Social tech meets North East

'Digital', 'innovation', and of course don't forget 'digital innovation' are buzz words at the moment, particularly within the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector. 

It's something that we at VONNE have been considering for a while, in terms of how best to support the sector. In our annual membership survey last year our members told us they need further support around governance, leadership and innovation and you can read Lisa Goodwin's recent reflections on her role supporting and promoting innovation.

What we know is that everything starts with people. So when David Van der Velde of Consult and Design came to VONNE with an idea we leaped at the chance to provide support for the VCSE sector in the region - bringing tech people together with charity people at Social Tech Meets North East. 

The need for digital skills in the sector is clear. Three-quarters of charities say very few people with digital skills are available to them and the recently launched Charity Digital Code aims to support the VCSE sector with digital, offering a consistent framework for the sector to work towards.

Equally clear is that there is tremendous capacity within the digital and technology sector, combined with a genuine desire to contribute to social action, particularly in the North East. 

Our first Social Tech Meet

The events are open to all and provide a space for the two sectors to get to know each other, hear about individual projects, and provide opportunities for networking and collaboration.

At our first event a group of people met at Proto in Gateshead, a new centre for  emerging technology in the North East. Alex Cook, Innovation Manager at Proto, and all the crew made us very welcome, giving us space to meet and a tour of the amazing facilities.

We were delighted to see a full house for our first Meet, and a fairly equal split of attendees from the VCSE and tech sector.

We heard from Dave Black, Pitch Black Productions, who presented a few of his projects including an immersive theatre experience; a virtual reality experience to support men affected by the Grenfell fire to talk about their emotions; and a Nesta funded virtual reality bystander intervention training project with Kings College London. 

Dave talked about the importance of appealing to ALL our different senses in virtual reality, highlighting the need to create human-centric experiences. 

We also heard from Mark Shilcock, Newcastle CVS, the man behind the highly successful Our Gateshead community website, the only one of its kind in the UK. Mark gave the Meet a history of development and the future plans for linking communities with local organisations.

Whilst the talks were interesting and engaging, the room really came alive when David opened it up with a request for '60 second pitches'. Whilst most struggled to keep it to 60 seconds(!) it was immediately clear that there is a need from both sectors which the other could help with.

A major test of a success of an event is how quickly people run for the doors when the official bit is over and, whilst the beer and pizza may have been a contributing factor, we were thrilled that everyone stayed put and started talking to each other once the talks had finished.

So whats's next?

Taking the learning from this event for future ones, we will be allocating more time to pitches, networking and general 'getting to know you' time. Keep an eye on our events pages for future Social Tech Meets.

VONNE have also been working with the Centre for Acceleration of Social Technology: CAST to bring their Design Hops to the North East. The first one was held in February in Newcastle and we're planning others.

We hope to see you at a future event soon.


Anne Fry