Good For Nothing Colchester – Summer gig

Reading time: 9 mins

Last weekend brought with it the second full gig for Colchester’s branch of Good For Nothing, which was an event that I had been looking forward to ever since the last one. Armed with a laptop and a notebook, I went along on Friday night and Saturday to help lend my skills to some good causes.

Many people haven’t heard about Good For Nothing, so I wanted to share my experiences in the hope that it’d encourage more people to come to any future local gigs, or to think about what you could do locally.

What is Good For Nothing?

First things first, what on earth is Good For Nothing? Simply put, it is:

“…about diverse groups of people collaborating, working in new, faster, funner and better ways.
Supporting ideas and people that are leading the way to what a flourishing 21st century might look like.
We’re solving stuff collaboratively offline through gigs, 3/24/48 hr think hack do creative collaboration event things.”

You can read much more about the concept on the website, as well as finding out whether you’ve got a chapter near you.

For me, it’s about getting to connect with local people and help out organisations in ways that may not always be possible when you go through official channels. It’s also about coming together with people of hugely varying skills, learning from them, and having a great time whilst you’re at it.

But shouldn’t people pay for good work, you may well be asking? I’m a huge believer in the fact that people shouldn’t work for free, and that clients should understand the value of paying for quality work rather than getting the cheapest option available. This, however, wasn’t an example of people misunderstanding value. Both of the organisations we were helping had previously paid what they could, but simply put, many organisations can’t justify spending much money by usual digital standards on a website (or other promotional materials) when they could be spending that money helping people. As I wrote after last year’s gig, £10 was enough for a local homeless shelter to feed 40 people, so they found it incredibly hard to justify spending it on other things that weren’t their primary goal.

All of the volunteers were happy to be donating their time, and all of the organisations were thrilled to have people there. As was mentioned at one point, thinking about the day in terms of day rate would lead to a pretty terrifying amount of cash for these companies to pay out, and it was something that just wouldn’t have happened otherwise, both in terms of the practicalities of procurement, and cost. We just turned up and did stuff.

What happens at a gig?

There are many ways that you can get involved with Good For Nothing, but this was an example of a ’24 hour gig’ – spending a day to achieve something tangible for local causes.

The first big Colchester event had been held back in November 2013 (memorable because it was the Xbox One launch day and I was terribly conflicted), and for me was a brilliant introduction to the great things happening within the Colchester community, as well as bringing me new friends. Second time around things had moved on a bit in a few ways, and I’d go so far as to say that I think it was much more effective than the first.

In advance of the event, the team had shared some information on what to expect, but in reality so much depends on who turns up, both on the cause and attendee front.


Friday night was brief night. We met up at the Three Wise Monkeys pub in Colchester, where massive plates of meat were eaten and numerous beers were drunk before heading upstairs to the mythical third floor event space (it does exist!), which it has to be said was pretty great. Chapter leader Oli gave us an introduction before handing over to Mo from one of the causes – Colchester and Tendring Women’s Refuge, who gave us an overview of the organisation and talked through what they wanted to get out of the gig.

GFN Friday night

Friday night briefing

Sadly due to yet another problem with my order (happened every time I’ve eaten there – sort it out TWM!) I was eating rather later and ended up missing some of the initial follow up chat with Mo, but dived in as soon as I could, and it was great to start digging in a bit deeper to understand their challenges and needs. It also became very apparent that we had a great range of volunteers, including two visitors from the US who worked in the industry who later turned out to be invaluable.

After we’d all grilled Mo, learnt some terrifying statistics about abuse, and drunk a few more Kona Longboards (in my case), many of us moved on to the Queen Street Brewhouse (formerly Tin Pan Alley) for a few more, before heading home.


Saturday started bright and (fairly) early considering the beers, with everyone meeting at Colchester’s Firstsite at 9:30 for a 10am start. Firstsite has been a somewhat controversial local addition and I’d never actually been before the weekend, but was pleasantly surprised as a cool, modern, and quirky interior was revealed on entering. The exception to this was the shocking wifi (even the staff one!), which fell over every 5 minutes and hugely hampered productivity, but hey, it wouldn’t be a hack day if you didn’t bring down someone’s network.


