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Longford, APPlying for social innovation

Edited on

24 August 2017

Discovering "Longford Nua", the app developed by Space Engagers in partnership with the URBACT Local Group. How can it work for regeneration?

Welcome to Longford, our URBACT partner in the heart of Ireland: 10.000 resident people in town, the majority being potentially involved in the innovative community mapping project “Longford Nua”. Meaning “new” in Irish, it consists of a digital app designed by social enterprise Space Engagers, in partnership with the URBACT Local Group who is actively involved in the regeneration plans for the former military Barracks located in the city centre.
Not surprisingly, the Barracks themselves – named after Sean Connolly, officer commander of the Longford brigade, fatally wounded during the Irish war of Independence in 1921 – have been chosen as the site for the public launch of the App, presented on July the 28th. Former military staff and soldiers were involved too in the event, recalling their past working experience in the Connolly Barracks, which closed in 2009. Former Corporals Noel Lee and Hugh Farrell have an extensive military memorabilia and photograph collection which they generously shared with the organizers and the public for the event.  Noel also travelled to the Curragh Military Camp in Kildare to retrieve many of the military flags and plaques that were once housed in the Barracks. And what could have been more iconic, for people born and living in Longford, than the portrait of Mr Connolly associated with the name “Longford Nua”. It was, indeed, a meaningful way to tell people that this project concerns everyone and is deeply rooted in the town’s traditions, culture and history.
As Aoife Corcoran, Director of Space Engagers, declared that she was “delighted” to work on the project in the realms of URBACT, her colleague Philip Crowe (who will be spending these first weeks of activity in Longford with her), stressed that “the key to the success of the app is community involvement. It is an opportunity for people in Longford bring together their knowledge of the past and present of the town, and to re-imagine what is possible for the future”. In 2016, the use of technology to create positive social impact in Ireland led Space Engagers to win an inaugural ThinkTech Award, a Social Innovation Fund in partnership with the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government and Google.org, the philanthropic arm of Google of for its use of technology to create positive social impact in Ireland.
The idea for the “Longford Nua” project came from the URBACT Local Group, which is actively engaged in the regeneration of the Connolly Barracks as targeted by our MAPS network: “The app will be important in contributing to the work of the group – said Lorraine O’Connor, Regeneration Officer with Longford County Council - and will have a broader value in getting people thinking about their hometown’.
How does it work, exactly? Patricia Shaughnessy, working in the Regeneration and Planning Unity of Longford County Council, gives us an example: “Someone might take a photo of the Anvil Bar and then explaing that this was where Longford people bought their tickets for emigrating to America. The photo and information will then appeared on the shared map. Or someone might take a snap of the grave of Thomas Lefroy in a graveyard in town, and reveal that this was the man on whom Jane Austen based her character of Mr Darcy”. The app allows to share the entries on social media and start conversations with other people about those places and the facts or ideas they evoke.
Just like a local version of PokemonGo, it is designed to be fun to use and suitable for all ages, as only truly enjoyable things can be! Whoever posts on the shared map the image of a place in town, is required to tell a story about it coming from the past, or simply explain what they love about Longford… and, last but not least in the three possibilities that users have, express their ideas or visions about the future. There will be workshops in town too, encouraging elderly people who have a deep knowledge of their town to ask for the help of a young person in mastering technology: a great opportunity to enhance social interaction between different generations.
The Space Engagers app can be downloaded both on PlayStore and AppStore, whilst a Longford Nua facebook page has been activated too (facebook.com/longfordnua), further contributing to the involvement of citizens who haven’t previously taken part in the meetings of the ULG nor in other activities concerning urban regeneration. For more information on the app, which is being used for the first time in Ireland, you can contact pshaughnessy@longfordcoco.ie or visit spaceengagers.org