My week focused on Derry and Belfast

Mon 16 – Sun 22 Oct 2017

So a good but mixed up last week. Lots of travelling, it left me feeling quite disconfigured. Reminded me of how difficult it is to operate when your routines are turned upside down. The excitement and challenges of an itinerant. But also the nightmare when it is forced on you due to being a refugee or homeless. My family was homeless when I was a kid and there is nothing romantic or nice about it.

The displacement of last week was compounded by losing my small wallet. I keep my cards spread over two so that it is not a complete disaster (i.e. access to money) if I lose one. Very proud of how I handled it. I kept calm and just phoned the bank to stop the card. Yep a pain and annoyance but in the scheme of things, something just to absorb into everyday life.

blue surrealism

Tech for Good TfG

Northern Ireland

Tech for Good logoAbout half of last week, I was in Northern Ireland. I was there for an event called FusionFest This is a social innovation festival. Talking to an audience from charities, social enterprises, the private sector, and public bodies – it was all about how to do things differently to achieve beneficial social change. I was there specifically to talk Tech for Good.

Techies in Residence

In particular, I was there to help promote the new Techies in Residence programme. This is a Northern Ireland specific programme run by Building Change Trust that I am part funding. Not-for-profit organisations bid with social problems that they think there is a tech solution for. The best ones are matched with local developers whose time is paid for, at a discounted rate, by BCT. So it’s not a grants programme as the charity doesn’t receive cash. Rather it receives support and expert advice to develop a tech answer. Applications can be made here.

I hate Stansted airport

Straight after work on Tues I made my way to Stansted. I was really pissed off as I had deliberately booked a hotel supposedly in the airport. That definition actually meant right at the end of the runway. So I had to wait for the half hourly ‘courtesy’ bus to get there which cost £3! And basically I was stuck at the hotel for the rest of the evening forced to eat at their restaurant where a burger and chips cost £18! Up at 5.45am to get the bus to the airport for my flight – another £3.

Apart from being ripped off as per above, the airport on Wed morning was just bat-shit crazy i.e. having to queue to go to the men’s toilet. I know women face this problem constantly but it says something about a place being over-capacity when the men are doing it as well. Is there an airport anywhere in the world where a traveller is treated as a human being rather than someone to screw as much money out of as possible?

I did get a reponse to my tweets by @STN_Airport though not till the next morning. Obviously customer service only operates 9-5 🙁 Their incredible bullshit response blaming the hotel and the person who looks after the toilet is below. Note the complete failure to empathise or to seek to find my thoughts on how things could be made better:

‘We’re very sorry to read about your disappointing experience, however we’re unable to refer to your complaint regarding a hotel. We suggest contacting a particular hotel directly in order to receive a comprehensive response. Furthermore, please be sure we will pass your feedback regarding the toilet facility to the relevant teams. Thank you.’

Flight to Derry

Flight to Derry was on the new BMI route. I think it was formerly covered by Ryanair. A dinky little airplane with steps to get into and you need to duck your head to go through the door. A nice journey with complementary tea and coffee. But we had to circle for 45 mins above Derry waiting for a break in the fog so we could land. At least we didn’t get re-directed to Belfast as was possible.

City of Derry

The taxi took me to the Nerve Centre which is a digital space that runs the Fab Farm project we fund. The taxi driver was great, taking me on a little tour of Derry. Great to meet with John Peto at Nerve Centre and his colleagues. The Fab Farm uses aquaponics which is a system combining conventional aquaculture (raising fish in tanks) with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water) in a symbiotic environment. The farm is connected to a school for young people with learning disabilities who get involved with the project and can even get a qualification in it.

FusionFest NI

On the Thurs, it was the FusionFest proper. The same event was being repeated over two days – Derry on Thurs then Belfast on Fri. I was on the panel for the workshop on Tech for Good. Apart from Techies in Residence, I was also promoting my own UK Tech for Good grants programme opening on 13th Nov. This is more aimed at charities that are a bit more advanced on their digital journey i.e. having an existing tech partner and / or a prototype of their digital service or product.

