Rethink – can you help?

Cotswold Jam’s main large events are on hiatus while we have a bit of a rethink. We’ve been going over five years and we are going to have a rest for a while, to freshen up how we work.

In the meantime, we’ll continue to do occasional small roadshows. For example, Sat 25 – Sun 26 May 2019 we’re at Lechlade festival, and from Fri 31 May – Sun 2 June we’re at Wychwood festival at Cheltenham Racecourse.

To be told about our next events and to be the first to get free tickets, join our attendees mailing list:

To volunteer to be a staff member, please email admin@cotswoldjam.org but please read the following so that you know what we’re looking for. In particular, we need people to do things, not just advice or suggestions.

Here’s the personal view of founder Andrew Oakley (me):

• Founder Andy Baker recently moved to a hospice as he entered the final stages of his brain tumour. Andy handled the bank account, public liability insurance and acted as secretary/treasurer in many respects. He also presented many high-level projects such as quadcopters and machine vision.

• Founder Andrew Oakley (me) is increasingly busy with work. I can do the organisation of the tutorials but I don’t have enough time to negotiate with venues, engage sufficiently with social media or give the website justice.

• The University of Gloucestershire, like most educational establishments, has tight finances and needs to charge us, or be credited somehow, for the Waterworth Building venue that was previously free. We need to qualify for some kind of formal scheme that provides value to the University, or look for another venue that can provide at least three rooms with 8 monitors per room for no cost. Our strong preference is to remain at the Waterworth Building at the University of Gloucestershire.

• To qualify for grants, at minimum we need a proper treasurer, and more likely we need to adopt a formal structure with a committee, possibly even become a registered non-profit or even a charity. We would also probably need all of our volunteers to have background checks (most of our staff already do, but through third-party organisations such as the Scouts, and not directly through Cotswold Jam).

• Numbers are down from an average of 120 to around 60. I suspect this has a lot to do with the Raspberry Pi being long established and less of a novelty.

• We have a lot less support from the Raspberry Pi Foundation / CodeClub (e.g. guests, promotional merchandise) and from commercial maker retailers (e.g. promotional merchandise, raffle prizes, equipment, big discounts on small purchases) than in previous years. Again, I think this is to do with the Pi being well established now; plus, there are many more Jams and similar volunteer clubs asking for freebies. Fair enough, they can’t supply us all.

• The Raspberry Pi 4 is probably going to be released in early 2020, and may not be (entirely?) compatible with previous models. I’m reticent to make too much personal investment into new stuff, for example I’m reticent to write new tutorials, for the existing ecosystem. Vice versa, it might be good for us to hold off doing any big events for the next 6-9 months, so we can do a big fresh launch to coincide with the launch of the Pi 4 (but if we do hold off, would we actually be able to afford more than a couple of Pi 4s at that time? Especially given lack of discounting from retailers for Jams now? Compared to the 30+ Pi 1/2/3s we already have?)

• Our website is tired and poorly organised. For example we have a huge library of original public domain tutorials that are not indexed and almost impossible to browse.

So what do we need? Well, let’s start with what we don’t need:

We do not need advice. We need do-ers, not advisers. We know what needs to be done, we need people to actually do it.

We need:

• A formal committee including:

• A treasurer who can work with PayPal, Amazon and Barclays Bank. First task: deal with the awful reality of Andy Baker no longer being capable of being a signatory to our bank account. Second task: formalise our expenses.

• A chairman or secretary who is not Andrew Oakley, who will take on the role of formally negotiating with venues, sponsors, applying for grants, registering as a non-profit or charity. A leader who will take Cotswold Jam to a more formal level. Most importantly this person must have the time and experience to do so.

• A social media / publicity manager who will engage primarily with the local community, and also with the wider Raspberry Pi and maker community.

• A web designer/coder who can completely overhaul our website. Possibly this person might be the same as the social media manager. We probably want to stick with a well-established templating system such as WordPress, but it needs to be flattened and rebuilt from scratch.

• More women. Specifically, more adult peers that young girls can identify with.

Some other thoughts, philosophies and dilemmas:

• I am determined that free and donations should remain our primary model for attendees. The Cotswolds are a wealthy area with pockets of extreme poverty. I often talk about the “ZX Spectrum” model; for every 100 Spectrum computers sold in the 1980s, it’s thought 99 were only ever used for games. However, that 1 in 100 that did programming on them, went on to make Britain a technology powerhouse. In a similar manner, the majority of our attendees are from wealthy backgrounds. However there are a few that are not, and a career in IT could be a life changer. I believe those few would be put off by any kind of cost – or even any kind of suggestion of cost; for example I am dead against people having to prove their poverty in order to get free tickets. We’re in a wealthy area in a wealthy profession, we should be able to fund ourselves through donations, grants and sponsorship.

• In the last year to 18 months, we have had a lot more people allocate tickets for themselves and then not turn up. This is probably strongly related to the fact that tickets are free. However, as noted above, we don’t want to charge for tickets. This is a huge dilemma and possibly unsolvable. It used to be that Minecraft coding always got fully booked, followed closely by electronics tutorials. However in the last year there seems to be much less of a pattern; our May 2019 event had the electronics tutorials fully booked and the Minecraft tutorial barely half full.

• I used to be against claiming taxpayer’s money to fund ourselves; again, we’re in a wealthy area in a wealthy profession, we should be able to survive on donations and sponsorships. However I have come around to the possibility of accepting government (i.e. taxpayer’s) grants to fund venue hire, or more likely to be offset against venue costs so that the venue is rewarded for hosting us.

• I see my future role as focussing on running the events themselves, notably the tutorials. Our four hands-on electronics and coding tutorial workshops are what distinguish Cotswold Jam from most other jams. We are not just a bunch of hobbyists showing off. We have a mission to teach introductory electronics and computing. We are also a bunch of hobbyists showing off, and sometimes we also teach some very high-level computing (Andy Baker’s use of MPEG frames for machine vision movement tracking, for example). But our core mission, as I’ve jokingly stated on occasion, is “to solve my IT recruitment problem… albeit very slowly”.

Finally, what do we already have that we want to keep?

• An excellent venue. The Waterworth Building at Park Campus, University of Gloucestershire, provides us with a huge 100-capacity Show & Tell room with 50 monitors, mice & keyboards, a “robot lounge” with over 50 capacity, two classrooms with 30 monitors, mice & keyboard each, and features such as accessible loos, ramps and a lift.

• Excellent volunteers. We have about a dozen talented IT professionals who can present a computing or electronics tutorial to a room full of juniors with less than a day’s notice. Really, they’re amazing. They’ll also turn up and spend three hours cabling up equipment before the event, and they’ll hang around for an hour or two after to pack everything up. We have a good staff mailing list. They’ll even put on a “roadshow” for Cubs, Brownies or family festivals.

• Equipment. We have around 20 Raspberry Pi models 2 or 3, plus about another 20 older models. We have display cables. We have really good power supplies. We have micro SD cards. However, we only have a few (around 5) monitors and keyboards (moving/storing monitors and keyboards is a huge logistical problem and a large monetary investment, that’s why we want a venue that already has lots of both).

• Experience, particularly in sourcing components for, and writing, electronics and computing tutorials. We can create really good original tutorials for less than two pounds per head, covering anything from temperature sensors to Christmas lights.

If you can help by doing something – not just suggesting or advising – then please email: admin@cotswoldjam.org

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