Back to 2013 (or in digital terms 40 light-years ago), a small group of South East regional staff began talking about building a website for our region. We wanted to better engage members and start the long process of dragging our regional organising into the 21st Century. We had a small team of staff eager to learn and passionate about the potential of digital organising, lay leadership at regional and branch level who were brilliantly supportive, intrigued and enthused.
That project took us over twelve months, covering planning, bringing members on board, tendering for developers, testing platforms, more planning, designing, training, navigating various committees to get finance, more planning, technical training and numerous Skype calls across the Atlantic. Finally we ended up with a new regional website in August 2013. At the time we were delighted, we had a site that combined the social media management we needed, allowed us to drive our digital content from the Region and branches and have a platform to launch digital campaigns.
In 2015 we took this another step further and developed a branch template on our system and have since been building branch sites and building our South East digital family and thus up-skilling our activists in digital in the process.
Whilst all this was going on UNISON took the decision to prioritise a programme of digital organising led by the newly founded national digital team. Whether it was luck or very good strategic planning (on his part) I was one of the first outside of UNISON Centre to meet the new Digital Manager. I walked away from that meeting enthused that UNISON had a big plan, ambition and the expertise that matched where we wanted to go with our digital offering.
In the space of a year we went from outlaws developing our own systems in our South East version of the wild west to playing an active role within the UNISON digital family, being consulted, supported and working in partnership to build joint systems that all could benefit from. If we were going to make mistakes, we were going to make them together so we could learn and educate collectively as an organisation.
As with any rebellious all night session on the sauce, we were starting to suffer from a number of headaches with our regional website. Although we did not feel regret, there was no one to bring us chicken noodle soup to soothe our pain… We therefore jumped at the chance to join with our colleagues in the South West, Northern and Eastern regions on the new national website platform. We had one planning meeting armed with a white board, a marker, our previous experience and a healthy dose of excitement. Four weeks later, following a couple of weeks intense work, some co-ordination via Basecamp, some testing and some time away for other priorities and voila! Southeast.unison.org.uk was live.
But… we’re not finished quite yet. The new site is just a platform. It’s now up to us to drive engaging content, make the most of new tools and work with colleagues across UNISON to improve digital skills. Then we can truly make the most of the opportunities digital organising can present for unions. Key to this new approach is acting together as a collective, all of us sharing our experiences, uniting to solve problems and ultimately showing the power of a UNISON digital community at the forefront of modern union organising.
Finally, I have to say a massive thanks to the team here in the region who worked tirelessly to get the project done, our leadership in the region for their support (even when we confused them with our tech jargon) and especially to the national digital team who guided us through the project and answered every one of our thousand questions.
I truly believe a change is gonna come.