Art and EinsteinI also sat through some of the other sessions including the workshops on social movements, and design thinking. Plus I listened to the main plenary speakers. These included Deirdre Mortell of Social Innovation Fund Ireland and Mary McKenna who I know through her links to CAST – Centre for the Acceleration of Social Technology.

It was particularly nice to hear from Alan Mahon. He is a young social entrepreneur who has set up a brewery producing craft beer that also raises money to provide people in Africa with clean water – Brewgooder!


Got the minibus from Derry to Belfast on Thurs evening along with several other conf speakers. I sat in the front with the driver and we chatted the whole way over. Pouring with rain in Belfast. Up the next day and to the Crescent Arts Centre to do it all again. I made sure I was around the whole day in order to have individual chats. Although I skipped out of listening to my colleagues say the same thing I had heard the previous day. On the pooter doing work stuff.


Part of the wall around DerryA great time in NI doing Tech for Good and generally. The people are so friendly and it is fascinating how they are trying to deal with their own unique problems related to the end of the Troubles, ongoing historical and religious divisions, threats from Brexit, and political impasse – there is no government in place. It was particularly good to go to Derry where I had never been before. I would really recommend it for a long weekend. So much history. There are loads of museums and galleries to visit (a side effect of being a previous UK City of Culture). There’s also the famous Bogside murals and the intact city walls which you can walk on.

Apart from TfG in Derry and Belfast…

Getting ready for the next UK TfG programme

In the office on Mon afternoon and all day Tues as well as being in NI Wed-Fri; I am owed lots of TOIL 🙂 Ongoing work to get ready the new UK TfG programme launching Nov 13th (with a good wind). Lots of things to finalise: promotional web article, text for landing page, brief written application form (mainly just to collect monitoring info), and application guidance notes including brief on creating the video application which will be the main way to state your case for funding. Papers already done for committee sign off to release the money. Great to work with such a nice partner as Paul Hamlyn Foundation. It’s very easy to under-estimate the work that goes into getting a grants programme ready.

Evaluation and Theory of Change

Linked into the new TfG programme, two things also happened last week. First, we got the evaluation on the previous programme – the one that finished in summer. Generally good news though there are some suggestions for the future and we will take those on. It’s important to be agile and iterative in non-tech working. Second, it was a recommendation of the evaluation that we have a Theory of Change (ToC) for the new programme and we did the workshop for this on Tues. ToC is a way of describing what we are trying to achieve via the intervention we are funding, in this case helping charities to do tech better. Good reflective practice especially as we are moving fast on it and it is very practically orientated.

innovation labs


ChurchillAlso working with my colleague Donna to provide support to our projects doing crowdfunding. It’s a pilot and there’s lots of learning for us and for the projects. They have six weeks to raise the money. Some have got off to a flying start and some haven’t. Feedback suggests on all these type of campaigns that there is a period in which it goes quiet and negative thoughts set in. The key apparently is just to ‘keep on buggering on’ as Churchill once said.

Catch-ups and speculative conversations

Sam Applebee

Lisbon, PortugalCaught up with Sam Applebee of SuperGlobal on Mon at Second Home in East London. I’m really impressed by Sam. He’s a young guy with a social enterprise to link up private sector agencies with charities / not-for-profits in order that they can deliver great projects. It’s a contractual arrangement and the private partner is paid, albeit at a discount market rate. Sam (and I) have big suspicions on the practicalities of pro-bono relationships. He’s also doing loads of travelling to promote his idea and make connections. This has included a big stint in Lisbon and I was picking his brain for when I go there during my sabbatical.

