With Walsall 24 we told the story of what a council did across a borough in 24 hours.
With Walsall Town Centre 100 we’re looking to go a step further and tell a different story.
We want to tell a hundred things about the life of a town centre across seven days from May 17 to 23 2011.
It’s not just about litter getting collected this time. It’s the faces on the market, the people in the shops and what gets done to keep people safe and protect law and order.
In effect it’s the council, the police, businesses and other partners joining forces to tell people what they do. It’s also about letting residents speak with Q&A sessions for key people.
All these factors make up the life of a town centre.
In many ways, Walsall is a typical town. It competes against bigger neighbours in Birmingham and the Merry Hill Shoping Centre in Dudley 14 miles away.
There’s three indoor shopping centres, 400 shops, an 800-year-old market, a circa 1905 Council House, a New Art Gallery, two museums and a 35-acre Arboretum giving a splash of green on the edge of the town centre.
It’s a town with civic pride built on the leather industry and one that was once known as the town of a hundred trades – hence the name of this experiment.
What are the channels?
We’re looking to use the council website walsall.gov.uk, the Walsall police web pages, Twitter, flag up some locations on Foursquare and also keep people informed via Facebook. There’s even geocaching too and a Flickr group to celebrate the beauty of the town.
The purpose is not to use a whole load of web tools just for the sake of it.
It’s to talk to people on a platform they might want to use.
How can you follow it?
You can take a look at three main Twitter accounts as well as the #walsall100 hashtag.
If William Wordsworth was alive today he’d be using Twitter.
Not the old stick-in-the-mud he became but the young man fired by revolution.
Why? Because he celebrated the English countryside through the media of the day.
How we think of the landscape was shaped by Wordsworth. Before him, mountains were frightful places. After? Beautiful. And Willie cashed in with an 1810 Guide to the Lakes that was the iphone app of its day.
Exploring how our countryside team could use social media made me trawl through some examples.
Whoever said places work can really well on social media were bang on. That’s especially true of parks and countryside. So how is social media being used by to promote the countryside? There’s some really good ideas in patches out there but nothing fundamentally game changing that makes you sit up and write verse. That says to me that there is plenty of potential.
Photography should be at the heart of what the public sector does with countryside and parks. Why? Because a picture tells a 1,000 words. Because they can bring a splash of green into someone’s front room or phone at one click. Criminally, many sites should be promoting the countryside relegate images to a postage stamp picture.
Here are 10 interesting uses:
1. The British Countryside Flickr group has more than 4,000 members and some amazing images. It’s a place where enthusiastic amateur photographers can share pictures and ideas.
2. Peak District National Park chief executive Jim Dixon leads from the front. He blogs about his job at www.jimdixon.wordpress.com and tweets through @peakchief. It’s a good mix of retweeting interesting content and puts a human face on an organisation.
3. Foursquare, Walsall Council added a landmark in a park as a location. The Pit Head sculpture in Walsall Wood was added to encourage people to visit and check-in. You can also make good use of ‘tips’ by adding advice.
4. On Twitter, @uknationalparks represents 15 UK national parks run a traditional Twitter feed with press releases, RTs and some conversation. With 2,000 followers it’s on 145 lists.
5. But you don’t have to be in a national park to do a goods job. In Wolverhampton, @wolvesparkies have a brilliantly engagingly conversational Twitter stream. There is passion, wit and information that make most councils seem the RSS press release machine that they are.
6. National Trust have an excellent Facebookprofile. You may get the impression that members are 65 and own a Land Rover. That doesn’t come across here. They observe one of the golden rules of social media. Use the language of the platform. It’s laid back and it’ll tell you when events are planned.
7. Even more relaxed is the quite new I Love Lake District National Park is quite brilliant. It allows RSS, it blogs and it really encourages interaction. Heck, they even encourage people to post to the wall so they can move shots into albums.
8. On YouTube, West Sussex County Council have a slick short film on tree wardens that deserves more than 45 views in five months. Or does this show how much take up there is on YouTube?
9. The rather wonderful parksandgardens.ac.uk is an ambitious online tool for images of 6,500 parks and gardens and the people who created and worked in them. @janetedavis flagged this up. It’s a project she worked on and she should be proud of it. There’s a school zone to to connect to young people too and is populated by google map addresses and photographs. Really and truly, council parks and countryside pages should look like this but mostly don’t.
10. Less a government project, or even social media Cumbria Live TV celebrate the landscape they work in utterly brilliantly. Slick and powerful broadcast quality three minute films do more than most to capture the jaw dropping awe of the fells. They self-host some brilliant films on a changing site. Check them out here.
EIGHT things you CAN do aside from write bad poetry about daffodils and shepherds called Michael…
1. A Facebook fan page to celebrate a park or open space. Call it I love Barr Beacon. Yes, the Friends group can use it as a meeting place. But naming it after the place not the organisation leaves the door open to the public too.
2. Give a countryside ranger a Twitter account. Use @hotelalpha9 as an inspiration. Let them update a few times a day with what they’ve been up to. Post mobile phone pictures too.
3. Despite a dearth of amateur good examples there’s potential in short films to promote countryside. You only have to point a camera at something photogenic for people to come over all Lake Poet.
4. Start a Flickr group to celebrate your patch of countryside. Walsall has 1,000 acres of parks and countryside with amazing views and vistas.
5. Start a blog. WordPress takes minutes to set-up and after messing around only a short time to master. Tell people what you are up to. Whack up a few images. Lovely. For no cost.
6. Make your countryside and parks pages a bit more web 2.0. Use mapping to set out a location. Use Flickr images – with permission – to showcase the place.
7. Add your parks and countryside to a geo-location site such as Foursquare. If the future of social media is location, location, location then venues, landmarks and places will score big.
8. Text. With more mobile phones in the UK than people sometimes the humble text message can be overlooked as part of the package of ways to connect with people. Most councils are also text enabled. Create info boards around a park or countryside with numbers to text to recieve info on what they can see. Change it for the seasons to make best use.
Newlands Valley, Lake District, UK: Dan Slee.
Wordsworth: Creative commons courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.