On 17th November 2017 a group of 20-odd volunteers gathered together in Waltham Forest Town Hall overnight to try to connect, inspire and inform local residents through the use of technology.
At 7pm we gathered in the main council chamber, where Ross Graham introduced council leader Clare Coghill, a pre-recorded message from Director of Digital and ICT, Paul Neville and Riley Ramone of Walthamstuff. Formalities over, and with the arrival of local MP Stella Creasy we split into three teams to begin work for the night.
The social media team started out with a brief and background from Stella Creasy regarding upcoming changes in the borough, and how these might be tackled with informative social media. The team then set about creating a new Twitter account “Wonders of Waltham Forest” (@WalthamWonders) to promote the great charity and community efforts by local organisations. They created content and scheduled tweets to post over the next day or so. A brand identity for the account was created by local digital designer Dean Heasman which can be seen as the account’s profile image.
A second team was tasked with creating a ‘web scraper’. Currently, Walthamstuff takes events uploaded by users and posts them to Twitter (twitter.com/walthamstuff), Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/198734357161287) and shares them with the Waltham Forest Echo for publication. Many small organisations can’t afford the extra resource to upload events to more than just one place, so the goal of this project was to automatically extract event data for opted-in websites and share it. A web scraping service was created in Python, with an interface to connect that output to Walthamstuff’s website. Although this team wasn’t quite able to get as far as integrating the final solution, we should be able to get it running in the next few weeks.
The third and final team’s goal was to create a map of venues, cultural spaces, charities and community resources. We had extensive local knowledge provided to us by Sandi Cooper, a Civil Servant seconded to Business in the Community (bitc.org.uk) as Business Connector for Waltham Forest, as well as the existing venue data from Walthamstuff. This data was normalised, and manually cleaned up and tagged by the team into the early hours of the morning. This was finally geocoded and pulled into the map at 6.30am, just in time to clean up and head home to bed. The map can be found here: maps.wathamstuff.com, and will likely be enhanced over the coming weeks to allow users to add their own venues.
It was a fun night and a great opportunity to meet new people, learn new skills and create something of real value to our local community, whilst simultaneously over-indulging in pizza and caffeinated drinks and we’re already thinking of projects for the next hackathon.