Digital innovation manager
It’s a new year and the start of a new journey for our first cohort of Community Tech Makers and Maintainers. The Community Tech: Makers and Maintainers fund focuses on building resilience of existing community tech already in use by community businesses across England. By “community tech” we mean any hardware or software that delivers benefit to a community group, and which that community group has the authority to influence or control.
It was tough to pick the final ten from an impressive array of community businesses applying ingenious and innovative tech solutions to a wide variety of social issues. We learnt a lot on the way – Anna Dent from our programme partner, Promising Trouble explains more in this blog post.
The community businesses we’ve funded stretch from Cornwall to Yorkshire and work across a wide variety of areas, from tackling the climate crisis, to culture and social care to food distribution. Many are working to reduce poverty, inequality and the impact of the cost of living crisis. 60% of them are working in the top 30% of the most deprived areas in the country. 70% of the grantees are majority led by women, a traditionally under-represented group in the tech sector.
Fostering community tech hotspots
Geographically speaking, it quickly became apparent that there are community tech hotspots and deserts. While almost no community businesses from the Midlands and East of England applied, there were clusters of strong applications from Bristol and Greater Manchester. Our grants panel took the decision to actively foster these concentrations, rather than impose an artificial geographical spread, seeing potential dividends in close working.
In Bristol, we funded Trinity Community Arts and The Bristol Cable, both of which have been working on custom-built customer relationship management systems that meet the needs of not-for-profit organisations and protect their members’ data from the potentially exploitative practices of Big Tech.
“Our membership & engagement platform, built in-house, is a core component of the democratic engagement we have with our members. The grant will allow us to continue this work, not only for Bristol, but for other community based organisations around the country too.” The Bristol Cable
Bristol-based Knowle West Media Centre, far along their community tech journey, were also funded to take on a staff member who can boost their knowledge-sharing activity and show the wider sector by their example how many different applications community tech solutions can have.
In Greater Manchester, Friends of Stretford Public Hall and Stockport-based Carbon Co-op have both received grants. Friends of Stretford Public Hall will use theirs to embed their recently developed community shares management software, something which could have broad impact for the cooperative sector. Carbon Co-op will continue to work in the commons, creating software to facilitate the reduction of domestic carbon emissions and power consumption.
Other makers and maintainers include Liverpool’s Signalise, a user-led cooperative that has built a platform connecting deaf people and the services needing to engage with them with BSL interpreters. Tamar Grow Local based in Callington, Cornwall, is a network of local food producers and consumers using the Open Food Network platform to grow a sustainable local food economy. Bradford’s Solidaritech and London’s Community Tech Aid are both developing community tech solutions to the mounting problem of e-waste while also combatting digital exclusion of marginalised communities by providing free or low-cost reconditioned hardware. Last, but certainly not least, Equal Care Co-op in the Calder Valley has created a platform to connect people who need care with those who can offer it locally, allowing care and support to be given and received in a more equitable and fairer system with greater local control.
Building an open community of practice – get involved!
So far, so good, but Community Tech: Makers and Maintainers has ambitions far beyond just funding a handful of organisations doing great things. This is why 20% of each grant is earmarked for working in the open and building a community of practice that can benefit everyone in the community tech sector. Our programme partners, Promising Trouble are currently busy scoping what this community of practice might look like. All our applicants have been invited to share their views in this short survey. If you’re a community business developing tech of your own, please feel free to add your views and be included as this develops.
Future funding rounds
There will be more funding rounds later this year. The next of these will provide seed money for innovation, allowing community businesses with great ideas not yet in operation to scope what is needed to get them to the starting point. We will also be looking for other industry partners to come alongside us to put money into purposeful technology that contributes to social and not just commercial growth. It’s going to be a busy year and we can’t wait.