Voluntary groups in Huddersfield are getting into social media, thanks to a new project that’s started in the town.
The Social Media Surgery, a concept that grew in Birmingham but has recently spread to towns and cities throughout Yorkshire and Humber, provides free advice to non-profit groups or individuals wanting to make a difference to their community. Run by volunteers, it’s hoped the concept will help struggling groups come to terms with recent developments on the web.
Enthusiasts and volunteers
The surgery is organised by Huddersfield Social, a group of local people with an interest in social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, blogs and online video sites. Seeing an opportunity to empower communities and increase democratic involvement, the group set to organising bi-monthly advice sessions, staffed by local enthusiasts and volunteers.
“Huddersfield is where we live and work,” says Steven Tuck, one of the group. “We wanted to encourage local people to help each other. We felt that we could develop a shared understanding of some of the issues facing the town.”
The surgeries don’t have a budget, meaning everyone involved gives their time for free. However, according to organiser Diane Sims, the rewards come easily enough.
“Everybody learns something – not just the people who come looking for advice,” said Sims. “The payment is that we see better, stronger communities and environments shaped by the people who are part of them. We’ve had up to 15 groups, who we call patients, in just one night.”
One of those helped by the surgery is Tony Bowers, organiser of SMART, a local public transport campaign group. Having initially set up a traditional website, the group soon ran into trouble.
Joys of a website
“The site was set up for us by a chap in the village who said it was simple to use but we found it wasn’t that easy,” said Bowers. “I heard about the surgeries in a volunteer newsletter. It was a bit chaotic at first, because the surgeons had come straight from work, but they soon grabbed the patients and took them through the joys of developing a website.”
Bowers learned how to use WordPress, a free tool for setting up a blog. He went on to use the blog as SMART’s main page.
“The one to one nature of the session enabled me to have hands-on experience using the website tools,” said Bowers. “The fact that it’s free was also appreciated. For small groups like ours, payment for services is not an option; it has to come out of our own pockets or the tiny grants we get every couple of years.”
Photo: Steven Tuck and Diane Sims (right and second right) at the surgery. Surgeries are held bi-monthly on the penultimate Monday of the month at the Media Centre in Huddersfield. See http://huddersfieldsocial.wordpress.com. Surgeries elsewhere in the country are at www.socialmediasurgery.com.