Riotcleanup, Two Years On – A Learning Revolution for the Future

The above was posted on 6th August by @heardinlondon.

Mark Duggan

Mark was shot and killed by police on 4th August 2011.

120 people, including his friends and family, marched from the Broadwater Farm Estate to Tottenham Police Station two days later to protest. It was a peaceful protest but sparked riots later that night that then spread across parts of the UK.


I created a hashtag, #riotcleanup the evening of 8th and went to Clapham Junction the next day as part of a response to the escalating riots. This response was very quickly put together by a mass of people. It seemed like the most positive thing to do at the time. Here were buildings that had been attacked and shops that were smashed up with their contents missing. There were the people doing it, running free through the streets with televisions on their backs. And the rest of the world thought the UK was in the midst of a civil war. Or at least, that’s how the 24-hour news channels made it seem.

After #riotcleanup

In the days, weeks, months and years that have followed #riotcleanup I’ve met lot’s of amazing people and learned many things. I took some volunteers from a large company to Hackney to dig an allotment on an estate. I put forward the idea for…

#Wewillgather, getting people together to do good things

…which, with a team of people, was transformed into – the idea being that it enables people to set up short-term community-helping projects. It exists to ‘get people together to do good things’ – guerilla volunteering as it were. The concept got funding by the Cabinet Office through Nesta, who are quite simply amazing. They are encouraging fantastically innovative projects all the time, so if you have one, go check them out.

#Wewillgather was built with Twitter at its heart and is pretty much entirely open source. Developers out can go and access the code on the site now.

I also sat in a meeting in Hackney with the Riots Communities and Victims Panel, chaired by Darra Singh.

Simon Marcus, Heather Rabbatts and Baroness Maeve Sherlock were on the panel too. Themes discussed included a loss of faith in the police, youth unemployment and a lack of opportunity, perceived or otherwise, in certain communities. The report that followed the series of meetings is very interesting reading.

The Riots Communities and Victims Panel Final Report

The panel felt the riots were triggered by the police handling of Mark Duggan’s death, particularly how the police communicated with his family. It was the spark, but not the cause. There were multiple causes, which include a failure of the education system, a failure on the part of public services and a failure to create and promote apprenticeships and work opportunities for young people. The panel argued that character building should be as important as academic achievement at school and that ‘themes of mutual respect, confidence building and dealing with setbacks’ should be taught.

How should we continue to respond to the causes that led to the riots?

As I said, I’ve met a lot of people in the past couple of years. Some of those people are pioneering solutions to the problems we face. I’ve listed a few below.

Young Rewired State and the Learning Revolution

The lovely Patrick Socha, who built the initial #riotcleanup website was 16 years old at the time. I was so impressed by this that I went and met some of the young people who are going above and beyond what they are taught in I.T lessons at school. Emma Mulqueeny runs Rewired State and Young Rewired State. Young Rewired State gives young people who are good at coding the chance to attend hack days. Data for these hack days is supplied by all sorts of top organisations. I believe more and more young people will be able to build and develop cool stuff online in the future. This will allow young people not only the chance to work with big companies, but to create their own digital businesses. They might be able to lead the way when it comes to self-organised learning and perhaps create ways young people can learn in a digital environment. Think (more) lessons via YouTube.

Charles Leadbeater and Ken Robinson talk passionately about revolutionising learning over on TED Talks.

Participle: redesigning public services

Following what I’d learned about how we pretty much need to overhaul the key elements that make our society work (no pressure) I applied for a job at Participle and went to an interview. Participle is a company that employs a team of designers to work on re-designing our public services. Charles Leadbeater is on their panel. I’m not going to lie, I felt I was too small a person to be able to take on what was an important role in an organisation I’d only just encountered. Plus I am actually a writer, so it would be a bit of a career change. But I did get an interview, and they were very nice.

‘Those that didn’t riot had something to lose – family respect, a job, education. Local public services are not spending enough time creating and promoting opportunities for individuals to volunteer to help their communities.’ – Riots Panel report.


At Social Media Week a while ago, someone mentioned a book that led me to discover Ushahidi. Ushahidi amass data and create crowd maps online. This data has helped many people in disaster situations. And not everyone has to have access to the internet, mobile phones are just as important.  

I think where #wewillgather was built around the premise that social media can be used to gather people, the future will see mobile phones and the internet being used in harmony more and more. Allowing data to be pulled from the multitudes of technological devices we have, however rudimentary, and put in one place.

