And we’re off: City Camp Brighton 2012

March 2 2012

I’m attending the weekend long hackathon that is City Camp Brighton this weekend, which started today with an afternoon at the Sallis Benney Theatre on Grand Parade. It moves to Falmer Stadium tomorrow where  150 people get together to come up with ideas for improving the city.

The concept is straightforward. Coders, community workers, council reps and anyone who wants to do something good spend a day coming up with ideas, then on Sunday work up a prototype they can pitch to try and win up to £10,000 of seed funding to get it off the ground.

Today’s part of the event was a series of speeches from local government, the police, voluntary groups, the NHS and data companies highlighting some of the problems Brighton faces, and what resources might be available to those who want to address them. Last year’s winners, MyUrbanAngel, explained how far they’ve come with their project, an app which can help people who find themselves in dangerous or troubling situations at night.

MyUrbanAngel functions as a sort of panic button if you’re worried someone’s following you, for example, and can automatically message friends if you need help. The idea came from a mother whose daughter was mugged and literally had no idea what to do. One feature I like about MyUrbanAngel which isn’t implemented yet is ‘safe zones’ – directing you to nearby volunteers or places that can be havens if you need them.

The CEO of Brighton & Hove Council addresses CityCamp

MUA offered the best advice of the day: “stay in tune with the needs of the city”. In Brighton, that’s a chronic shortage of good housing, disproportionate drug and alcohol abuse, a high suicide rate (related to the former problem), low secondary education results and – my personal interest – a general feeling of not belonging. The last is almost certainly a result of the large number of incomers to the city, who feel they can’t affect decisions made at local government level.

These problems were all pointed out by Alistair Hill of NHS Sussex, based on some really interesting research they’ve conducted. On the bright side, there’s generally a good level of health and wellbeing.

The day was rounded up by Brighton council Chief Exec John Barradell, who outlined some of the impacts austerity measures are going to have on a city that has a high level of dependency on public services and high youth unemployment. “We don’t have much money, but we do have the ability to help ideas forward”.

It’s quite a long way from the defensive reaction I heard from Adur Council at a recent meeting about the Localism Act a couple of weeks ago.

I’ve heard a few nascent pitches already. Veterans of last year’s Camp reckon tomorrow is the hardest, most intense day. Everyone gets hands on in an ‘unconference’ – a room full of tables which anyone can grab to start a discussion around a subject. The only rule is that if you’re not being proactive, move to another table. And a time limit for each discussion, I think.

Looking forward to it.

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