This was the 3rd digital festival in Rochdale and the first time we'd attended as Heritage Hackers (though a few of us have been before in other roles)
The festival is a great opportunity to celebrate all things digital in Rochdale. It's often promoted as an opportunity for people to learn the basics (which is understandable as it’s a big part of our local libraries offer). We worry that it becomes characterised just as that, and it would deter others from getting involved. To us it's a brilliant celebration of digital in all its forms and for all of its purposes and we certainly felt the joy of tech this year!
Many of the Heritage Hackers help as volunteers to run the monthly Mozilla Clubs in Rochdale library so we're all familiar with the space and used to running sessions in that building. But the festival took our usual club to a whole new level!
Heritage Hackers are a group of people who love tech as well as arts, culture and heritage and we come together to change, make or develop things to Hack Heritage. That's Hacking. Changing something to broaden its application or “improve” it. We use the term “improve” very loosely, mind you. It depends on your view of the thing to begin with, I guess. Some of us are tecchies who love culture and others are arty types who love tech… we believe that magic happens when these two things are able to coexist and I think we all get a lot of value from being part of the group.
We work on collective and individual projects, learn, try, fail and try again together and alone. We have a safe place to develop ideas and supportive colleagues to help us realise them.
I had a great time on Saturday 4th March at the Digital Festival. I think we hacked that too… from the fun activities for children and young people supported by staff and volunteers who literally did not stop all day to the surreal sights and sounds of some of our exhibitions.
My favourite was Andre's Lancashire Translator. The quality of conceptual art in a piece of code was truly beautiful. His nostalgic table setting for his programme which translates film subtitles into Lancashire dialect was superb, warm and moving.
This was set within our exhibition which included Sid Calderbass, the fidgety fish who recites dialect poetry, the Gracie Fields Iconoclastic Chip Box, and our piece of kinetic art: Elemental, which is a painting that breathes.
It was great to showcase our work which was warmly, if occasionally, bemusedly received by our visitors. I think around 700 people came to our exhibition, some of whom got involved in our activities, some of whom came to have a closer look and some to find out what the weird noises were.
We also offered interactive sessions: creative electronic activities, virtual reality painting and a fun Artcodes trip to Touchstones, our local art gallery and museum, which we'd hacked to make the space into a heritage hunt.
It was a bit of a shock to our systems as we're mostly used to our own company, holed up in our “Room of Requirement” at Rochdale Town Hall… We were exhausted, but full of joy: people “got us” and could see the value in what we do. We represented the emerging and diverse digital community of people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds in Rochdale and we're proud that our work is so rich in social value.
I won't speak for others in the group, but I consider myself (and am often told) that I'm “different”. I’m not offended by that: especially as most people try to make it more polite by telling me I'm “quirky”. That's all OK but the downside is that I sometimes feel a bit lonely. I have stuff I'm excited about and there's no-one around me to geek out about it with. Heritage Hackers get that. They are the best people to learn with and they know instinctively how to bring out the best in others. That Room of Requirement is rich with peer learning, reflexivity and conviviality.
We can hack loneliness too though, you see: we understand the world through a social model: if you don't fit in, it's not your fault, it's the environment around you. We're changing that one bonkers project at a time.