Volunteering, online and off

Just imagine, a future where we use Google Hangouts to mentor young people.  

CSV has a series of mentoring schemes at present. These include ementoring, but could do with a push. I know there are quite a few of us working online that could volunteer blog, website and social media tuition for a start.

There is a quote in the report which also pointed out that, ‘the riots highlighted how far behind many public services are around widely used methods of modern communication, such as social media.’ There are a whole load of young people they could be employing to sort that out.

When I took that team of people to Hackney, I learned a lot about employers providing days off that employees can use to volunteer. True, the team weren’t exactly supposed to be guerilla volunteering with me, they were supposed to be spending money volunteering with some big charity as per the rules. But why?

To all UK Businesses – Quite simply – Germany runs highly successful apprenticeship schemes. Why don’t you?

In conclusion…

David Cameron wanted to shut down Twitter during the riots because he thought social media was being used by rioters. #Riotcleanup was one of the things Twitter were able to cite to defend social media. It proved social media can be used to connect people with a collectively good aim.

Also kudos to Twitter, who have been involved in helping the police force to use the service. The police were able to use social media to engage with communities and reassure people during the riots.

So, there is a long, long way to go but I believe that everyone has a skill.

We need to revolutionise education to celebrate creativity. (I say this from experience).

We need to re-design public services and get them on the same page.

We need to encourage people to volunteer in ways that suit them, even if that is volunteering from their desk.

We need to make young people feel like they are enough. We should all feel we are enough.

Each of us has a skill to contribute toward creating a better future for all of us.

To end, here is an inspiring speech that @heardinlondon gave recently.

Sophie Collard on Google+

A Royal Marine on the UKBA’s Tactics

Over the weekend, I took out a poster that lists the rights of any person when confronted by the UKBA (UK Border Agency) on the street. I wanted to take pictures of people I knew holding the sign. For a project trying to encourage people who disagreed with the UKBA’s tactics to take photos of themselves holding the sign. I took these on Saturday…

UKBA Poster BoyUKBA Posters









That night, a friend and I went to the pub. It was crowded in the garden. Shortly after we’d sat down, a guy came over and asked if there was space for him and his friends.

“How many?” I asked.

“There are three of us, but I’m sure we can fit!” he said.

He was pretty buff and when I turned to see his friends that were walking toward the table, I laughed – they were built like tanks.

Everyone shook hands. I started talking to the guy opposite me, let’s call him Tom. Before long we’d found out they’d all been in the Royal Marines.

I told Tom what I had been doing with the poster. He smiled enigmatically then put his head in his hands.

“If you’d seen the things I’ve seen and knew the things I knew,” he said.

“Then I’d be more comfortable with the UKBA intimidating people on the street?” I said.

“They’re just doing their job.”

“Are they? Can’t they do that in their offices and at the borders?”

“I trust that whatever they are doing they are doing it because it needs to be done,” he replied.

“Do you? How would you feel if you were stopped and searched?”

“I’d assume they had reason to search me and let them.”

“Really? I’d feel threatened…” I say, “How do you feel when you see police walking around airports with guns? It makes me far more nervous than if they weren’t there… Making communities of people feel intimidated because of their race is just not on at all.”

He shrugs, “look, I don’t have a racist bone in my body, but there have to be ways of dealing with people who are here illegally.”

“Like regulating immigration properly in the first place?” I ask.

“It isn’t that simple. How would you feel if a member of your family was shot with a gun that had been brought in as a result of unregulated trafficking? You’d want to stop the guns being brought in right?”

His question surprises me, “It really wouldn’t be the first thing that came to mind. I wouldn’t question where the gun had come from, I’d be grieving over the death of my family member. I wouldn’t have even thought about the gun.”

“My point is that we ultimately need regulation to prevent violent crimes and trafficking, for the security of everyone. And if they feel it’s necessary to do this, then I trust that.”

“I think there are other ways of doing it, and I don’t feel secure,” I say. “When I protest, I do it not because I expect it to solve all of the problems we have, but in the hope we can maintain a collective feeling of peace here. Everyone feeling good about where they live is important.”

Security Services

We ask what they do. Two of them are no longer Marines. They run a successful business that puts security aboard ships to prevent them being attacked by Somali pirates.

“Do they shoot the pirates?” I ask.

“No, they use a scale of escalation – there are levels of action taken to deter them,” Tom says.

