Event Report: “Good for Nothing”

MCFly reader Jonathan Atkinson explains how Carbon Co-op got pro bono help from techies last weekend at “Madlab”. (Reposted, with permission, from here.)

Carbon Co-op were lucky enough to be one of the good causes selected for the first Good for Nothing in the North at MadLab over the weekend of 6/7th October 2012.
Blog post by Carbon Co-op project manager, Jonathan Atkinson (@lowwintersun)

The idea behind Good for Nothing is a simple one, get a whole heap of professional creatives: graphic designers, web coders, technicians and PR types in a room for a weekend and get them to devote their time, skills and expertise towards fulfilling the marketing needs of three good causes. For free. It’s been around for a number of years in London and the events regularly attract upwards of a hundred people, on the back of that they’re moving up north.

The event is curated by designer Loz Ives, coder Andy Gott and eco-designer Mark Shayler. As much as possible everything is blagged or donated, hence our weekend is fuelled by complementary Yorkshire tea, a Unicorn Grocery fruit hamper and the largest array of Tunnock’s confectionery I have ever or will ever seen – Tunnock’s products I never knew existed or were even technically possible. Proceedings take place at MadLab, a truly unique space in Manchester and ideally suited to this weekend.

FRIDAY EVENING: In 10 minute presentations we pitch our good causes to assembled marketing professionals who will choose which group to volunteer for. The other projects are Mountains of Hope, an outward bound project for disadvantaged kids and Signposts, a Manchester-based charity. Carbon Co-op are after coders to help us develop an open source energy monitor and designers to do some t-shirts and posters.

Charlie presents

19:45 The Carbon Co-op pitch is kicked off with a classic Charlie Baker presentation. Onlookers are visibly shocked/impressed at his ability to talk so quickly and yet still cover highly technical subjects and make sense. It does the trick and we get plenty of help including a coder and a game designer.

20:00 The pitches are followed by a social fuelled by complimentary Becks and the inevitable Tunnock’s.


09.00 Everyone arrives, assembles and starts…


10.15 Team Carbon Co-op arrive fashionably late, burdened as we are with a severe Tunnock’s hangovers, assembled creatives are already hard at work on the three briefs.

11.00 Matt Fawcett of Carbon Co-op and Tristan Lea of Open Energy Monitors have set up a soldering station on our table. Tristan’s kit is simplicity itself, a basic circuit board on to which various bits of monitoring kit can be added as appropriate, electricity use, temperature, CO2 concentration (to measure air tightness/drafts) and humidity.

Energy Monitors

12.00 I chat to Jana Wendler, a PhD student examining utopian urban spaces. She has a side interest in gaming and play and we discuss ideas around energy usage. The basic problem is that people get quickly bored of energy monitors once the novelty wears off. Gaming, setting challenges and competitions, would be a way to keep people interested and engaged with their energy use.

13.20 We are joined from Pete, a graphic design student from Stockport, he churns out some great poster ideas though as he has just started his course he is sadly unable to take them past the concept stage – thanks anyway Pete!

13.30 Lunch and the GfN boys have laid on a spread of chilli and wraps, excellent, very filling, room for a Tunnock’s though?

14.00 Activity grows fevered as our team plot the integration of an energy monitor dashboard in the Carbon Co-op website, if only I knew what they were on about.


15.00 Day 1 presentation time: lots of ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaahs’ from the audience as we demonstrate live monitoring of temperature, humidity and electricity usage from MadLab. Some furrowed brows as an ethical dilemma arises, the GfN tea urn is consuming nearly as much energy as the creatives’ MacBook laptops and charging iPhones combined. Moral arguments ensue but the killer blow comes with, “without tea, what would we drink with our Tunnock’s?” No agreeable answer comes and the urns stay on.

16.00 Slightly fried by a day of coding and Tunnock’s, assembled creatives stumble home. I head to the Manchester Arena to see Radiohead who make complex and eloquent songs about the fact we are all completely stuffed – an excellent show, worth every penny!


11.15 The Good for Nothing team have assured me that my technical skills are so precious and in demand that I should have a lie in and come in a bit later. As I arrive Team Carbon Co-op have already been at the grind stone for 2 hours. Somehow they have coped without me.

12.00 More coding, more soldering, more scribbling on flip chart paper.

12.15 A breakthrough as our VPN test server successfully integrates with the Open Energy Monitor dashboard. Yes I cry!

12.30 I’m taken aside (ie away from the important people and their important work) and given a consultation with Mark Shayler, a guy who makes his living advising corporates on sustainability issues. It’s great to get an outside perspective on Carbon Co-op messaging from a professional and Mark even works up a quick model presentation highlighting some key communication points.

13.00 Mark also helps us by recording a couple of quick videos with our coders and technical team. It’s fascinating to see the geeks struggle to articulate ideas and actions in colloquial verbal English rather than their usual text, IM and email.

13.30 More lunch, more chilli. The Mountains of Hope guy proffers a bucket of Tunnock’s, “You know you want to.” he says. I say no to Tunnock’s for the first time this weekend.

14.00 We’ve attracted more graphic designers and are having a go at some t-shirts and more posters as well as a swish new version of the energy monitor dashboard.

15.35 The big show and tell. Everyone who’s been working over the weekend assembles and we take a look at the work. Mountains of Hope have a a great new website with a hand drawn logo and Signposts have a 5 minute video presentation showcasing their work. Carbon Co-op have the building blocks for a revolutionary open energy monitor system that will allow our members to understand exactly how their houses operate and track the effect of any change and improvements they implement. Not only that but we have some gaming and challenge ideas, a new presentation and a new take on Carbon Co-op and a range of new t-shirt and poster ideas.

END OF THE WEEKEND: Good for Nothing is a great opportunity for good causes to get the kind of marketing and technical expertise that would ordinarily cost thousands of pounds. It’s not just the design work and websites you get at the end but the ideas and advice that spring from the conversations throughout the two days.

They’re planning to do another weekend in January and have a social before Christmas and I’d highly recommend you get involved, whether you’re a creative who wants to do some positive pro-bono work or a a good cause looking for some expert help.

If nothing else it’s worth it for the Tunnock’s.


About manchesterclimatemonthly

Was print format from 2012 to 13. Now web only. All things climate and resilience in (Greater) Manchester.
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