Bristol Cable granted £40k from Power to Change to expand community tech

The award-winning media co-op will use the money to develop its platform and make it accessible for other organisations to use

Media co-op Bristol Cable has won funding to expand its community tech work with a two-year grant of £40,000 from Power to Change.

The city news service, which has won awards and plaudits for its campaigning journalism and investigative reporting, will use the funds to continue the maintenance and development of its in-house membership and community engagement platform.

It plans to make this more accessible for other community organisations to use. “The code is already open source,” said the co-op, “but this will mean we can ‘open source’ the processes around the software too.”

Announcing the news, it said it offered one of many smaller community platforms and companies in the UK which offer “a viable alternative to Big Tech”. 

“As the social power wielded by the tech industry has exploded over the last two decades,” it added, “plenty of examples of grassroots tech projects have grown healthily alongside … The Bristol Cable is one of them.“

The grant from Power to Change – an independent trust that supports community business – will also allow the Cable to make improvements to other online services, such as our communications and mailouts aimed at community engagement.

In recent years its tech lead Will Franklin has built and developed Beabee, a membership management platform which allows the co-op to store member data securely without the risk of it being sold to advertisers, and also powers its callouts to engage our members in editorial and operational questions.

He said: “Our membership and engagement platform, built in-house, is a core component of the democratic engagement we have with our members. It allows us to engage with them directly, and simultaneously reach wider communities in the city, for example, through callouts allowing people to respond to questions such as ‘How is Bristol’s bus chaos affecting you?’ or ‘Should we do more culture, or news?’

“The grant will allow us to continue this work, and build on our innovative, grassroots community tech work not only for Bristol, but for other community based organisations around the UK too.”

Beabee is already used by a number of other small newsrooms around Europe already, “making it a community technology not only benefiting Bristol, but many other developers and communities”, the co-op added.

Power to Change’s Community Tech grant is aimed not only at benefiting the organisations that win funding and those that reap the results directly, but also the wider technology ecosystem by driving forward innovative, beneficial and sustainable solutions for social technology. 

It launched the grant with the aim of “ensuring communities have access and ownership of technology that meets their specific needs, respects their autonomy and ensures more value is realised within a place”.

Praising the Bristol Cable’s efforts, it said: “Off-the-shelf back-office software was too expensive, and also not suited to their needs. So they have been building their systems for membership management and democratic participation. In doing this, they will actively preserve members’ privacy by keeping all their data in-house, rather than on third-party platforms. 

“This bespoke customer-relationship management (CRM) system is sustainable, community-driven, and fully accountable to its members.”