This past Saturday I took time out from my weekend to inhabit that fuzzy space between “work” and “play”, this time helping out at the Leeds Young Rewired State Hyperlocal gig held at Leeds library. Some quick thoughts on that - before time and the event races away from me!

At the studio we try to support with time and our skills - and occasionally a little finance - local events which encourage exploration, discovery, innovation, through discussion and “having a go”. If these events try to do things and look at things differently, all the more ace. That’s all part of what we try to espouse as a workplace.

The studio recently supported the Service Jam in Leeds and the studio is sponsoring the 2015 Film and Animation Festival for Bradford schools.

On a personal level I happily give up time to take my kids to the monthly <a href=“http://www.ticbradford.com/coderdojo “>Bradford Coder Dojo</a> - and recently offered to become an official mentor. My kids are into all that stuff, and so am I - and the lure of a 3D printer should never be underestimated. And since the start of the year I have been working with a number of other volunteers on the formative Leeds Data Mill steering committee, looking at how open data can be nurtured in the city.

People are young and not-so-young, and all have the capacity to be creative and to experiment. And as a social species the more sociable the event the better - for me anyway! Sharing our thoughts and experiences and then pushing that to understand outside of what we as individuals think to understand what others think and understand isn’t just compassion, but a great way of evaluating and forming one’s own perspective.

Young Rewired State (YRS) taps into that massively for me, encouraging young digital makers aged under 18 to come together communally, encouraged to solve very real world problems. Freely available data/information is seen as a key driver in that problem solving. And if what is needed doesn’t exist: why stop you? (And as a pick up: Note these requests and serve this need.)

As an idea YRS makes an interesting counterpoint to the children orientated Code Club and the recently-launched business-focused Google Digital Garage here in Leeds.

The gap between YRS and the Digital Garage is clear, but compared to Code Club it seems YRS is about zeroing on the solving of specific problems that are evident in society rather than, say, learning to code. That was the main attraction when I was asked to be a mentor for this event.

My only worries ahead of the event?

What does “being a mentor” mean? I can wing that.

How many and who will turn up? Out of my hands - let’s just go with the flow.

But more importantly, given the potential breadth of experience/inexperience in the room, it is too easy to overawe kids, to focus on those that already “get it”, and those who get it straight away. Explaining this stuff in a way that connects with all of them - and meaningfully - is often overlooked, sometimes leaving trailers. Kids do learn quickly, but it is also about bringing everyone up to a level where they can get on “in class” together.

The breadth of the group was amazing - there were some tenacious and bright older kids already armed with skillz, and there were some nowhere near that level. But the group were all just plain curious. Whether they were shy or overawed, after a little chat about things that interest and things that matter to them the group spoke up. Things that were wrong. Things that frustrated them. Things they felt could be better. These all came forward - and it was clear that school, education, meant a lot to these kids. Think of your job and how long you spend with your work colleagues, in your workplace, and out of your workplace. School is the equivalent of that, if not more.

Thankfully, in that room was an eagerness to explain from the mentors (and some of the kids), which was matched by an eagerness to understand, to learn, and to get on exploring ideas and making was amazing.

Amongst it all was the openness to use share personal experiences to look for problems - and then expand that thinking empathetically. The speed the conversations moved away from the I to the idea of my class, my year, those of us that do that subject, and so on was encouraging.

That the young people were offered the chance to try out the National Hack the Government Challenge seemed irrelevant. They’d found something they wanted to examine and were nimble to explore ways of creating a solution, through talk, on paper, creating mock-ups of mobile apps and websites. In four hours the sense of progress was impressive.

I reflected on the way home the number of times that infectious approach or non-self-centred perspective was evident in workplaces I experienced, or during interviews for potential employees. They say never work with children or animals. I cannot vouch for animals, but the more I work with children the more I think there’s something for everyone to learn from them. I wholeheartedly recommend taking the chance to take even an hour out to attend the next Hyperlocal event in Leeds.

Here’s a closing thought: If we understand and we value the need to expend the time (to volunteer) to teach our most younger generations how to adopt technology and focus them on problems, how do we encourage older people, past their “youth”, who would, who could benefit from similar exercises?


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