Shropshire became the focal point of Britain’s online landscape by hosting an event looking at the future of digital media in the UK.
The Digital Futures conference organised by Shropshire Council attracted about 250 delegates to Theatre Severn and also attracted the support of the Prime Minister’s office, with Number 10’s head of digital Nick Jones giving an address via Skype.
The event was also streamed online and, according to Shropshire Council leader Keith Barrow, the hashtag #digifutures12 trended nationally on Twitter.
It comes after tickets for the event sold out several weeks ago.
Experts from around the country told the audience about how digital media can be help public and private sector bodies.
A number of speakers at the event discussed how communities could engage with one another through digital media, with ideas including matching the elderly to people who are cooking a meal and may have enough to share their hot food with a neighbour in need.
Other issues discussed included the problems of accessibility to new digital media for disabled people, while different ways for businesses to use the web to help boost trade were also brought up.
Councillor Barrow said: “As councils go we are at the very forefront in developing digital solutions to some of the issues we face. A lot of people have approached for help or information. It is such an exciting time, and there is so much happening, holding this conference is a way to share so much creativity.
“I wouldn’t be surprised to do another conference in the future. Today has been a huge success, and we need to build on that, take some of the ideas, and turn them into a reality.”
Councillor Barrow added he believed the potential exists to use digital platforms to take advantage of the talents of the community, as well as to provide new services such as meal sharing.
“I believe in open data and want it to be accessible to people as they may come back to use with solutions that we had never thought of to problems they see, and we facilitate that by making data freely available,” he said.
Justin Griggs, head of policy and development at the National Association of Local Councils (NALC), represents 9,000 parish councils and 80,000 councillors nationwide. He praised the work being done by parish councils over the last decade in engaging more with residents through social media but admitted there was a long way to go.
“Ten years ago this would never have happened,” he said. “The fact so many parish clerks and councillors are here contributing to the discussions shows just how much we have moved on in that time.
“But we need to look at how we can use technology to our advantage and the best parish councils across the country are already responding.
“Is having an e-mail or website to throw out information to people enough these days? Try things – have a go trying even small things.
“There are so many brilliant initiatives going on but we never tell people about it even though lots of other parish councils might really benefit from it.”
John Clarke, of Social Telecoms, said the company was working on a new initiative with Severnside Housing to provide less well off people with greater access to social media. He said: “We are working with Severnside Housing to bring digital inclusion centres to communities and involve tenants in Shropshire more with social media such as setting up Wifi spots.”
Carrie Bishop, director at Futuregov, said: “Events like this are really great for bringing people together and making connections. It is only a few hours out of your day and can sometimes be far more productive than staring at your inbox for an hour waiting for something to happen.”
The event was aimed at councillors and public sector workers, as well as any organisations with an interest in social media and the digital future.