“So how does it work, the Marines? Do you have to sign away your life or what?” I ask.

“We have an initial period of about six months intensive training. Then a minimum of three years service.”

“So how come you’re running this business now instead of still in the Marines?” I ask.

Tom rolls up his jeans and pulls off a leg in one swift motion.

“Woah!” I say, feeling surprisingly un-phased considering, “what happened?”

“You didn’t notice me limping tonight?” Tom asks.

“Not at all.”

“We were on a roof in Afghan,” he says. “We got shot at. A bullet went in to my ankle, shattered the bone, ripped through all the tendons and ligaments.”


We agreed to disagree about the UKBA’s tactics. They invited us back to theirs for a drink and it was a good night.

Marines Hat

Tom’s Marines Hat

You Remove My Home From Me, UKBA

Last night, I was distressed at how things were going down with the UKBA (UK Border Agency). They had been repeatedly tweeting the number of arrests they were making. So I tweeted the following:

UKBA Tweet Screenshot

Because I felt that if the Government wanted to frighten people in the UK with threatening behaviour, that it wasn’t the nation I’d grown up in. It wasn’t a nation I recognised. I felt displaced. And that terrified me. As you can see, my tweet struck a chord with a few people. David Quantick retweeted me. Then Irvine Welsh, then Spider Stacy from the Pogues. So I pulled up Spider Stacy’s Myspace page and put on the music in the background while I figured out what to do. Initially, I thought it would be quite nice if Irvine Welsh did a guest post on here of between 500 – 700 words about why he was distressed, to kick off a series of various guest posts from others about why they were too. But I didn’t want to tweet asking, and anyway, I couldn’t find his email address.

So I thought about other things I could do easily enough. Organising a march would be a bit much. I wanted something that might catch on…

I saw the Anti Raids people had created a poster, and had a look to see if they had a link to one I could download. And would you believe it, they did. As I’m floating around a bit at the moment, instead of pasting one to a wall. I just did this:

UKBA Poster

UKBA Poster

If you’d like, you could do the same. Email it to me at sophiemcollard[at], or Instagram it, or put it on Facebook. Do it with your friends. Do it with yourself. Do it wherever, whenever. Listen to Shakira if you like. Share it. But most importantly, have fun.

Trains, Traverse 2013 and Marmalade in the Face of Adversity

This weekend saw the first edition of the best conference I’ve ever attended. Traverse 2013 was put together by lovely blokes Paul Dow and Michael Ball. They really excelled themselves with a programme of talks that were actually useful, sponsors that (over)fed and watered the delegates, and sunshine, which perhaps weather2travel brought with them.

On arrival in Brighton it was only appropriate to take advantage of the mighty fine weather and ride the oldest electric railway in the world…

photo (49) photo (53) Volks Railway Ticket

And have a Mr. Whippy…

photo (55)

Before heading to the pub, then the bar on the seafront where Michael and Paul had arranged drinks.

The next day, the conference began. Michael said hello…

photo (57)Then speakers spoke, pros conducted one-to-one sessions at pro bars, and sponsors laid on food. My favourite speaker was Adrian Land from My Destination, who spoke about SEO. Not only was his talk very comprehensive and well-informed, he also posted a couple of links to valuable resources – The Beginners Guide to SEO and an SEO Starter Guide, by Google.

photo (58)

After an excellent night that followed an excellent conference, the March for England thought they’d try and rain on the parade by, er, parading along the seafront shouting stuff. Most people couldn’t understand what they were shouting because it sounds a bit like a group of drunk people going, ‘wooaahh wooaahh, wooaahh, wooaahh… wooaahh.’ But I’m sure they were trying to make some kind of point. Happily, the people of Brighton made a louder and clearer point – “racist scum, off our streets.” Indeed. I made an audioboo. I wish it had captured the amazing sounds of Lady Marmalade which followed the March for England from a sound system as they marched, but it gives you an idea of who was louder.

Sophie Collard on Google+

Top Ten Bedroom Tax Solutions

I write about trains, usually. And if I’m not writing about trains I’ll throw in a train-related pun somewhere just for consistency. But today, the government’s so called ‘Bedroom Tax’ comes into force. So I’d like to address it. The tax is not a tax per se – it’s a cut. A housing benefit cut which will affect already vulnerable people.

I have some suggestions. The first couple of these will be ideas, the next will be novel ways the affected can comply with the government’s idealogical Big Society outlook without making a fuss.

