Archive | June 2011

The Leeds Digital Festival – it’s not just about November now

Too many digital industry events in Leeds are “after work”. Not enough allow us to break up our working day. And are there many that let us keep in touch with the industry we work in? Also, not enough is done to educate the people in the industry – our “rivals”, our clients, the city’s business – about how great the digital staff are in the city and also how we can learn from each other to push out own limits.

With all this in mind, the Leeds Digital Festival team want to, in the run up to the festival in November (and beyond), run small, quick to organise, monthly “Lunchtimes Bytes” events (sorry – bad pun). The events will be discussion based, relying on the city’s experts in their fields to debate the event’s subject, and also look to engage the audience, at the least in a Q&A session to close the event.

We will draw upon our knowledge and contacts to choose a topic, assemble a top notch panel, and arrange a venue. The events will be open to anyone, but with a definite slant to promote the city’s digital knowledge and engage with businesses in the city. The cost of the events will be as close to free as possible. You may be expected to buy your own drink and sort your own lunch out, but isn’t this a small price to pay for listening to the assembled talent?

The aim will be to show Leeds has some of the best digital minds in the country and put those minds on a platform that allows that combined expertise and different approaches to be expressed.

The agenda will be driven by the panel to ensure it is topical and relevant.

The first event will held during the lunchtime of Wednesday 20 July, on the first floor of the Adelphi. Click here for further details and tickets.

We hope that these events can be the start of work outside of the festival in November and help contribute to become part of the wider digitally focussed calendar throughout the year and across the city of Leeds. We are also looking at how we can use our skills in other ways too. Watch this space.

We hope to see you at this SEO based event, and if you have any thoughts about anything digital feel free to let us know.

The Leeds digital festival: how it got here and where it could go now (and how you can get involved)

You may or may not be aware of the Leeds digital festival.

A brief recap. The ‘festival’ actually started as a week back in 2008, seven days of digital marketing focused events. In the main it was coordinated by bodies that had strong links to the public sector with a specific “sector interest”. In 2009 the second year saw the geographic reach of programme stretch further, with events further afield into Yorkshire to include locations like Bradford, Sheffield, Hull, and Scarborough. And then last year it was dubbed a “festival”, still held over a week, but with the events all brought back into Leeds.

Let’s take up the story in September last year in the lead up to the festival, just after the programme of events was announced – where I and a few other people felt the need to get involved. The main umbrage was the Leeds Digital Festival didn’t do as it said on the tin. It was in Leeds, but it didn’t really represent Leeds. It was digital, but it only seemed to cover certain facets of digital in any shape or form – and the majority of the events aimed at “digital marketers”. And festivals are generally celebrations and fun. This didn’t feel like that. Basically, the programme lacked on each of these levels.

Within hours of the 2010 programme launching questions were being asked. On Twitter. In emails. Talk in the office. Phone calls. Chats down the pub. A lot of these chats were, ironically, amongst a lot of people who worked at digitally focused organisations in the city, mainly marketing agencies. The biggest question of all was “why doesn’t this festival represent us, the people who are the city’s digital industry?”

Hastily arranged and impromptu meetings were held, people darting about at lunch breaks and after work. More questions were asked. Who arranges the festival? Who organises the events? How has the festival got how it has? Some answers were provided, others not. The overriding feeling was one of misunderstanding, uncertainty, and misrepresentation. We decided to get together in one room and talk about it – all of it.

The start
The festival was still just under two months away. So after work one evening in the middle of September, at 6pm, upstairs at the Cross Keys, about ten days after the first chats about the state of the festival, we met. I arrived a little late, but as I went up the staircase I was surprised by how many people turned up to this meeting. I was expecting ten people there tops, including me. But assembled was a larger number of people from the industry, about 25, maybe 30, a number of people have a helluva sway on digital work in the city now, in the past, and going forwards. Also these people were a greater representation of the digital work force in the city. It wasn’t a “complete” audience by any means, but it was certainly more representative of the people who are “digital employees”.