Desigan Chinniah & Jon Cox

Tues I had a breakfast coffee meeting with all round super techie Desigan Chinniah. He is is currently Director of Platform Relations at Mozilla. We met at the Bond Tech Development Group for people interested in the use of tech in international development ICT4D. Good to chew the cud around using tech particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. Desigan himself was brought up in apartheid South Africa. We were joined by Jon Cox of He is involved in delivering chatbot services for Facebook Messenger and I was pleasantly surprised at the costs he was quoting.

Joe Roberson

Wed had a check-in with Joe who I have known for many years starting with Innovation Labs. He is currently looking after the site which has details on the 16 projects funded under the last two TfG programmes. Joe is also doing blogs for the site. He’s a good guy and gets tech.


Health and Efficiency

Jog-run, Gym, Eating, Yoga

DumbellsFollowing my jog-run disaster last week, I was left with a strained muscle in my left calf. I could feel it throughout the week. So it seemed pointless to push it with another jog-run. Instead I focused on the gym. Three gym sessions on the mornings of Mon, Sat and Sun. I really need to improve my body.

Interesting to note how my eating went a bit crazy this week with the changed routine and lots of travelling. Lots of sugar bursts and irregular eating. One evening I ate a whole bag of liquorice allsorts 🙁 So weights in the gym and treadmill during the weekend sessions, pushing the calf muscle but not over-exerting it. I did cut back on my eating at the weekend which was good. I must get back to yoga one day but I’m in a gym mood at the moment.

Personal Development

Duolingo and coding disaster

The gains of last week were offset by several things including poor diet, lost bank card, and PD failure. I completely screwed my ambition of trying to do some language learning everyday. There just didn’t seem to be time. Nothing done from Tues through to Fri. And obviously there was no coding practice progress.

Setback on emails and a do nothing day

Similarly with so much work (four and a half days last week 🙁 ) and travelling, my success on keeping my emails under control went to pot. By Sun night I had managed to sort of get things back under control but very much due to using my own time at the weekend to work on sorting personal and work emails. I did also have other work stuff to do at the weekend including getting the stuff ready outlined above for the new TfG programme and for a presentation next week. This all combined to mean that there was no do nothing day last week, not even at the weekend. So much for working part-time.

Books and Reading

‘The Dry’ by Jane Harper

Novel by Jane HarperA thriller published in 2015. I had clocked the rave reviews about it and picked it up in a charity shop for 50p. It is very good especially considering it is a first novel. A beautifully written story set in an Australian outback town suffering during a drought. A family is murdered, someone returns to the town, and an old mystery resurfaces. Very well dealt with flashbacks throughout the story. And the plot twists and turns. Highly recommended. Wow, the pressure on her now for her second novel.

Dr Who audio-adventures

‘The Feast of Axos’ (sixth Doctor + companions Evelyn Smythe and Thomas Brewster)

A fun adventure which sees the Doctor revisiting the Axon ship he left trapped in a time loop by his third incarnation. I remember that adventure from the TV. Beautiful gold beings are unmasked as energy sapping monsters with a ship that is a living being. Great fun to listen to the next installment though my memory is that the Master was also trapped in the time loop by the previous Doctor. He doesn’t appear in this adventure sadly. Oh well, perhaps he escaped but left the Axonites to their fate. I think the problem is that the Master as a character is owned by the BBC and Big Finish can’t use him but then how can they use the Doctor and his companions…

The golden axonites

Looking ahead

  • Presentation on Tech for Good on Tues to youth projects funded by the Blagrave Trust
  • Breakfast meetings on Wed with Kathy Peach from Bond and then Josh Russell’s monthly breakfast meeting for people interested in TfG
  • Get stuff done for the new TfG programme launching 13 Nov and provide support to our crowdfunding projects
  • Weekend, me and Dave are off to Denmark for the marriage of my old mate Brian to his Danish partner
  • Would love to get back to Duolingo every day and some coding practice
  • Got to get back on top of my emails
  • No jog-run or yoga but hopefully 2 gym sessions
  • Finish my current reading book (Helen Dunmore, an author I really like) and listen to some more Dr Who audio adventures

And finally…

Beware of disinformation!

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