1. Those who will be affected by cuts to their housing benefit if they have a spare bedroom in their homes will have been sent a letter. This will be a ‘Benefit Decision Notice.’ The notice, which all those with a good level of English literacy will be able to understand, will explain that tenants with a spare room will have one month to appeal the decision to cut their benefit. If everyone who is sent the notice appeals, the cost of taking them all to court for the appeal will be millions of pounds. Conveniently for the government, as of today, Legal Aid has also been cut and ‘civil legal aid is no longer available for cases involving divorce, child custody, clinical negligence, welfare, employment, immigration, housing, debt, benefit and education.’ This means those appealing will need to represent themselves, so on top of those decent literacy skills, it will help them to have a good basic knowledge of the law and be pretty savvy public speakers with high levels of self confidence.

2. Those who have a good level of English literacy (especially those who are lawyers) could lend some time to getting sample challenge letters created for those affected to use and to helping those affected proceed with their appeal as much as is within their power.

3. Those affected could be matched to students who need accommodation during their studies. Said students will act as both teachers to, and, where needed, childminders for, the children of those affected. This will help those affected get to work, as requested by Work and Pensions Secretary Ian Duncan Smith. It would also be helpful if said students could be available in evenings and on weekends to help fill in any gaps in education their adult housemates might have. Within days these adults will not only be able to find full time appropriate, well paid and intellectually stimulating work but with the diligent care of their new au pair will have also applied for said work, obtained an interview and been successful in securing a new job.

4. Those affected could be matched with builders with some time and concrete to spare. The builders could then simply fill any spare room/s in in the homes of those affected with concrete, thus removing the problem.

5. Those affected could be given the right to turn their spare room into any kind of pop up business space. Suggestions include, animal sanctuaries, algae cultivation hubs, adult learning centres, businesses beginning with the letter b, and businesses beginning with the other letters in the alphabet.

6. Those affected could move into Ian Duncan Smith’s house. It is said he has four or five bedrooms going spare.

7. Those affected could simply move out of their homes and into hexayurts. Hexayurts are cost effective wooden hexagonal structures originally designed for Burning Man festival-goers but since used in disaster relief scenarios. One suggested location for these hexayurts to be placed would be ‘all along the proposed HS2 route.’ Alternatively, any fields in the Home Counties will probably do.

8. Those affected could turn their spare room into office space for entrepreneurs, particularly those  from the ‘silicon roundabout’ in London, where large pockets of funding exist for start up not for profit organisations. The benefits here are twofold as anyone who has seen the Channel 4 series ‘The Secret Millionaire‘ will agree – entrepreneurs will gain valuable first hand experience of living in the gritty real world.

9. Those affected could turn their spare room into a ‘place of worship’ which accepts donations. It would be preferable if the ‘place of worship’ was all-inclusive, as a minority of those affected might be atheists.

10. Those affected could turn their spare bedroom into a rehabilitation centre. They should be allowed to determine which sorts of patients they admit. Bedroom rehab centres could be dubbed ‘Big Society Clinics.’

I hope that the above suggestions will help everyone affected by this matter.

Sophie Collard on Google+

Diplomatic Workshopping at Barcampnfp

Barcampnfp whiteboard at the start of the day

Yesterday I put my not-for-profit hat on. Joined the good people assembled at Mozilla’s London offices to talk about not-for-profity type stuff and things.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I wish that all industries held workshops in barcamp format.

In the morning, everyone turned up and drank coffee and wrote ideas for sessions they’d either like to host or have someone else host on post-its. A few people had pre-prepared what they were going to say and a few (like me) hadn’t.

Everyone in the room then collectively decided what sessions would go where and at what time on the timetable.

I wanted to host a session about skills sharing hack days. I’m keen to start skills sharing workshops within the travel community, and just as soon as I can secure some copywriting work and a new place to live I’ll get on that.

The first thing to do when you have an idea, is ask people what they think of it. A barcamp is the perfect place to do so, because the pressure of presenting is removed. Everybody sits in a room and each person ia able to contribute. Rather than everyone just sitting in another lecture.

The feedback was interesting. I used the example of content providers trading skills with developers. Some people looked a little blank. One guy appeared to be suggesting the skills developers have are ‘worth more’ than the skills writers have. Therefore, it was impossible for developers to trade their skills with anyone other than other developers. This was refuted by developers in the room, who actually expressed interest in developing in exchange for content. I mentioned Ken Robinson, who often talks about how we as a society give more credit to what Boris once dubbed ‘crunchy’ subjects than to creative ones.

