Day 3 began with a welcome later start than the previous 2 days. Leaving Birmingham, I headed to Stoke-on-Trent to pick up Clare White, who had kindly organised a group meeting in Leek, and then it was on to the delightful Nicholson Institute, (scene of lectures by Oscar Wilde, so Clare told me) to meet an interesting group of people assembled from the surrounding rural communities.
We had a stimulating debate about the pros and cons of promoting the benefits of being online, and what that might mean for community-building in Leek’s rural hinterland. One of the topics centred on the community organisations whose membership is literally dying off due to their inability to recruit younger members, but which cannot, or will not, experiment with online engagement which could reach out to a potential younger membership. We learned, also, that those organisations which are attempting to reach out online are, as elsewhere, being frustrated by the lack of connectivity, both of Internet landlines and mobile phone signals. This was the first time during the Week that I encountered some active resistance to the idea that connecting up rural communities is a good thing. I think that I, and others present, were able to chip away at a good portion of that resistance, but not kill it completely.
Here, Melissa Worth and Clare White summarise some of this issues at the meeting, and speculate on what might have changed as a result.
Leaving Leek, after a lovely lunch outside in the November sunshine, I dropped Clare off in Burslem, and continued on to Trentham Gardens, where I had arranged to meet Mike Smith. Mike is an active resident of the North Shropshire town of Market Drayton, and had hoped to organise a Can’t Get Online Week event in the nearby village of Adderley, which I had intended as the next port of call on the tour. However, despite strenuous efforts, Mike had been unable to overcome considerable resistance to the idea that anything could be done about the village’s problems. So, we agreed to meet for a chat, during which I filled Mike in on a number of initiatives being taken by communities around the country to meet their own broadband needs.
Later on in the evening, Mike emailed me to let me know that, armed with the information I had given him, he had had a conversation with an influential local councillor who now agreed that a number of villages in the area needed to look at taking action to address their broadband deficit.
And so, it was onto the M6 to head north to Lancashire to join a meeting of the B4rn project (http://www.b4rn.co.uk)