Leeds and digital
Fact, there are some great agencies in the city who do some fantastic digital work, that is nationally and internationally recognised, that isn’t just about websites and the internet. There are also other companies in the city that use digital technology, and are even digital innovators. Leeds has a great legacy of digital. There are some obvious pointers like Freeserve, Orange, O2, Opta, First Direct, and the Press Association, who have all had bases in the city (and some continue to) and are prime examples of digital champions on a local and national scale.

Leeds also has a strong a blogging scene, a DIY music scene that benefited greatly from the technological advances over the past years, and digital is leading the way for the city’s discovery and rediscovery of culture, thanks in part to bodies like Culture Vulture. And if you think you know what digital is, ask yourself what is “digital” to the every day people of Leeds? It could be something as basic as the television signal switch over or DAB radio.

A few issues and views aired, it didn’t take long for a consensus to be agreed, others nodding. Basically, we had to be realistic. We had a very short amount of time.

Short term
Improve the festival if possible, with events, support, or increasing the city’s digital community.

Long term
Put the seeds in place for further goals, be that stronger links in the digital community, looking ahead to being involved with the 2011 festival, and also move festival away from being so agency focused into the city’s wider community and to be more inclusive.

Bus load 1 get the shizz from Jim

During the run-up to last year’s festival and through the event – as a result of a mad scramble, weekly meetings, plotting, planning, and working together – we at least fostered a stronger sense of community spirit, mates old, new and reacquainted cooperating to create something stronger. Without any doubt during this lead up and during the festival we found what Leeds could do as a “digital city”. It whetted our appetite for what we could achieve if we all came together again and had a proper go at the festival in 2011. So here we are in June 2011.

What have we done so far?
A lot of the groundwork for this year’s festival has been laid in the first half of the year. A few of us have given up many of our lunch breaks and time after work to meet each other, think, talk, plan, and then go and speak to other people, businesses, and organisations around the city. The keys are collaboration, raising awareness of the opportunities, and inclusion. There’a a meeting every month in the Midnight Bell where we all meet, “we” being anyone who is interested. We have already got a lot of interest. There’s a holding website to centralise and focus our web presence.

Presentation 1 at #ldf2011

We have already tried a different way of having the festival’s identity designed so it involves a larger number of people from across the city’s creative scene with a design day in late April. This was a success, a great opportunity for designers to work in a different way which was enthusiastically embraced.

We are well on with speaking to people about events for November: taking part, hosting, holding, organising. We have already decided that the festival will be for the whole month of November to help spread the events out and give people more options for getting involved. We are already looking at spreading the “feel of the festival” into a number of other events throughout the year, such as involvement with Light Night and the Leeds International Film Festival. We feel we have now created a platform so anyone can hold an event. And now we have people coming to us, out of the blue, and wanting to know how they can be involved. And we want more of that!

All you need is an idea or the motivation – or both! We can help link you up with any loose ends you need in terms of resources. We want the people of Leeds to be involved.

What could you do?
Every day I walk round the city centre where I work and I look round and try to imagine the possibilities from what I see. A games arcade in that vacant ground floor office. An art projection onto that building there. A cross-city league on the latest version of FIFA. This business holding an event on how digital has changed the way your nature of business works over the past decade. Those local businesses speaking on how they outsource their digital work to other companies in Leeds as they believe they are the best in the country. There are so many opportunities, almost limitless ones at that. Just think for a minute!

As organisers we have built this platform, and we are doing for you. The festival is after all about and for you, about what you want, and what you can do. Look at your city, imagine the digital possibilities, and come and talk about them.

#ldf2011 planning, with @leannebuchan

Join us!
The festival’s monthly meeting is this Thursday at the Cross Keys. It’s a neutral venue. We all attend as people who love and embrace digital. We are not there to sell our work and woo potential clients. We welcome people who are totally “into” digital, who work with digital people, or who are just slightly curious about what digital is. Anyone, everyone, come along to the meeting – and get thinking about getting involved!

For further information, you can contact me on simoncwilson@gmail.com or Leanne Buchan on leanne.buchan@locateinleeds.co.uk