they realised they were wrong. Some residents were also going out to prove all was well and posting photos to our wall.

So imagine my utter frustration when the “main stream media” of our area The Wolf radio station, who were distinctly absent last night when we trying to allay peoples fears, posted this on there facebook page this morning trying to make something out of nothing:

James and I tried our best to stem this too and then followed it up with this news piece – and it prompted  the subsequent response on facebook:

I feel they didn’t quite go as far as lying but most definitely reported in such a way that anyone who wasn’t aware of the truth of the situation would have probably questioned what was going on and then they chose to ignore our calls for openess and tried and get a resident to talk to them on the phone because they said they were scared!

Personally I think it was incredibly irresponsible of their radio station to report in this way.There were no problems of note in Wolverhampton last night and definitely NONE at Bentley, and I can testify to this having passed by the retail park and walked through the city this morning. Keeping people afraid and giving them a platform, inviting them to fuel the rumour mill will  create an atmosphere of fear that could become a breeding ground for a situation to arise  similar to those we saw in Birmingham last night –  The media should have a responsibility to report facts not conjecture and local media more so as they are much more accessible to the local people than the national news outlets .

Yes there were reports of looting and rioting in Wednesfield, particularly on Bentley Bridge last night BUT they were false and The Wolf should have taken responsibility in this instance and reported as such!

This Way

What is community engagement?

For me it’s about communication with the people who both live and work where I live. It’s about conversation, Saying hello asking questions and listening – and that comes from the community and any partners working in the community, local government, police, LNP’s etc.  But, how do you encourage engagement? The people that want to will find ways to become part of what is happening locally, they will attend the PACT (Police and Community Together) meetings, they will become members of the residents association – they will give themselves a voice. But what about the people who live in the community but quite often don’t have the confidence to communicate with each other – let alone people in so called positions of authority – How do you encourage them to engage?

You encourage them to talk to each other – that’s how!

We set up the WV11 website 2 years ago this week and we’ve watched it grow from a site that we stuck articles on in hope someone would read, to a community who actively seek information from each other.  If the lights go out in our area within a short while we receive a post on our facebook wall “Is anyone else’s power out?” – When one of the water mains burst it was quickly established through conversation how far spread the outage was and how long it was likely to last as individuals shared information with each other, no longer just looking to us for the answers.

But how do you move that conversation away from talking to each other – to talking to the partners that can make a difference in their area?

Recently there has been a spate of anti social activities taking place in the local park – from graffiti and vandalism to bullying and loutish behaviour.  One of the targets for the local vandals are a set of newly installed exercise equipment which had been there barely a month before it had been set on fire and destroyed and the locals are getting fed up! They came onto our facebook page to express their displeasure at the situation so we asked them straight out – Do you think patrols of the park to combat anti social behaviour should be made a PACT priority at the next meeting? – They answered a resounding YES! As  a result of us asking this simple question which basically amounted to “What do you want to happen in your area?” that is asked all the time by various bodies, but in a much more focussed way, many residents who have never before attended a PACT meeting have expressed an interest in attending the next scheduled meeting on 16th August to set this in motion, and one resident who is unable to attend herself has found her voice and penned a letter she forwarded to us at Wv11 to pass over on her behalf.

Some of these people are the same ones who 18 months ago when we first started listing the PACT meetings on our website were telling us “there is no point going as we never get listened to anyway” – maybe it’s because finally they’ve found a cause which they really want to see a fix for that has made them engage – maybe it’s after 24 months of  listening to each other online that they feel empowered to take action, or maybe it’s just because we asked a direct question and with over 60 responses they feel they have a united voice to get something done – who knows – all I know is I’m looking forward to the next PACT meeting and seeing what it brings.

Hopefully we can get the patrols a priority and prove that an engaged community does have a voice and that they can make things happen!

