I’m prompted to write a longer blog about the importance of the Social Media Surgeries following the wonderful news that they had won The Big Society Award 2012. It was a huge surprise to be mentioned as an example of the impact No 10’s press release.

In September 2009 I wrote my first Pesky People blog (The Future is not Orange) and had no idea that it would take me on a journey of a new career, skills, experiences and develop my expertise in digital accessibility and get funding along the way. I became a campaigner in digital rights for disabled and deaf people.

I managed with some effort to write that first blog, add in pictures and website links. What I didn’t know was that was just the start and going to the social media surgeries really had a massive influence.

The things I now take for granted like adding you tube videos, resizing pictures, add categories and tabs (important for searching even on my blog), changing the design of my blog. All of it was gobblygook and the social media surgeries got me through it.

My first vist to the Fazley Studios in Digbeth, Birmingham on a dark winter night not long after I started. I live in Telford twenty odd miles away.

Fazley is a converted church hosting a wealth of digital, cultural and media production companies including Podnosh who run the social media surgeries.

With wonderful high walls and stainglass windows but smack in the middle of the foyer were 4 large sofas with an army of people with laptops, happy faces helping people.


I met my first *surgeon* (now if you have spent alot of time as a hospital *patient*  like me you might be wary of that term but it was brilliant.

My *surgeon* Nicky Getgood from Talk About Local and Digbeth is Good and now Getgood Guide was wonderful. She was really patient with me and I really was a patient! What I learned so much from that first short session.

There was no time pressure – it is as long as it takes (within the two hours of the session).

She demystified what was a huge challenge to me – how to add a video into a blog post.

Bearing in mind I only started blogging and had no idea about how to do anything. Sounds so simple but it really was like climbing a mounting.

I remember was how helpful people were, everyone was smiling and enjoying themselves and I’d not seen as many laptops in one place before. It was really informal.

I didn’t feel stupid asking any of the questions and it gave me confidence to go away and experiment and find out more myself.

Nicky was fantastic and as result I contacted her quite a few times after and she was not only really supportive sending me email links and chatting to me on skype but gave me useful contacts with other people as well. I gained confidence 

I know that the people who help out at the surgeries as *surgeons* go way beyond just giving advice and showing their *patients* what to do on the night. You make friends and build a whole new network.

For Pesky People those same people that support the social media surgeries mentored, advised and supported me and I will forever be in their debt.

When I won a digital make over from Talk About Local at the first TAL unconference in Oct 2009 I got a personalised social media surgery with Will Perrin, Pete Ashton, Nicky Getgood and Mike Rawlins (to name a few). That turned Pesky People blog into a website. It was a fantastic day.

Sadly a few days later my mum died in Scotland. It is her that inspired me to develop Pesky People as a way of challenging digital discrimination “you need to stand up for your rights Alison – no one else will”and Go Genie to make it easy to find access information we need in one place.

In Spring 2010 I applied and got an Unltd Award Level 1 that helped shape the website to how it looks now – and improved the disability web accessibility aspects that I needed. After all if I am going to campaign about digital access the website needed to be accessible.

From there I went on to apply successfully for funding from Arts Council Digital Content Development Programme in 2010, NESTA Reboot Britain Programme in Spring 2011 and NOKIA £25,000 ‘Pitch n Win’ in June 2011 for the development of Go Genie.

All of this would not have been possible without the advice and guidance that I received  from the social media surgeries *surgeons*. The support I received was from the digital community – the very people who deliver the social media surgeries.

As a result I’ve done the same to help others even via twitter and email. I might not be able to make it to a surgery in person but I do my best.

I’m always telling people about universal subtitles for example and signposting them (my quest to have all videos subtitled online). You can even crowdsource and contribute by adding subtitles in different languages.

So if No 10 Downing Street really wants to join Big Society they could make their video content accessible to Deaf and Hard of Hearing People (not just added transcript documents in a different part of their website at a later date).

The surgeries are crucial and important to give people like me free supportive digital expertise in friendly and welcoming environgment. I was unemployed at the time and certainly couldn’t afford to pay anyone for that advice. It was priceless.

It really is true that what goes round comes round and the supportive digital community that is there and it has had a huge impact on the development of me as an individual and of Pesky People.

I was also luck to receive brilliant advice and support from Nick Booth (Podnosh) who agreed to be my mentor in the early days of Pesky People when I applied for Unltd funding.

So huge congratulations to Nick, and social media surgeries for the Big Society Award 2012 – it is so well deserved –  lets see more of them in the places so far uncovered.

Do your bit go along and help and if you are stuck scratching your head or just itching to get started I can’t praise them enough  – they really are worth their weight in gold.