Reflecting on BBC Blast – Liverpool and Derry 2006 – and some random thoughts of 6 years in digital creativity

blasttruck.jpgI’ve not toured the UK so much since the days that Colin and myself worked on the RNLI’s Lifeboats.TV project, we visited eight lifeboat stations (some with young people) making TV for the web….. it was an amazing project, which I have many fond memories….but right now I’ve embarked on another national tour, this time where young people are the focus….

Lifeboats.TV was very much a project to engage young people in the work of the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) by undertaking research into what young people though about this voluntary driven service and provide an interactive web solution to engage young people in the RNLI’s work long term….

We took some young people into some lifeboat stations to research what they thought was interesting in the lifeboat service. Unsurprisingly it was the ‘volunteers’ which were the most interesting factor in their eyes. The young people we worked with always questioned why volunteers would risk their life in the middle of the night, leaving their family to go and fish a stranger out of the sea… the middle of a violent storm….. Never before had the RNLI marketed itself on the strength of its volunteer crew’s lives….and all of a sudden it dawned on us all that the RNLI really needed to focus on the rescue stories, from the point of view of the crew….in order to ‘assist engage’ its audience…..and future, long term…funders…

Colin and I spent many a happy evening filming crew, tempting out stories….turning them into web movies and serving them up on the Internet….

What we discovered was that the stories told by the crew were engaging young people….rather than ask them to read safety worksheets the RNLI was outputting real life experience in video format which got the same message over in a medium which engaged the audience much better….

Back then, Colin and I made the movies….we did the filming, we did the editing and we served it up to the Internet….
The young people knew what they wanted, but we delivered it….

Five years ago, Lifeboats.TV’s remit was to engage with its audience… delivering what they needed…..but ‘Input CBBC was a whole new ball game.

Because of Ultralab (1990-2006)’s work with young people in film back in 2000 some heads turned at the BBC and we were invited to work with Children’s BBC on a research project into ‘user generated content’.

This time, the research question was much different to the RNLI’s “How do we engage young people into our work, so they understand and support us in the future”….. the BBC was asking the question “If young people made television, what would it be?”

Richard Millwood, Hamish Scott-Brown and myself embarked on six month research project with the Beeb which involved computers and video cameras being put in schools and community centres across the north of England. The message to the young people was simple… “Here is the kit, now go and make telly” ….. P.S….. “If what you make is good enough, we’ll show it on real TV”….

Some amazing films were created, with very little training, and bucketloads of creative freedom.

In the meantime the BBC had launched BBC Blast, which was an experimental project too, although much bigger as it explored creative writing, dance, art, film and music.

In 2004 BBC Blast had grown much bigger, it followed Ultralab (1990-2006) around for one of our Summer School animation projects and in 2005 the BBC Blast team joined Ultralab (1990-2006) and Apple computer to be a partner on the ‘Create at BETT’ stand at the BETT Show which Apple and the lab had been working together for four years.

Blast had really grown by now and was touring the UK with a van and a tee-pee (did I spell that right?) …. and had 8 hours of user generated content on BBC2 each year…. What Blast is doing, is really important.

So, jumping back……Colin and I (with loads of other Ultranaut’s) embarked on a massive tour where we filmed 180 lifeboat volunteers for web dissemination…. Five years ago, we were filming what we though the young people would like to see….. These days I think it would be fair to say that if we were to do the project again, it would be young people that did the filming, editing and sharing of the material…..BBC Blast is helping to prove that young people are more than capable….

I’m currently sitting on the floor in my room at the Carlton Redcastle Hotel in Moville, Co. Donegal, Ireland. 20 miles from here in Derry is two big grey trucks, being packed away this evening before they head to Belfast for another three days of creativity.

Its 11.15 in the evening and some of the team have just left my ‘lounge’ room after we sneaked back fish and chips….another late night….

I have a lounge, a big bedroom and and amazing bathroom, with a bath that is actually non-discriminating in length….I always judge a hotel on the length of the bath, tall people should be able to bath their knees too…. The man in the room next door is singing, really badly….I think he’s drunk….

Funny story…. Caroline, one of the Press team at BBC Northern Ireland was allocated a room here late at night…when she entered the allocated room, she found a man in her bath……. there had been a mix up….. ooops…….

