A Practical Example of a Campervan as Outreach for a Housing Organisation

by John Popham

 

A few weeks ago I noticed via Twitter that Shepherds Bush Housing Group were running something they called The Big Conversation 10, which involved staff getting out and about and talking to residents using a Camper Van as their base. The parallels to the DigiCamper concept interested me, so I asked if I could interview someone there about it. Thus it was that I caught up with Joanna Charlton, the Group’s Communications Manager, via Skype.

Firstly the confessions. Tech doesn’t always work, and sometimes the people working it don’t get it right. This was meant to be a video interview, but the recording of the video didn’t work, I pressed a wrong button somewhere along the line. And, due to unforeseen circumstances, the interview was conducted over a 4G connection which was less than stable, so the audio sounds a bit strange in parts.

However, I hope you get the gist of what I thought was a very interesting interview. For me, some of the main points which Joanna made were:

  • The CamperVan provides a neutral, comfortable and trusted environment which encourages residents to open up and say things to staff that they probably wouldn’t say in an office environment. This helps the relationship between staff and residents;
  • The arrival of the CamperVan in a neighbourhood creates a buzz and encourages people to gather around it. This is something I experienced with the HUGO Bus, and I anticipate it being a key factor with DigiCamper;
  • Staff get a real high out of being out and about with the Camper Van and this encourages more of them to want to be part of the Big Conversation and to put more effort in when involved;
  • A French housing association has taken the idea up for itself and Joanna recently spoke at a conference in France where more than 80 associations were discussing following suit.

This latter point got me thinking further. DigiCamper could be used as a shared resource by the UK Housing Sector to get its message out into places it does not normally reach. This could be part of the process of getting decision-makers outside the sector to develop more understanding of its needs. How about it #ukhousing?

Here’s the interview (in audio form)

 

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Introducing DigiCamper

 

DigiCamper will be a converted campervan which will bring the joys of the internet to locations and communities which organisations usually find difficult to reach. It has a dual focus, on Digital Inclusion (getting people online for the first time), and Digital Storytelling (helping people and communities to tell their stories to the world).

It will arrive with a bang in unexpected locations, offering free wifi where there usually isn’t any, creating a buzz around digital technologies, and offering a cup of tea, a chat, and a sympathetic ear for anyone who is uncertain about taking their first steps online or who needs some independent support with tech issues. Or it will spend time with communities helping them find their digital voice and tell their stories to the world.

The cup of tea is all important. DigiCamper’s approach is to ensure that people are introduced to new technologies in a familiar, sympathetic environment, where technology is presented as sympathetic to their lifestyle and enhancing to their daily routine. DigiCamper can park outside someone’s house, in a car park, by a village green, or on top of a mountain. Anywhere people need digital inclusion.

Wherever it goes, DigiCamper will be accompanied by Digital Storyteller, John Popham. This means that not only will your users get high quality advice on the internet, but the world will know what is happening through high profile digital stories.

It will be available to hire to go where organisations want it to go. Its principle focus is as a vehicle (literally) for digital inclusion and digital storytelling, but it will be available for other uses as well. Such uses might include:

  • product testing
  • user group consultations
  • exhibitions

Initial funders will receive significant discounts on hire, and will have the opportunity to be part of a Steering Group which will guide policy and direction for the project.

We need just £15,000 to get this exciting project on the road. Get in touch if you want to be a founder member.