Last year I helped set up a hyperlocal website to cover the area I live in  and we’ve just passed the first year anniversary – To celebrate we had a stall at Wednesfield Community Fayre trying to make more people aware of the site and invite community input -What do you think we should be writing about? Would you like to write for us? and so on…

While I was there I got into conversation with a teacher of one of the local high schools about  WV11.co.uk and what we – the individuals that run the site get out of it.

He couldn’t believe that we did all this for free – That we volunteered our time for no financial reward or recognition  and it made me sad that he struggled so much to see why we were doing this – that he was so surprised at the idea of someone doing something for perceivably nothing that he actually implied that he didn’t believe we didn’t get some financial gain!

So I thought it about time I shared my story about why WV11.co.uk came into existence and why it’s about a lot more than money for me!

I have pretty much always lived in the area and as I grew older I moved briefly to Lichfield and when I moved back I could really appreciate the community vibe of the my estate,  I was surprised at the negative attitude from some of residents – It’s not something you get everywhere and I think people who have always lived and worked in the area sometimes take for granted.

Then they proposed the closure of  Danesmore Park Primary School, the school my son attended. We fought long and hard to save the school  (and we all know how that ended) and in doing so we quickly realised that there was nowhere online that communicated the sense of community I felt on the streets and in the playground, and I now know to be evident at all the schools in the area – Conversation and coordination was hard because there was no where already established online unbiased enough to let the conversation unfold – the ONLY forum we could (and did) use that was relevant locally and that was available at that time was heavily moderated by an extremely biased hand or the then local councillor!

So the idea for a local site was born -  we wanted somewhere unbiased we could try and highlight the positives of our area and hopefully over time encourage community engagement and conversation. It started as an idea for a forum, or  chat room where local people could talk to each other about local issues but quite quickly evolved into something else.

I was one day trying to find some information out on the council website – I can’t even remember what it was now something to do with my bin collection I think  but whatever it was I became increasingly frustrated with how hard it was – The city is a HUGE place so trying to pinpoint specific information for my area was hard – and I’m fairly Internet savvy – so how would my Mom  for instance found *it*, if she was looking for the same information?

So we decided the local site should also be of good use to people looking for information not just for discussion – a lot of time was spent before the launch building the resource page – listing local amenities and hopefully other useful information relevant to our area, and other handy tools such as houses to let and for sale, jobs and traffic updates have been added since – and it went from there, a news feed was included and Wv11.co.uk came into fruition

We launched the site at 11pm one night by inviting a few friends that I knew were local to become a fan of our facebook page, within a couple of months we had 600 fans and a nearly 2000 visits to the actual site.

Now, 12 months on, the site is going from strength to strength,  The visitor numbers are still going up, any one so inclined can see a break down of our visitor figures here but as an overview 16,000 unique visitors in the first 12 months – that’s nearly half the population of Wednesfield – and the conversation between the community is starting to take place around  what we hope are considered non-biased articles  (which can be hard when we’re talking about things we care about or things we’re directly affected by!). Users will comment on articles – some people are by nature negative and some are positive but what’s good is both sides get a chance to voice their opinion and these things are getting discussed – we’ve had discussions based on graffiti and anti social behaviour to home improvements talk about local bands and GOOD news stories from our area – we don’t pretend bad news doesn’t happen but we do try and be balanced.

We never moderate comments unless they are libellous or abusive and then we inform the individual involved why we’ve removed the post and so far we’ve received no complaints  – The only thing  we are guilty of is playing devils advocate if a discussion or sometimes arguments become too negative, – don’t tell us there’s nothing good happening, nothing interesting to do or no way you can fix a problem for yourselves because we’ll give you the information to prove you are wrong.

For me this is why the WV11 site is so valuable  and rewarding I don’t have to get paid to do it because this is my opportunity to put something back into the community- Be it an easy way for someone to find out what time the local library is open, or the chance to combat some of the negativity by showing people what’s on their doorstep !

The site and associated facebook page are used by all ages, with people asking questions which the community can answer.  For instance – what’s happening this weekend I can take my kids to? or does anyone know the opening time of x,y or z? or where can I find a window cleaner?