A Smart City for Everyone
PlaceCal is a crowd-sourced events calendar which allows community groups, the NHS, social care workers and neighbourhood teams to inform people about things that are happening in their local areas. Set up as part of the CityVerve smart city initiative, it has proved to be a very popular and successful part of the ‘platform of platforms’ which has proven to be popular with residents and community organisation. Their aims is to improve the quality, quantity and accessibility of community data to make better connected neighbourhoods that work for everyone.
Progress so far
PlaceCal is an easy to use platform centred on two resident-led neighbourhood partnerships in different areas of Manchester, currently Hulme and Moss Side and soon to include Moston and Burnage. It takes in data from a range of platforms including Facebook, Google Calendar and iCal and collates them into one place. All that information is then output across a range of media to reach the whole community, including radio, TV, posters and an ap. There is also an API. This helps to tackle social isolation and loneliness by allowing them to easily access information about events near them which bring the community together, whether coffee mornings, sewing groups or computer classes.
Dr Kim Foale, lead on the PlaceCal project is passionate about tackling social inequality. They said, ‘we need to make sure that everyone benefits from the internet of things and from smart city projects like CityVerve. Smart city projects seem more interested in getting peoples’ toasters online than poor people.’
Initial research demonstrated that into neighbourhoods have extremely poor information about themselves. With large numbers of community event organisers, it was a challenge for people to find information and this was a particular issue for those with little ‘social capital’ – those already excluded from society due to age, disability or lack of access to technology. Due to a lack of IT training, infrastructure, and suitable tools for community groups, it is almost impossible to find out what’s going on if you’re not already socially connected.
50% of community organisations (VCSEs) don’t have a website at all, let alone an up-to-date one. 40% of working age people struggle with basic tasks like deleting emails. This is even worse for older people, with 4.2 million people in the UK aged 65+ never having used the internet. However, the advent of the digital age shouldn’t leave people behind just because they don’t have broadband.
The pilot PlaceCal project was rolled out in Hulme and Moss Side. Part of the Manchester Age Friendly Neighbourhoods partnerships, it has successfully helped residents, GPs and social care organisations to better attend to their communities.
The pilot has had an enormously positive response from both residents and institutional stakeholders. There is clear demand for a roll-out from both individual neighbourhoods and institutional partners, as well as a number of neighbourhood and larger area commissions in negotiation. The pilot represents 5% of the city and shows 170 events per week. By contrast, the local authority website has 120 events in total on their website. There are more than 20 organisations using the site and GPs in the target area are using it to socially prescribe – getting people connected with their local health and fitness events, for example.
PlaceCal has been nominated for the AAL Smart Aging Prize. They hope to use the funding from this to set up The PlaceCal Foundation to help replicate the deceptively simply technology across the whole of Manchester and beyond. Their intention is to train ‘trainers’ – allowing communities to have partners to allow them to roll out PlaceCal themselves in partnership with local authorities and various stakeholders in their communities.
One excellent example of the project owners in action was to initiate the installation of a disabled toilet in a church hall, bringing together the architecture school, health authority and church, making it more suited to serve the community by allowing health visitors and NHS surgeries to then take place at the centre.