Digital displays in rural Northumberland

Digital displays are a rare sight outside of the city and the urban environment. Typically used for the purposes of advertising and promotion within retail, these simple pieces of hardware are becoming increasingly ubiquitous as an embedded piece of technology within society. In contrast to their increasing numbers, their prices have been ever falling, so that they are now easy to get hold of cheaply, or even free. Combining them with other pieces of cheap computer hardware (eg. Raspberry Pi) and the ever-stretching reach of internet services, we can start to see the more recognisable public displays of urban areas filter into the rural landscape.

The digital civics agenda revolves around empowering members of the public; designing technology alongside people to better fit their needs, with the eventual outcome of handing over control of the tools for them to take on the full governance to utilise, build and develop them as a citizen-led initiative.

Glendale screenAt this current time of austerity, citizen-led initiatives and technology are becoming increasingly popular as local councils and government fail to meet the needs of the population due to severe financial cut backs. The creation of the digital display network is a means of providing a financially sustainable piece of technology for the general public within a rural area of the North East.

The rural environment poses a wide range of challenges for the people who live within its borders. The lack of affordable housing, consistent employment opportunities, community initiatives, higher education and transport are some of the problems affecting one such rural community within Glendale, Northumberland. Working in partnership with Glendale’s local development trust (Glendale Gateway Trust), we created and deployed a series of public displays in 2015 that are designed to better disperse information to the public about local initiatives to generate greater awareness of opportunities. In total, nine displays are currently active within Glendale in a diverse range of locations, ranging from corner stores, post offices, tea rooms, schools and community information centres. The displays themselves have attracted numerous media articles (1, 2, and 3) within their time of deployment.

Glendale screenThe displays have proved to be an effective tool in relieving some of the problems faced by the community of Glendale, especially youth, who were the main focus of the project. We visited the local drop-In centre (Wooler Drop In) to gather some thoughts and opinions surrounding the perceived impact of the displays on young people. We found that displays had been a huge success (particularly the one situated within the Drop-In Centre) at dispersing information and making people more aware of the more localised events and opportunities, with young people stating they had seen and followed up on information. They felt they knew what was going on and what was available to them within their area, and a number had successfully enrolled in apprenticeships from seeing the employment opportunities on the screens.

Patsy Healey, Vice Chair of Glendale Gateway Trust and Emeritus Professor of Town and Country Planning at Newcastle University, stated the importance of such technology within the area of Glendale. There is a severe disconnect between local community groups in how they intercommunicate between themselves, with each organisation preferring their own method for distributing information to the public about their work. She feels that the displays and alternative forms of technology are a step towards uniting the segregated and hidden community groups within Glendale.

For more information please contact Stuart Nicholson.

Author: Stuart Nicholson

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