Piloting a community information hub

Update: I’ve developed a set of pages on this wiki bringing together official reports, articles and blog posts about Destination City together with questions that I think might arise at the November 7 event.

As I reported in this post, the Barbican Library is planning a community hub that will include ways for residents to share information more effectively, engage with the Corporation’s Destination City visitor programme, and try out enhanced digital technologies. Report here to Culture, Heritage and Libraries Committee – page 56.

The hub is part of a £845,800 Refresh project that will take some time to approve, design and carry through. The hub plans are based in part on ideas that I developed last year for the Barbican Centre Communities Team after a series of drop-in discussions with local residents. More in this post from June 2022 and EC1Echo article.

Here’s the detailed report I did last year for the Communities Team, based on the drop-in discussions and other work I had done on community hubs. At the time the Communities Team were planning a Mighty Networks online community, and I suggested other tools and activities needed to create the hub and communications platform.

I hope that Library and Destination City staff will be interested in exploring with local residents, businesses and councillors how to pilot some of the ideas in the hub plans, building on the original drop-in discussions. Participative development would ensure that the innovative ideas are relevant and feasible.

I suggest that the Smithfield and Farringdon area is a useful focus for that exploration, with several dimensions.

  • A rich and diverse history which is of interest both to residents and visitors.
  • The original home of Bartholomew Fair, and a key location in its re-staging as the annual highlight of Destination City.
  • Farringdon station, which is the best connected in London, at the heart of the City’s cultural district.
  • A new home for the London Museum in West Smithfield, opening in 2026.
  • Longer-term plans for redeveloping the main meat market.

That provides plenty of scope for trying out ideas on sharing news and events, exploring history, developing maps and trails, and using enhanced digital technologies in ways that benefit residents, businesses and visitors. I suggested some applications for tech in an article for the EC1 Echo about re-staging Bartholomew Fair. It was Matthew Bell’s article there, and his lobbying, that sparked the City’s commitment to re-stage the Fair.

This year, with Matthew, I’ve been a member of the Cloth Fair group of residents and councillors who developed a complementary programme for Bartholomew Fair 2023. I developed our website. Through that work we have a wide range of contacts, and rich archive material. I’ve also developed maps of the area in the exploring EC1 project. There’s scope for linking up with Clerkenwell history maps and trails, since the City is interested in connecting with neighbours. I wrote about that in the Echo too.

We could also collaborate with the recently-formed Neighbourhood Forum that embraces the Barbican and Golden Lane Estates, if they were interested.

One element of the hub is providing information on Destination City. That’s the Corporation’s programme to attract visitors and support an economy hit by people working from home. City policy chief Chris Hayward says he wants it to work for residents too, and told a question time session that “we want Destination City to be owned by the residents as much as by anybody else.”

Actively engaging residents in development of the information hub would be one way to demonstrate that commitment.

The hub also provides an opportunity to explore Destination City’s renewed commitment to better wayfinding, also included in a report to CHL committee – page 15. That was in original plans for Bartholomew Fair, but dropped for this year. At the time I thought that it could benefit City residents and visitors all year.

With support from members of the Cloth Fair group, I think the next steps are:

  • Check with the library staff, and Destination City, whether they would welcome some collaboration with residents to pilot ideas. I hope the Museum of London and London Metropolitan Archives might also be interested in some aspects. The Museum has a Cultural Transformation project in Smithfield.
  • Check with the Culture Mile Business Improvement District whether they intend to follow through with plans for a community forum that would include Farringdon and Smithfield. That could affect what sort of online community might be part of the hub and platform mix.
  • Review and curate the information we have gathered in development of the Cloth Fair programme and website, and previous media and mapping work.
  • Identify other key interests and plan a process, including a workshop, to scope out what might be involved in more detail. That was part of the original plan with the Barbican Communities Team, but didn’t happen because of staff changes.

Although the library may be in the early stages of planning the hub, I think there’s value in moving forward quickly for several reasons: Smithfield and Farringdon residents currently have no way to engage, since they are not within the Neighbourhood Forum area; Destination City are developing their programme, and people don’t know what’s happening; it would help build relationships between residents and organisations that tend to work in silos; these things always takes longer than you think.

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