It also became apparent that larger charities wouldn’t use ‘skills sharing hack days’ for innovation, as they have a set structure in place. For them, a better idea might be to offer desk space and a computer to developers in exchange for some development work.

The really interesting place to host skills sharing hack days would be with small to medium-sized charities who could really do with the innovation.

The first stop would be to create surveys of what people wanted, the second would be to find the people who had the skills to bring to the hack. The third to acquire space and possibly sponsorship to run them.

We are starting to change the way we work. I hope skills sharing hack days will become part of that change across all industries.

A list of people who attended Barcamp Nonprofits can be found here.

Sophie Collard on Google+

Forward – Toward Working Together – Travel Blog Camp 2012

I thought I’d use Obama’s slogan as a title to discuss Travel Blog Camp 2012. Partly because, at this point in time, it’s hard to write about travel blogging when the US might vote in Mitt Romney – horrifying much of the rest of the world.

Forward is where I’d like the discussion on the future of travel media to move when (and if) I attend travel blog camp next year. Also, because what I’m hearing is that people don’t read like they used to, I thought I’d put the most important part at the beginning of the post:

Please, please, please get a copy of Macrowikinomics.

I’ve said it before but I really do think it’s the most important book I’ve read in years. It talks about the printing press revolution and compares it to the digital revolution at the beginning, for example.

There was a time people had far more patience.

Nowadays, people are flummoxed when one man is unable to single-handedly fix the world’s problems in four years. It’s fascinating really. So it isn’t surprising that some people are frustrated it’s taking so long for digital businesses to really take off.

I’m incredibly frustrated. Especially so because I believe digital businesses will save us. They will empower young people, encourage collaboration and create jobs. They will allow people to have their say in every single industry. They will allow people to shape politics, as well as charitable activities (I know, I met all these govermenty types after simply creating a hashtag, then put forward the ideas from which sprang).

Next year, I’d like travel blog camp to take the form of a BarCamp. I’ve seen BarCamps in the wonderful world of not for profits, I think travel types should get one.

At a barcamp, ideally, everyone has the chance to put forward an idea. There is much discussion. These ideas can then become actions. And actions are what will move the travel industry forward. Much as actions are what will save the world. And the best part is that you don’t have to be a journalist or a blogger or any other labelly type thing. You can just be you.

I like just being me. I have a blog (it’s mostly about trains, you’re reading it). I also had a piece in Fortean Times magazine last month and contributed to a piece in the Sunday Times Travel Magazine. And I do copywriting. And I work with startups. So I think that makes me just me. Unlabelled.

Next year, I want editors to put up their hands and say, ‘hey, pay me a fee and I’ll edit stuff.’ I want developers to put up their hands and say ‘hey, pay me a fee and I’ll do you a great backend.’ And I want designers to chime in with, ‘I’ll do the artwork!’ And then I’d like the entrepreneurs to bring them all together.

Everyone has a skill. If you have one you could bring to the table and join a team, we could start building really great digital startups.


Sophie Collard on Google+

Paddington and Pigeons

Even people who love trains are fallible when it comes to getting their timing spot on. Recently (right now, today) I managed to miss the last train which can be boarded with a super off-peak return ticket – bought with a railcard. After this deadline, the fare jumps from £34 to £118.15 (or a whopping £179 without a railcard).  Obviously paying an £84.15 supplement for the privilege of travelling on an empty train – but for those who are crazy/ have mothers who are on their deathbeds/ are just that rich they don’t care anymore – is out of the question. Hanging about in the station it is.

For those wanting to work through the wait, there are a few options. The EAT upstairs is quiet but full of pigeons. Plus, people look at you strangely if you take too many photos.

Henry the pigeon

The Fullers pub plays terrible music and is full of people eating massive burgers with eggs in them (not that the latter would put everyone off).

There are some other chain places downstairs and a Sloe cafe – but there is no escalator to Sloe.

Twitter is good for engaging people with your plight when stuck in these situations. Ian Shortman, creator of, a revolutionary new site that has used data available under the Government’s Open Data initiative to display highly accurate train timetables, tweeted this to me:

More helpful than First Great Western themselves.

The #changefares proposition I mentioned in an earlier post is still on the table, dear commuters (and people who like to get to places in time for dinner).