Open Cinema: Exploring technology for marginalised people

15 Aug 2016

The Reboot UK project tests innovative models of supporting people in poverty to improve their health and wellbeing through digital technology. This guest blog post from Christoph Warrack at Open Cinema details how one such model has been making a difference to people experiencing homelessness.

As the prevalence of technology in our lives increases, so does discussion about its value to individuals and society. New technology offers extraordinary new capabilities to individuals, including those experiencing homelessness or reduced mental health. Yet the technology economy currently seems to be exacerbating rather than alleviating the inequality which is one of the forces leading to homelessness and isolation. So the Reboot UK project, which has sought to include and empower with technology those with disabilities or on a low income, was a valuable opportunity to explore what technology really means to excluded people.

Since launching in 2009, Open Cinema has enabled marginalised people across the UK and Ireland to experience participatory community cinema and filmmaking programmes. For Reboot UK, we facilitated film clubs in supported housing projects in Croydon and Stockwell, and a day homelessness centre in Sheffield.

It requires a certain amount of technology to host a community film screening so it was pleasing that the project enabled us to equip three venues for high-definition screenings. This equipment will remain at these three venues now that the official project period has concluded, enabling us to discuss further film seasons with all three. We were also able to help launch Code Clubs at two of the venues, teaching basic coding skills to participants, which we hope will be sustained.

As with all of our venues, the participatory approach we follow for running community cinema began with training for cinema coordinators – doubling here as IT peer-mentoring coordinators – to deliver the weekly screenings, and to look for ways to empower participants to take ownership of aspects of delivery: screening room preparation, equipment management, marketing and promotion, social media, interviewing guests, and more.

Participants at the venues then met with the coordinators to co-programme themed 8-week film seasons, exploring the impact of technology. Season titles included The Innovator’s Dilemma, The Everything Store, The Ape and the Microchip and Escape from Captivity. Post-screening discussions took place each week, sometimes in the presence of special guests from either the film or the technology industry, and provided space for personal responses to the issues explored by the films.

The programme concluded with a showcase event at the BFI Southbank in London, gathering project participants, managers and executives, and where three films about Reboot UK-supported projects were presented: the Abington Centre for Education, Leeds Mind, and the Evolve Housing + Support cinema in Stockwell. Also presented was a film from a parallel tech inclusion programme Open Cinema has been at work on, the Cisco-funded Pathway to Your Future pre-apprenticeship programme, which one of the Stockwell-based Reboot participants was able to access; she has now been offered a job in the office of the executive assistant to the CEO of Cisco UK.

My work on this project has led me to conclude that technology does indeed offer the opportunity to empower excluded people, giving them new skills and the use of devices which can help develop their interests and networks, and further build skills. While there isn’t work in the technology or service industries for everyone, everyone can make more of what they do with the use of technology.

The promise of technology industry leaders that tech will ultimately make the world a fairer place still remains to be fully realised… but projects such as Reboot UK are certainly taking us in the right direction.

Featured project

Reboot UK