Professor Claire Wallace, Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences, Director of New Europe Centre.
Most people live in urban areas and within urban areas the kind of neighbourhood they inhabit can form an important aspect of their wellbeing. Communities or neighbourhoods can enhance or inhibit wellbeing in very important ways.
Information and Communications technologies can play an important part in this and in a study in Canada creating a local network of communications helped the neighbourhood to work together and become a better place to live .
Deprived neighbourhoods present particular challenges in this respect. In deprived neighbourhoods many people cannot afford mobile phone contracts or subscriptions to broadband services. Indeed, people may not have bank accounts. In this way people are excluded from the modern ways of “being human” and communicating online as well as accessing services such as internet shopping that could help them to save money and make lives easier.
The City of Aberdeen has started an interesting initiative in this respect. As part of its commitment to providing free internet throughout the City (in the longer term), it has decided to start this roll out in Regeneration Areas (or deprived areas). Together with a local communications NGO – Station House Media Unit or “shmu” – and the University of Aberdeen, free wifi is being offered in some streets within one of the Regeneration Areas to see how local people use this facility.
In a second initiative, a free internet portal will be set up, covering five other conjunct Regeneration Areas. The Portal will provide public information but also provide a facility for local groups (both clubs and informal networks) to use free services to network, post activities ….. whatever they want. It is important that this should reflect bottom up from social groups as well as top down activities from the Council, Football Club etc. This is why it will be administered by shmu, as a trusted community group.
As part of this process we will be interviewing community leaders and social groups selected to represent the wider community before the portal is set up (to find out how they use ICT and what they want from it), whilst the portal is being set up (involving perhaps training if it is required) and after the portal is set up to see what impact it has had. The groups we are targeting are: older residents (over 65); younger people (16-25); migrants (there is a large Polish community in Aberdeen); parents of young children and vulnerable adults.
The research will take place over the coming months and is being conducted in conjunction with the Northfield Total Place participatory planning team.
The research is based on ongoing research which will be published in an International Handbook of Community Wellbeing by Springer “Community Wellbeing and Information Technology” in S.Lee, Y.Kim and R.Phillips Handbook of Community Wellbeing and Community Development Springer Verlag, Dordrecht, 2015
Hampton, K. & Wellman, B. 2003, “Networking in Netville:How the internet supports community and social capital in a wired suburb”, City and Community, vol. 2, no. 4.
 (Hampton, Wellman 2003)
 Funded by the EPSRC Cultures and Communities Network+ and the dot.rural partnership fund
→Can ICT help community cohesion?