Connected Environments

Written by Paul Whiston, DLSE Regional Partner and Managing Director at Whiston Solutions Ltd

The DLSE September salon discussed the importance of Connected Environments, attracting a wide range of participants representing Government, public, private, academic and charity sectors. Digital Leaders SE was privileged to gain insights from DL100 member Graham Cadle – Assistant Chief Executive at Croydon Council who is leading the councils digital transformation programme and also Brian Sharkey – Co-founder of Eagle Labs, our salon hosts, who provide co-working and makerspace for the community.

It quickly became apparent that the term Connected Environments meant different things to each salon participant:

Some related to physical infrastructure:

  • Buildings and workspace
  • Reliable WIFI / broadband connections
  • Transportation links

Others to more social elements:

  • Connecting communities together
  • Being digitally inclusive for all
  • Providing collaborative solutions

Summary of the salon’s lead discussants –

Graham Cadle – Croydon Council:

It was highlighted that most Local Authorities operate from very dated buildings, which are not either public friendly or tech ready. Croydon council has been able to achieve rapid digital transformation, with their new agile working premises being a core factor. The new public facing open plan space within the building called ‘access Croydon’ offers a smarter, faster, better customer engagement environment that brings all services together, offering more flexible choices and an improved service for residents.

Croydon’s success began when they were forced to make financial savings four years ago, which lead to a culture change due to austerity.  Since then they have saved £3 million by transferring customer services online.

To date they have rolled out –

  • Online customer services
  • Go On
  • 6 x Deep Dives
  • 14 x Digital Zones
  • Provided PC’s to community groups
  • Developed an App to measure noise levels for noisy neighbours

Brian Sharkey  – Eagle Labs:

The ways of banking have changed, along with the other high street banks, Barclays recognised the changing relationship and demands of their customers for online services and transactions.  Barclays started their community tech and online outreach engagement with six Digital Eagles which has now risen to over sixteen thousand.

Due to the closure of high street branches and the growing demand for tech in business, Brian and his team created Eagle Labs, which reinvented the use of the closed branches into non-for-profit buzzy co-working, incubator and makerspace.  It has taken five months since opening for Eagle Labs in Brighton to cover costs and subsequently this has allowed the premises to be available to the wider community free of charge.

Eagle Labs Brighton started as a Makerspace, but now accommodates –

  • Affordable co-working space
  • Prototypes
  • Networking
  • After school clubs

Brian highlighted that having a high street presence and access to business advice and guidance has led to a quick portfolio growth for all companies involved.

There are plans to open five new Eagle Labs in areas of the UK that have ‘a need’ and will provide greatest benefit. They will not be solely using disused Barclays Bank buildings, but also buildings with favourable space required to deliver their offering.

 The open salon discussion these are the conclusions and outcomes from the participants:

  • Coordination of a digital community
  • More collaborative community spaces like Eagle Labs
  • Recognition of the importance of face to face contact
  • Live feeds for poor connected area’s (eg Highlands of Scotland)
  • Co Location/ Working Partnerships
  • Regeneration Mechanism
  • Leadership (Mandate)
  • Core Digital Champions

My summary thoughts are that Connected Environments provide a complex interdependency of digitally linked community engagement and social interaction within a framework of technology enabled physical infrastructure and space.

Who is best placed to provide leadership and take responsibility to drive forward this complex ever evolving project will be the subject of our next salon.

Digital Leaders South East would like to thank our lead discussants Graham and Brian and all the participants for their valued input at the Brighton salon. We are grateful to Eagle Labs for providing a great salon venue and an interactive post salon tour.

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