I think it's safe to say that the internet has changed the life of millions all over the world. It brought people together who, in the days before the internet, wouldn't have been able to communicate with each other. In the virtual world distances don't matter anymore, as it has become a place where we can get in touch with someone from Russia just as easy as someone from Rome. But what about our closest neighbours? What do we know about them and how do we find out what's important for them, what problems they have and how they deal with their day to day lives?
Already quite some time ago a new initiative was born in Argyll which looked very promising from the start. I'm talking about the For Argyll website. Right now I dare already calling it one of the best regional online developments of the last years. The website provides the latest news from Argyll and includes national news when relevant. This however is not all, there is more, much more. In the course of several months I got to know Lynda Henderson and Charles Dixon-Spain, both working on the For Argyll website, rather well and I invited them to write something about this exciting new project for the Argyll County as a whole and all the smaller communities in it. Lynda Henderson was kind enough to send me the following article for the Islay Blog:
Why For Argyll? What has driven the For Argyll initiative through its various incarnations up to now has been the belief that what will transform Argyll is a single news and information service for the entire county, mainland and islands together. We need to know a lot more about each other, to develop an 'Argyll identity' and to have a medium to share experience and advice spontaneously and voluntarily. Continue reading.....Evolution For Argyll was born from a proposal to set up a community radio station for Mid Argyll - Radio Fyneside, after the loch that defines the area. That campaign came unstuck when Ofcom rejected the application because the proposed transmission coverage area overlapped with the northern extremity of the area covered by Argyll FM. This an Independent Local Radio (ILR), higher up the food chain than community radio, based in Campbeltown and licensed to cover Kintyre, Islay and Jura.
This knockback was a blessing in disguise. The media research we then did to find a new way of doing what we wanted to do showed us with blazing clarity that the migration of content and users to the internet was going at an unstoppable rate. It is already where people go for their up-to-the-minute-news and for rich and detailed information on pretty well anything they want to know. We saw immediately that, on the evidence, the only investable platform for news, information and entertainment today is the internet. We'd have wasted time and money going the analogue radio route. Digital radio will never come to the Highlands and Islands and because the internet is growing so powerfully, we predict that DAB will be one fat and expensive turkey. So we began again with a strategy to use the internet to provide a news and information service on and for Argyll, using a variety of media and progressively drawing communities and individuals into a sense that it could be a online home for an extended family.
Out There For Argyll We were awarded funding by the Scottish Community Foundation for a linked project - Out There For Argyll (OTFA), which lets us work with a total of twelve community teams in groups of four at a time over two years. They are given a blog for their community and shown how to use it (easy). They are lent professional sound recording kits and dedicated blogging video kits during their training period. They learn how to record and edit sound and video programmes and are working on oral history programmes and videos on local places and activities. The first four communities involved were Ardfern, Furnace, Lismore and Women at Work. The next four, about to start, are another blend of islands and mainland communities. The friendships made between people and communities in the first round and the base for collaboration in each other's projects has alreay proved the case for OTFA. Argyll as a concept began to become a reality through this experience.
The tutors on the OTFA programme are working professionals in their fields whose own achievements are remarkable and who enjoy the challenge of training. They are - in alphabetical order:
Dave Dunbar, a film maker specialising in what he calls 'fishy films' (on angling) and who also works with Arlene Cullem on short creative films, one of which won them a Scottish Bafta last year.
Chris O'Brien, Programme Director for the Scottish Government's nationwide Determined to Broadcast initiative for young people, a specialist sound recordist and a lecturer and trainer in the subject.
John Patrick, a video maker with a breathtaking track record on You Tube. He was asked to make a video for the 2008 Connect Music Festival in Inveraray, invited Dave Dunbar to work with him on it and produced a video which is about to achieve over one million views in little over a month since publication.
Charles Dixon-Spain, without whom there would be no For Argyll - a blog technology expert who develops and manages For Argyll's online presence and operations, bringing his parallel expertise in design and publishing to bear on the project.
Sadie Dixon-Spain, Founder Director of Argyll's innovative Walking Theatre Company, nominated for a Highlands and Islands Enterprise 2008 Business Tourism Award, an experienced performer and trainer of radio and television presenters. (She recently recruited First Minister Alex Salmond to play Banquo in a performance of Walking Theatre's Macbeth.)
For Argyll service to Argyll communities and associations As well as giving communities the means, the skills and the training to communicate online in rich media with themselves and others, For Argyll offers them the space to do so. Any community or association can ask us for a free blog and we will not only give it to them but come and show people in their community how to use it.
Current service Our current service is only the start. It has a long way to go but is already regarded with respect for its professionalism, authority and independent coverage of serious issues affecting Argyll. It has the formal support of Argyll and Bute Council and of its MSP and MP. The core service has got where it is today by wholly voluntary effort. Sleep is a far distant luxury. This effort does create enormous strains and we wouldn't pretend that there aren't occasions when we just cannot get to the tape we've set ourselves as soon as we wanted. But this is a facility and a medium that Argyll has not had in this way before and which is unusual in any context.
What's in the pipeline? We are currently testing some exciting online media initiatives - tba - which will be hugely exciting and which we will offer interested volunteers the opportunity to be part of.
The heart of the matter At the heart of the initiative is collaboration in the interests of filling Argyll's fuel tank. For Argyll is a network, a clearing house, an information bank, a laboratory, a family and a very powerful promoter of Argyll to itself and to the world at large. We want news and we'll use it. We want ideas and we'll help develop them. We want people across Argyll with energy, a will to develop creative and communications skills and a work ethic - and we'll make it possible for them to do what they want to do - For Argyll.
In this respect it is worth mentioning some important achievements they made so far, which stresses the importance of having such an online regional (news) website:
Campaigning for Campbeltown when Vestas announced its decampment. Our research came up with something no other media outfit has yet noticed. The British Government was actively involved in seducing Vestas away from Campbeltown and down to the Isle of Wight. They offered financial subsidy for the move. So we have what is supposed to be a UK Government with nationwide responsibilities but engaged in promoting the interests of one area as opposed to another. John Hutton, then UK Business Minister, now Defence, publicly welcomed Vestas to the energy complex being established on the Isle of Wight . We have also suggested that the Scottish Governmenrt's planned creation of a marine turbine manufacturing plant - to be set up in connection with the drive to harvest Scotland's huge marine energy resources - should logically be based at the former Vestas wind turbine plant at Campbeltown.
Sound of Islay and Isle of Jura
Underlining Argyll's marine energy resources We were congratulated by Enterprise Minister Jim Mather for spotting and publicising Argyll's broad spectrum of marine energy resources - including the Sound of Islay - before it was announced that both the sound of Islay and the North Channel (between Kintyre and the Antrim coast of N Ireland) are to be part of the early tidal flow harvesting initiative.
Keeping people up to date on results of major events We have carried results as they came out on events from The World Stone Skimming Championship at Easdale, the Coll Half Marathon, the Tour of Mull Rally, The World Piping Championships in Glasgow, The Cowal Gathering, the Mod, the Tiree Wave Classic.
Acting as a communications channel in emergency situations We are working up this service but already - as well as strike, weather and travel warnings - we have published information from Scottish Water to residents of Tobermory on an almost hourly basis during a major burst water main incident. we were passing on information on where to get the bottled water being supplies for residents during the repair; on the need to boil all drinking and food preparation water after the repair; and on when it was no longer necessary to boil the water. No other medium can carry such running information to communities in Argyll as fast as an online service can do it - and we did it.
Lynda Henderson - For Argyll