From Barack Obama to a dusty box of forgotten photos in Cardiff, Connected is about the transformative power found at the junction of online and offline communities.

Planet Carnivore ebook

Connected: The power of modern community
Marc Thomas, Hannah Waldram & Ed Walker


What does Barack Obama’s re-election campaign have in common with a dusty box of black and white photographs found in a Cardiff studio?

The answer is something that we are all a part of – communities. The way in which Obama’s team drove engagement with the US electorate is fabled. Online and offline, people came together to spread the campaign’s messages across the country. Less well known is how Jon Pountney, who found the Cardiff photos, reached out across the web and into the local community to try and identify the faces captured in them. Piece by piece, this community constructed a story of the photos, which in turned out to be a remarkable slice from the city’s history.

In Connected, Hannah Waldram, Ed Walker and Marc Thomas explore examples from across the world which demonstrate that social media is a hugely powerful tool, but it is when it combines with physical communities – spurring action, amplifying a message, organising movements – that it becomes truly transformative.

It is a fascinating insight into how communities can be so much greater than the sum of their parts, and how the power of the internet has become seamlessly woven into community action. The authors also offer practical steps for how to make the most of communities and harness their potential.


About the Authors

Alex Renton

Marc Thomas (@iammarcthomas) is a magazine publisher and journalist based in Cardiff. He publishes Plastik Magazine and other community-based magazines for different groups. He writes mainly about design and culture, and has contributed to Monocle, The Guardian, Offscreen Magazine and Smashing Magazine among others.

Hannah Waldram (@hrwaldram) is a digital journalist working as a news community coordinator at the Guardian in London. Formerly the Guardian Cardiff beatblogger, Hannah also founded the hyperlocal website for the model village where she grew up in Birmingham.

Ed Walker (@ed_walker86) is a digital editor working for Trinity Mirror across its regional newspaper websites. He founded one of the UK’s leading hyperlocal news sites – Blog Preston – after studying journalism at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston.


This extract is taken from the first chapter of Connected

This story begins with a photographer, Jon Pountney, who is clearing out a historic building in Cardiff. Warwick Hall has been used for many things over the years but by the time Jon found it, it was vacant, forgotten – just an old space, gathering dust.

Pountney, together with two others, found the hall in 2010 and agreed to use it as a studio space. However, all of the rooms – large rooms – were filled to the brim with rubbish.

‘There was art equipment, art itself – paintings, old canvases,’ Jon says, when I speak to him in a local café. ‘You can’t really imagine it unless you saw what it was like. There had been a record label in there and they had their whole back catalogue in it, but no one wanted to buy it!’

I’ve been following Jon’s story for a number of years now. It’s an almost unbelievable tale with so many twists, turns and coincidences that there’s the feeling that someone, somewhere is orchestrating a complex screenplay of his life.

The last few years began to take form when he was clearing the junk from Warwick Hall. The clean-out took weeks. There were walk-in skips, which were carried away multiple times. It was only by chance that, dotted around in the midst of all the rubbish, Pountney found books of prints and boxes of negatives.

‘The first print I found was of two “mod” guys stood by the window,’ he says. ‘The other one was of an old guy standing in a garage with a car behind him. I couldn’t believe I was finding these absolute jewels!’

As time went by, Jon made a stockpile of all of the photos, negatives and books of prints that he discovered in the run up to the launch of the Cardiff Music Studios in early 2011. By that time, having collected around 300 prints and four or five boxes of negatives, he found himself questioning what to do with the mysterious photographs.

‘What I was going to do originally is turn one of the rooms in the space into a gallery and show them in there,’ he says. ‘Then I realised how many I had actually got. At that point, I didn’t know whose they were, but I had an idea of when they were taken. I was getting some wishy-washy answers from people about why they were there. I found that some of them were stamped Keith S. Robertson.’

Keith’s photos are incredible. Depicting a sometimes almost unrecognisable Cardiff of the 1970s and 80s, they are full of life and style – records of a bygone era. Jon Pountney was entranced by them. Keen to find out more about his curious trove, he took to the internet to start searching for the name ‘Keith S. Robertson’.

Unfortunately, there was no mention of any photographer by that name and no sign of these photographs in image searches.

With Google search exhausted, what Jon did next was to set the course for a book, exhibition, film and a stage play to be written about his story. Jon decided to create a Tumblr blog featuring Keith’s work. From an unlabelled box of unknown photographs, Jon would uncover a fascinating network of people – a view into Cardiff’s past.

This is what is exciting about the communities that form when online and offline worlds collide.

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