In February, we ran our fifth community forum, in this series, a citizen engagement programme dedicated to building community participation in the development of Manchester as a Smart City.

The Memories of Manchester workshop explored health and wellbeing. Below is an article by Mark Croasdale, who was part of the team that led the participants through the day’s events.

Technology is changing how we interact with our surroundings. Let’s talk about the electric kettle; a marvellous invention for when all that can get you through the day is a hot cup of tea. What a wonderful revolution in technology it was, when before you needed an open fire and a copper pot, you could now connect a kettle to a power source, watch it excite and boil, and within minutes enjoy a nice, hot cuppa tea.

Well, there’s another revolution happening; did you know Smart Kettles are a thing now? That’s right, connect the kettle to your SmartPhone and set it to boil before you even step through your front door. This is the age we’re living in. A Digital Age, a Smart Age, where technology infuses into nearly every aspect of our lives.

What if we brought technology in to transform our everyday experiences and overcome our challenges?

CityVerve is a project that aims to support a smarter, more connected Manchester.
It’s building a city that uses technology to meet the more complex needs of its inhabitants. As our digital culture expands at an astonishing rate, the CityVerve project believes there’s got to be more than just giving cutting-edge connectivity to sensors and devices. “It isn’t about ‘things’ at all, it’s about people”.

CityVerve and FutureEverything believe communities are the heart of Manchester. Our city doesn’t stand still; it’s continually evolving and adapting, shaped by the people that reside within. As Manchester is set to become the first Smart City in the UK, CityVerve aims to use “human centred design to put the focus on real problems people have, and solutions that people will want to use”.

One of those problems is the idea of Social Isolation, and what better way to discuss this than through creative exercises, talks & performances, and over a humble cup of tea. With that in mind, we asked the wonderful citizens of our city to join us for Memories of Manchester; the fifth community forum dedicated to building participation in the development of Manchester as a Smart City.

Building memories of Manchester together.
The Memories of Manchester social treated guests to talks from a variety of social groups and organisations whose work tackles Social Isolation. We heard Margo Singer talk about the Elizabeth Gaskell’s House Sewing Bee society and their Manchester Quilt project. We also heard from Lauren Banks of Manchester Cares; a community network of young professionals and older neighbours hanging out and helping one another in our rapidly changing city.

We challenged guests to build a 3D model of our great city. Working together and sharing stories, participants wrote poems about what Manchester felt, smelt, sounded and tasted like – showing Manchester as a collection of experiences rather than a city of buildings, and finding connections with each other (rather than just the Wifi).

Throughout the day we explored the idea of Isolation. We asked participants to think about how they hear about or access events in the city. It became really clear that whilst many societies and events already exist, our participants are just not hearing about them. This is an issue being tackled by one of our featured digital projects; PlaceCal.

Building connections through shared experience and humour.
The event came to a close with a special performance by The Sunday Boys choir – an intergenerational, inclusive choir for men in the city to socialise and learn to sing. A real highlight of the event, this beautiful music celebrated Manchester and drew in crowds from across the gallery. It ended with a comical quiz led by comedian Amy Vreeke. Through the quiz, teams learned interesting facts about Manchester and collated all their memories and experiences of the city – whether that be the public transport, or memories of being caught in the rain. Over the course of the day, our 3D city grew into a big, bright a beautiful work of art and was admired as such as gallery goers.

Our takeaways from the event.
Events designed to connect people, through experiences, are a great opportunity to meet new friends without the pressure of having to do so. Nearly all participants asked for further dates of events, and five left as new friends with plans to meet up again outside the event.

One of the most interesting outcomes, for me, was the idea that Social Isolation in Manchester doesn’t just exist for those more senior members of our society. It is one often shared by working professionals, new arrivals and students. Technology has the potential to combat social isolation in so many ways. In particular, there is a need for technology to signpost and assist people towards making real-life connections in person, and perhaps, over a cup of tea (smart, or not).

PlaceCal, a community events calendar to help people connect.
PlaceCal is a community events calendar where you can find out everything that’s happening near you, all in one place. The calendar has been designed by Geeks for Social Change and PHASE@MMU and you can check it out here.

CityVerve’s Health & Wellbeing initiative is using technology to create changes in our health and community connections and the way we overcome certain illnesses in Manchester. You can read more articles on our work in this project through our blog.