How I built a Halloween community with online maps 

As the Employability and Skills Marketing Manager, I often blog about things like maths anxiety or how to do a skills audit. These are things I care passionately about, because I know the impact our skills courses have on our learners but today I wanted to  talk something a bit more personal. 

Digital skills.  

I know what you think: she’s just going to write about how she uses digital skills in her job or tips on using social media to find a job, but this is something completely different. We often talk about digital skills in terms something that helps with everyday life or helps us at work, but this blog is about how I used my digital skills to build a community in my local area. 

It all started in 2016 with my son asking to go trick-or-treating in our neighbourhood. Trick-or-treating wasn’t very common where we lived, I think we only ever got one or two families in the eight years we’d lived there. I also knew that some people would find it annoying if we randomly knocked on their door and for some elderly people, it could be intimidating. I didn’t want to do anything to upset my local community, but I knew there were lots of young children at my son’s school who really wanted to go trick-or-treating. I was part of a nice Facebook community of local parents and I asked whether a few families would mind doing mutual trick-or-treat visits. Digital skill = communication and social networking.  

The response was surprisingly positive. I started to think about the best way of sharing the  information, in a way that still maintained privacy. Would just a list of addresses work? I remembered seeing a different community group had built their own trail on Google Maps.  After a quick search on the internet, I found how I could do it myself. Digital skill = information searching. 

What I needed was the postcode and house number that could be imported onto the Google Map, The easiest way to import this data was via a spreadsheet (like Excel or Google Sheets) but I didn’t want to have to do this manually.  Digital skills = problem solving. I created a simple form, that explained why I needed the information and how it was going to be used, then shared the link. Digital skill number = data gathering.  I knew from my marketing background, that if you are asking for data, you have to be clear about why you are asking for it and what you are going to do with it, and you never ask for more information than you need. Digital = data protection.   

Armed with my form-generated spreadsheet full of postcodes and house numbers, I set about following the instructions to automatically populate a map that showed where in my area people welcomed little trick-or-treaters. Like magic, little markers appeared.  I learned how to change the colour of these markers to orange and how to make the icon look like little ghosts. Digital skill = managing information. 

I then shared the map with the local parent network and happily took my son trick-or-treating, knowing we would be welcomed at every door we knocked. The streets were busy with happy ghouls and witches, and some people even recognised me as the person who made the map.  It was such a success that I did it the next year and the next. People started asking me in September if I was still going to do the map. It’s grown so much that last year, 120 houses in my area registered to be on the map.  After more than a hundred children visited our house last October, we had to run out to by more sweets! Some people want to take part by just decorating houses (as we also did during the lockdown), so there is a different icon on the maps for houses that are decorated but not open to trick-or-treaters. It is all very respectful and people always comment on how polite the children are when they visit. People in neighbouring communities often get in contact to ask me how to set it up in their area, so I give them a walkthrough. I think it is important to share skills and knowledge. It’s a nice activity for communities to do and it is practically free, apart from the cost of a few bags of sweets and a homemade Halloween costume. 

These maps don’t just have to be used for Halloween though, they could be used by you in several ways: you could do a history trail, or make a map of interesting public art in your area.  You could have art trails where people decorate their front windows for Christmas or Easter. You could even use it to organise a jumble sale trail with your neighbours. There are so many possibilities that having good digital skills can bring. You don’t have to be a technical genius, you just have to have a grasp of core digital skills and learn how to apply them to different situations. 

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About the author

Jessica Holloway Swift

Employability & Skills Marketing Manager

Jess is an experienced marketing manager with a special interest in employability marketing and learner engagement.