Why am I here in Ireland? For 15 weeks the BBC are funding and running a ‘creativity’ truck around the UK. I’m part of a national tour to bring together young people and creative talent from the local communities where the truck stops…. Myself, Hamish Scott-Brown and Hal MacLean will be on the truck (at different events from each other) to add consistency across the tour in a ‘lead facilitator role’. Our job is to support the local facilitators, and run workshops too…. I’ve been getting my hands dirty running clay animation workshops…and also been experimenting with shadow animation…which is cool….. Hamish has been making films, and we’re lucky enough to be working with some of the BBC’s finest, including Michael who works on BBC Northern Ireland’s Newsline programme, editing together some of the news stories. Northern Ireland so far has been fantastic, both Hamish and I are shattered, but there is a real buzz here of activity and creative output…..we’ve really enjoyed ourselves…..

Last week I was in Liverpool, working from the truck at its first location, Mann Island. Liverpool people are lovely, very warm and friendly. We had an amazing three days running workshops and supporting young people on their next step towards their full creative potential. BBC Blast really does put young people first when it comes to user generated content, and boy, do the young people know how to deliver….

At Ultralab (1990-2006) we believe in personal centered learning, through the use of new and emerging technologies to support creative potential…. we’ve been working with the BBC for many years to explore new projects and deliver new initiatives which have scoped and changed the way organisations globally perceive user generated content.

I’ve worked globally for many organisations, especially on digital creativity related projects, which I partly blame myself for the lab becoming a specialist in the digital creativity field.

Since our work in Digital Creativity Research started (watch out for the new website which launches in two weeks time) I’ve been involved with colleagues in masses of projects which really do impact on young people. In 2000 I joined Professor Stephen Heppell, Ultralab (1990-2006)’s founder at the Millennium Dome to film a creativity celebration he was running to share the work of ‘Gifted and Talented, but ‘under achieving’ students. From that moment I was hooked at how creative young people could be when given the right technology tools, the right freedom of creativeness and loads of production time.

Since that moment I’ve been involved in most of Ultralab (1990-2006)’s Digital Creativity output, spanning the globe to advise and work with organisations such as the BBC, TVNZ (Television New Zealand), Ministry of Education Singapore and the British Council to name a few….

Each of the projects I’ve been lucky enough to work with have all been in the name of ‘digital creativity’ …. they usually involve a stills or video camera, an Apple computer…. a brief training session, some facilitation support, loads of fun and a great big celebration at the end…..

I’ve worked with young people with ‘difficult backgrounds’ (whatever that means)…..with young people who are affected by community distrust and conflict……with students who’ve arrived in England for an eduction, but don’t speak the language, or know the culture……. I’ve worked with schools who’ve challenged their entire staffing team to learn the benefits of new technologies in education or seek alternative employment…..and one of the most amazing projects involved working on the beaches of Phuket with young muslims making films about their Thailand…..

These days I’m working with the BBC to help disseminate via the truck tour how creative young people can be….and I’m also working with Apple Computer Europe to build an online community supporting creative teachers…. in a nutshell we’re going to bring together 200 of the most creative teachers using technology in their teaching….online….together….in an online environment so that they can ‘run projects’ with their schools/colleges/community groups….

To find out more about the work myself and other Ultranauts have been involved in check out the old site (till I launch the new one) at

These past few days on the BBC truck have been amazing, I’ve worked with some of the finest users of technology for creative purpose in the UK. In a nutshell, anyone who’s anyone in Digital Creativity local to the truck stops… is being asked to run workshops with local young people….in DJing, VJing, Filming, Dance, Animation, Hip Hop, MCing, Poetry, Creative Writing and loads loads more….

I’ve seen young people writing and singing songs from scratch in just two hours, to a live audience……oh and by the way, they could not hum a note prior to the workshop….

I watched in awe as our Shirley and Levi ran an urban poet class in Liverpool …. as young people, who started out shy stood up and read out their creative writing poems with passion and pride to an audience….

I saw tears in a mum’s eye as she proudly watched her daughter excitedly demonstrate her animation to her…

One young lad even ran into town to get some scissors to cut up some card to improve his animation…

But most of all, I’ve worked with some amazing people these past two weeks….alright, every day I’m answering questions, burning media, fixing equipment and answering seven people at once (which I love)….but wow, what an amazing team….. BBC Northern Ireland are excellent, BBC Liverpool are excellent….the work experience from Liverpool were flown over to Northern Ireland to support the team there because they are so amazing…..

For years the lab, and BBC Blast have known what young people can do when given the right tools and time to be creative….and its really nice that the lab is supporting the BBC as it embarks on the very important job of showing the nation just how creative young people can be….

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