Techy lunch in the City shows community spirit of corporate lawyers

I’m a big admirer of the the techy tea party movement pioneered by Sharon Tynan for Age UK London and then developed nationally by EE and Age UK. There’s now a National Techy Tea Party Day – or you can organise your own, as I reported last year from Primrose Hill. My friend John Popham has extended the idea to a techy Christmas party.

The original format is simple – companies invite older people to their premises, rather than send staff volunteers out to do good things in the community. Or hopefully both.

Then there’s tea, cakes and some face-to-face – or shoulder-to-shoulder – learning about technology. These days that’s as likely to be smartphones and tablets as laptops, with the option to bring your own or use devices provide by the organisations.

Learning at lunch

I think that the informal, conversational approach of techy tea parties, where people decide what they want to learn about, is an important complement to more formal training courses – and useful to people who already have some tech experience and want to explore further. If you bring your own device, then what works at the tea party works at home too. Not always the case with courses. Social media surgeries are another great model.

So when I spotted two local events in the City of London Healthwatch newsletter I asked Sharon if I could come along … provided I promised to blog a piece or otherwise help out.

I’ve lived in the City for 15 years – after various moves around the Midlands, Surrey, Reading, west London and Brighton – and it’s my favourite. There’s more than 7000 residents among the 300,000 workers, and lots to do, not least at the Barbican Arts Centre which is cheaper and better than many West End venues. Cheapside is now a lively High Street, and more pleasant than most.

Although bankers, lawyers and residents co-exist fairly happily we don’t usually get invited to lunch … so I was particularly tempted by the offer of a Techy Lunch at global law firm K&L Gates. They have offices in One New Change, the big shopping and restaurant complex across the road from St Pauls.

Link to video

Sharon had introduced me to Alison Westlake, who organised the event for the City’s Age Concern . In the video that I shot at the lunch, Alison describes how useful the events are for residents, and Fez Abbas, from K&L Gates, puts the event into the context of the company’s wider commitment to service in the community, explained here.

The sandwiches and cakes were excellent, K&L Gates staff exceptionally helpful, and residents contributed their own insights about the online world.

Conversations at the event, about the difficulty of finding information even when fairly confident online, gave me an idea for some possible follow through. While the City of London Corporation has good general listing of services, attractions and events, they can’t cover the whole range of smaller groups and informal activities in and around the City.

In addition, there’s scope for bodies serving older people – and anyone else – to improve their information and communication. Age UK London is running a Tell Me campaign on this.

I’ve been developing ideas with colleagues for a Maps, Apps and Storytelling initiative to provide people with better pathways to their interests, develop stronger networks in a community, tell stories, and help develop conversations online and off. One aim would be to support initiatives to address loneliness and social isolation … which can be an issue even at the heart of the City.

I’ve had some great discussions recently about developing a project in East London, using a mix of radio, other technology and events, and possibly linking up with the City for support.

I’m now thinking that I should make a start nearer to home, and see whether a group of tech-savvy City residents – and maybe corporate volunteers – would explore how best to use tech with other methods to help connect people with local opportunities, services and sociability.

I don’t think we necessarily need to develop a substantial new local web site or forum. A recent report published by NESTA and Cardiff University’s Centre for Community Journalism shows how difficult it is for the first generation of hyperlocal community sites to sustain their activity – not least because there are now so many source of information, together with DIY personal publishing via Facebook and Twitter. It’s as difficult to evolve hyperlocal digital business models as it is to keep local papers going.

The big challenge, in my mind, is how to make the most of existing local communications and resources, with an emphasis on making sense for different interests, connecting conversations, and helping people contribute. Adopt the principles of Asset Based Community Development in the digital world … join up rather than start up. I’ll see if I can gather any support for the idea and report back. If we can’t invent something appropriate both for the City and elsewhere, combining resident and business skills, where can we?

I’ll also be looking at what’s happening elsewhere. London can be complacent.

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