Creative Citizens Films

March 5th, 2013 by Scott Dewey in Community-led Design Creative Networks Hyperlocal | no comments

Connected Communities

As part of our participation in the Connected Communities showcase event on March 12th 2013, the Creative Citizens project received funding to make a series of short films about the communities we are working with. With just over a month to create five films, former BBC journalist and producer Tony O’Shaughnessy, whose credits include current affairs programme Week In Week Out, was brought in to make the films. I would be assisting Tony with all aspects of the film, from arranging interviews with contributors to booking hotels. As a graduate from Cardiff University, my degree and media experience would help in the organisation of the films, while my recent research work on hyperlocals with Dr Andy Williams gave me a good insight into the aims of the project. Furthermore, with an aspiration to work in television production, the opportunity to work on a project like this, which I genuinely cared about, was too good to turn down. This blog is an account of the filmmaking process from my perspective.

South Blessed

On our first week of filming, we set off to St Pauls in Bristol. Having never been to this area before, I was taken in by the energy and colour of the surroundings. The creative pulse of the area was clear to see. We were here to shoot a film about South Blessed, an online video production outfit that caters for a wide variety of community interests. I was impressed and quite inspired by what 24-year-old Vince had been able to do with his limited equipment and studio. The man himself is quite charismatic too. Vince spoke passionately and enthusiastically about the work he has done and he fully appreciates the value it has on the local community. Covering everything from rap videos to a documentary on the Bristol riots, I came away from South Blessed wondering about what I could do like this in my home area of Cardiff. Tony felt the same too, reflecting on what he was trying to do with his own project Difftv.

With one film down, the next week we travelled to Birmingham. It wasn’t the best of starts to our day with our sat nav taking us down dead end streets near the University of Birmingham. At that exact moment, my phone decided to stop working, meaning I couldn’t ring anyone for directions. Couple this with the morning rush hour traffic and you get a picture of the stressful start to the day we had. Apparently, this kind of situation is quite common in television production, according to Tony. Our interviews that morning were with a local councillor and Caroline Chapain one of the researchers working on The Moseley Exchange project. Edgbaston campus was the location for these interviews and the beauty of the campus took me aback. Red brick buildings with tower clocks surrounded by sports facilities and open spaces, gave this campus a very American university feel. Interviews done, we had time for a quick bite to eat before setting off for our next destination.

Tyburn Mail

Now in the afternoon of our first day in Birmingham we arrived at Birmingham City University. We were here to film an interview with Dave Harte, one of the co-investigators on the hyperlocal strand of research. He spoke well and gave us exactly what we needed allowing us to make up the time we lost in the morning. Then we travelled to Tyburn, a ward in the North East of Birmingham. Here, we met with Neil Hollins, manager of Headline Media. Based out of a rather bleak looking tower block he runs a local community radio station (Switch Radio) and newspaper (The Tyburn Mail). Most of the people are volunteers with just a handful of professional staff. Neil spoke well about the role of their project in the community and how they manage a newspaper circulation of over 20,000 people. Asked about what he is most proud of during his time with Headline Media, he replied that it was the fact they have been able to sustain a newspaper and station like this for such a long time.

Day two of our Birmingham stint and we were off to Digbeth to talk to the founder of hyperlocal website, Steph Jennings. Run by her and her partner alongside full time jobs, the pair have become an invaluable commodity in their local area. By having a strong social media presence, and high levels of interactivity, wv11 uses its website to bring the community together. Notably, the site helped raise awareness and support for the victims of a local house fire, providing the family with clothes and accommodation. Steph was passionate about the area where she reports and lives. It was humbling to see someone light up with excitement and joy when talking about this kind of venture. Steph and partner James don’t consider themselves journalists or have any illusions of becoming big media. They merely saw a gap and opportunity in their community to bring people together and share information using new media.

Moseley Exchange

The rest of the day in Birmingham would be spent in Moseley, South Birmingham. Here we were to film The Moseley Exchange, which offers a unique space for new and small businesses to take part in a new working environment called ‘Co working’. By allowing these businesses to have professional, affordable and modern workspaces, it allows the workers to emerge from the often-isolated environment of working from home. Set in an area with a strong creative history, the former telephone exchange has become an important landmark to the community. We spoke to one of the co workers, Jim Brooks. He emphasised why co working was so useful for new and small businesses. By using the exchange as a base for his operations, he has been able to form new ventures with businesses that he never would have imagined working with.

A week later, we took time out to put the finishing touches on the two films done so far and then interview hyperlocals in Wales. First, we went to visit The Port Talbot Magnet. With the help and guidance of trained journalists, The Magnet website has become an important media outlet in the Port Talbot area. It fills a gap in the news market that emerged with the demise of the local press. The website was particularly prevalent with its involvement with the local drama production ‘The Passion’, which featured Port Talbot born actor Michael Sheen. For our final hyperlocal visit we travelled to Caerphilly, to talk to the man behind the Caerphilly Observer, Richard Gurner. A trained NUJ journalist, Richard moved back to Caerphilly to cover his hometown after he was unable to find any news about the local area from his base in Brighton. He runs the site as a one-man operation, providing news and information to the county of Caerphilly. It’s not about turning a profit for Richard; it’s about fulfilling a need for his community. As long as he has enough money to get by then he doesn’t mind what he earns. This is perhaps the best way to sum up a creative citizen, a person who in a broad sense does something creative to serve the purposes of their community.

Wards Corner Wards Corner

For our last week of location filming we set off to the big smoke, London. Our priority here was to shoot the creative led design film. We’d be focusing on the Wards Corner Community in North London. They have been campaigning to stop the demolition of historic market and town buildings above Severn Sisters tube station. On the outside, the market looks somewhat lifeless and decaying. Upon entering the market however, there is a totally different feel. A miss mash of all types of small stalls and shops, the intoxicating smells and colourful displays made me feel like I was abroad. With a strong South American community based in the market its no surprise the place feels like a corner of South America in North London. From butchers to hairdressers housed in the market, the campaign wants to stop the out right demolition of the market to make way for big retail units and apartments. The research team has been helping this community and others like it realise the assets that they have at their disposal. For some communities these are physical spaces, community buildings, parks, for others its people, knowledge and expertise. The next day we focused on the Kentish Town Community in London. Here, we observed an ‘asset mapping’ project in action. Young and old members of this community gathered in a local sports centre to join members of the research team in discovering what resources they had at their disposal to help protect the area from unwanted planning proposals.

So now with all the filming done our attentions turned to the final film that will be shown at the event in March. We’ve certainly racked up a fair few miles on our travels the last month. More than that though, my understanding of the term ‘Creative Citizen’ has grown. Before, when I was doing the research work with Andy, I was very much focused on it from a research perspective. We had x amount of articles to analyse in x days. But being able to go out and talk to the people involved in these communities, find out what they are doing and why they do it, has really shown me the importance and value of these projects. From a technology point of view and being a bit of tech geek myself, it’s exciting to see how ordinary free web based tools and systems can help communities grow, prosper and make a real difference in peoples lives. Without sounding too cheesy or dramatic, these media really are democratising tools allowing ordinary people to do a number of things that would be unimaginable if these new technologies didn’t exist.

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