PlaceCal uses community technology to combat loneliness

A comprehensive online neighbourhood events calendar that aims to combat loneliness and social isolation in Hulme and Moss Side launches on Friday.

PlaceCal has been developed in response to research by the Hulme and Moss Side Age Friendly Neighbourhood Partnership that found that older people generally felt there was nothing to do in their neighbourhoods.

Researchers from Manchester Metropolitan University’s PHASE@MMU and Geeks for Social Change discovered there were actually dozens of events happening each day, but that small community groups lacked knowledge of how to promote them by any other means than word of mouth.

Through interviews with groups, it was found that the work involved in setting up a website, maintaining an online calendar or social media feed wasn’t worth it as they did not feel that tech platforms were aimed at supporting small community organisations and actually led to more work for which they could not see a benefit.  

To address this, specialist training was provided to encourage community groups to publish high-quality event information using software they were in many cases already paying for but not actually using.

PlaceCal aggregates all of these different events so that users can find out everything that is happening near them in one place. In future, plans are that it will also enable the production of local combined print runs and brochures featuring the events pulled together by the website.

The website is part of Manchester Metropolitan’s involvement in CityVerve, the UK’s smart city demonstrator, and has been developed with Manchester City Council. The CityVerve project brings together the latest Internet of Things technologies to deliver transformative benefits to citizens spanning the themes of travel and transport, energy and the environment, culture and public realm – and PlaceCal’s theme – health and social care, which is led by Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust (MFT).

Dr Kim Foale from Geeks for Social Change and developer of PlaceCal said: “It’s designed to help people find out about the small local events that can be hard to discover: the coffee mornings, sewing groups, computer classes and gardening groups that might be just around the corner.

By providing a shared source of information which is easy to use, these smaller community groups finally feel like technology can help them rather than add to their workload.

“PlaceCal is a website where you can find out something to do locally right now. It’s also an experiment in local information publishing. We think that by getting everyone to work together to make one really useful source of information, we can make stronger, more connected and more resilient communities that people of all ages and abilities can enjoy.”

Currently in testing phase, it is hoped that if the website proves to be a success that it will be rolled out to Greater Manchester and beyond.

Professor Stefan White from the Place-Health research group (PHASE) at Manchester Metropolitan University said: “PlaceCal is part of a wider programme of Manchester Metropolitan research working with neighbourhoods across the city to make them healthier for all ages.

“It responds to co-research showing both how difficult it currently is to access event information and how vitally important for the wellbeing of local communities and individuals it can be.

We believe this can make an important contribution to city-wide initiatives aiming to make it easier for people to be active and get together where they live.

Researchers have engaged with 38 local groups in Hulme and Moss Side in developing PlaceCal, which will initially list live information feeds from ten local organisations – including the Zion and Kath Locke Centres, LINK Good Neighbours, Hulme Community Garden Centre and the Old Abbey Taphouse.

The first events listing collates 14 winter parties in the area, available as a leaflet and on the PlaceCal website.