Firstsite – our venue for the day

After breakfast and a quick revisiting of the briefs for people who couldn’t make the night before, we quickly organised into a team for the Women’s Refuge, and one for the other cause, Lepra. There was a quick declaration of what people wanted to do, and I swiftly moved onto asking the important question – where are the post-it notes?

My team was focused on the Women’s Refuge website and promotional materials, and within minutes we had a rough plan stuck on the wall of the changes that needed to be made and the content needed to be added. The organisation had recently had a website redesign done by a local company, but no content had been populated, and through the course of the day we found several bugs that needed addressing. We also helped the client to understand some things that they previously hadn’t understood, or hadn’t been able to ask about.

Slack was set up for everyone to chat and share work in progress for feedback, and throughout the day Dropbox was used to share resources, write copy, and keep everything centralised.

Lunch provided a brief respite in the hammering of wifi whilst home-made ham sandwiches and crisps were eaten, then it was back to it for the rest of the afternoon until the final show and tell.

What was the outcome?

Our team managed to do a lot, and the great thing was that all of it was self-contained and came to a nice end, as it was very important to be able to deliver something that was usable. The nice thing was also that many of us work within this area (some didn’t at all!), but we weren’t necessarily doing what we do for our day jobs. The mix of people, and the willingness to get stuck in to all sorts of tasks meant that everyone could contribute.

Show and tell time

Show and tell time

We managed to:

  • Get all of the content entered for the website, which included copywriting some missing parts and updating old information, creating new sections and revisiting the IA, entering it, making CSS changes, moaning about the wifi.
  • Recreate the logo in vector form and modernised it to be more in line with the new digital branding being used.
  • Create the designs for two pop-up stands to be used for when the Refuge attends events. As a nice bonus touch, one of the people working on this aspect offered to pay to get them made up for the Refuge as they have previous dealings with a local banner company.
  • Make a set of some print materials, including business cards for two of the staff, items to be used as takeaways for exhibitions etc.
  • Create a simple standalone, reusable campaign/donation site with Stripe integration.
  • Come up with strategic concepts, including one of the team completing online domestic abuse training and coming up with a support/donation strategy and research into costs for pin badges.
  • Setting up and training the Refuge staff on how to use SurveyMonkey so that they could capture more structured data.

Some of the work

Promotional cards

Promotional cards by Andrew
New logos
Andrew’s refresh of the logo
Pull-up design
Pull-up design
The new website
The new website – design and build by WDL (prior to Good For Nothing)
The old site
The old site prior to the rebuild

The Lepra team did some great work around social awareness, strategic concepts and a campaign to raise donations and awareness, and managed to create a concept based around a hashtag that on further investigation turned out to be totally NSFW on Instagram. My favourite moment from the day was possibly the excited outburst from talented character illustrator Gemma when she found out that they have a mascot of an Armadillo that she could work with. (FYI armadillos are amongst the few species that can contract leprosy systemically. Fact of the day).

It was also really nice to see staff from both causes scribbling things down during the show and tell, and being exposed to ideas from other organisations and work outside of their industries. In addition, lots of contact details were swapped, and it will be great to see what ends up happening over the next few days and months.

Get involved!

The current plan is for there to (hopefully) be another gig in Colchester later this year, so if you live anywhere near and would like to dedicate your skills, please get in touch with me, @gfncolchester, or join the Facebook group. If you’re not around Colchester way (or abroad) then have a look on the GFN site Chapter Search and find one near you.

I can’t stress enough that it doesn’t matter whether you’re a developer, designer, strategist, marketer, illustrator, copywriter, project manager, tea maker, post-it sticker, or a hobbyist who wants to have a go at helping out. Everyone is welcome, everyone can play their part, and you won’t believe how grateful local causes will be.

Header image courtesy of Good For Nothing under (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0).