How it began
Way back in 2021, in between lockdowns and eat outs to help outs and in the height of Covid uncertainty, Good Things started regular “Network Zooms” - chaired by our Group CEO, Helen. These monthly meetings were born out of a need for our team to be better connected to the network of organisations we support and represent, to hear how they were coping with lockdowns and other challenges, and find out what they were doing to support digitally excluded people..
The Evolution of Meet-ups
Over the following months, these Zooms evolved into something new, with offshoots for specialist organisations driven by appetite in our community. We now have four different meet-up groups catering for our whole network; organisations that support older people, one with an ESOL focus, and another for libraries.
The format has also changed as our meet-ups are now co-chaired with members of our network. We also now aim to be network-led in terms of the topics we discuss and the format of the meetings. One key bit of feedback that we’ve taken on board is that people want less presenting and more time for breakout sessions, which is where the magic happens.
Here are just some of the things I love about our meet-ups…
- “I’m not alone”
This is one of my favourite phrases to come up in a meet-up, and one that absolutely embodies what these sessions are all about. People working in digital inclusion often feel like they’re on their own when they’re the only person at their organisation assigned to this area. This can be isolating and often people don’t know where to start.
Meet-ups enable them to connect with people from other organisations who are all at different stages of their digital inclusion journeys, hear about what others are doing and realise they don’t need to “reinvent the wheel.” I’ve been in highly productive breakout sessions where a newbie has said “help - I don’t know where to start” and the group has rallied around to provide a wealth of useful tips and recommendations.
- Sharing knowledge, resources and experience
This comes from different angles, Good Things sharing updates and opportunities, network experts sharing their experience and participants sharing many wonderful things in the breakout sessions. We’ve heard loads of fantastic and creative ways to engage people with digital in breakout sessions, from the conservation of the great crested newt to music production, elaborate board games and hands on craft sessions.
We’ve also been blown away by members’ commitment to supporting people through the cost-of-living crisis and how quickly they’ve learned about key digital services and support that they can signpost their communities to.
- Connecting people
We LOVE to see real “networking” happen at meet-ups. For instance, when two people realise that they’re doing similar projects or that they work in similar geographic areas and might be able to join forces, create referral pathways and learn from each other. At a recent meet-up we saw two organisations agreeing to meet for a coffee to chat about their work upon realising they were both based in North Somerset and only 5 minutes away from one another.
- Distance is no barrier
Although we’d all like to return to our yearly in-person conferences, our virtual meet-ups give us the opportunity to meet with people working in digital inclusion from all over the UK every month. As soon as we ask people to introduce themselves, we see the chat panel ping away with responses from the London boroughs up to the highlands, rural Yorkshire, Aberystwyth and Northern Ireland. We even had a - very welcome - interloper from Edmonton, Canada, at a recent libraries event.
Not only does the virtual format make it easier and more affordable to connect with people between meetings and training sessions, it also makes it more accessible to those with mobility issues who find travel to other cities more difficult.
- Brilliant people
We often talk about supporting “organisations”, but what we actually mean is the people. Meet-ups allow us to talk to and get to know some of the truly brilliant, dedicated, highly skilled and knowledgeable people behind these organisations. The people that directly support people who are digitally excluded in their communities, the people that work all hours to make sure that no one is left behind, providing the best support possible. The people that plan, develop and fundraise for digital inclusion support, and who know what their communities need.
I often log out of a meet-up feeling totally humbled and inspired by the wonderful people I’ve met.
What’s next for meet-ups?
We’re planning themes well in advance to give people more time to plan their attendance or volunteer to share from their experience in this topic ahead of the session.
More sharing after the session
We’re testing out different ways of sharing the brilliant resources, ideas and stories we hear during meet-ups so that our whole network can benefit.
Re-exploring other specialist areas
We want to revive specialist meet-ups that had low engagement and test different ways of promoting them to make sure we’re getting through to the right people, e.g. rural meet-ups. We know that organisations that deliver digital inclusion support in rural areas face very different challenges to those in urban areas and we want to make sure they have a space to connect with organisations in rural areas around the UK to share these challenges and discuss possible solutions.
If you'd like to attend any of our network meet-ups, head to our training page to sign up - we'd love to see you there!