Dream team: Making fiction a reality

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While completing training for a leadership development programme I was challenged to come up with five characteristics I’d love to have on my dream team of followers. I pondered for some time and realised that my top character choices could be outworked in five fictitious heroes I’d grown up loving.

So, this is my dream team: 

Robin – Batman
This is the handy side kick, the sounding block. I work best if I have other people to bounce ideas off and feed off of. In my team I would have a Robin character who talks through ideas and problems with me. This person sees the potential in random suggestions. They can make the impossible seem probable and provide wisdom They would be the kind of person who can be left in charge. They could be developed into being a leader in their own right – in fact they could even be nearly there!

Robin helps to solve practical problems and issues. 

Jean Grey – X-men 
Jean is a multifaceted team member. She is mother, sister, daughter, wife and friend. She is the caring and nurturing figure of strength and stability. She is the prop supporting the team. She would talk easily with all other team members and encourage them. Jean sets the team mood and tone and is a major influencer. When team is tired, Jean encourages, coaching people through to the end. She pacifies in times of conflict and sees all sides. Jean is a connector and a multitasker.

Jean is the mother hen and helps to build the young and bridge any generation gap.

The Milky Bar Kid 
This character makes everyone happy. He always turns up at the right time with a smile on his face and something great to boost the team. An encourager like Jean Grey, the Milky Bar Kid is sanguine, a complete party person. He takes ownership of the team and all that they do. He is the social glue that keeps them united, the connector that brings people together and grows team.

The Milky Bar Kid is the young enthusiastic generation gap unifier with a sense of ownership and responsibility and yet a child like understanding and spirit.   


Lois Lane – Superman
Lois Lane lives by a “whatever it takes” attitude, working to see everything come to pass. She is determined and knows her mind. She shows submission, even though it can be a struggle because she is so strong-willed and strong-minded in working to achieve the collection vision of the team as well as her own individual goals. Lois Lane never has to be asked twice as is always ready for wherever and whatever is needed. Occasionally Lois has to be reminded to take a break!

Lois Lane is dependable. She may not be the best at time keeping but she makes up for it in determination to see the team achieve its goal.

Master Splinter – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Master Splinter is the wise sensei of the team. He has been there, done that, got the t-shirt but despite this, his is not wearied by past experiences. He shares wisdom in order to push the team forward quicker and see it grow in capacity. Master Splinter is loyal and fiercely committed to the fulfilment of the cause and remains calm in all situations. He defends the team from those with a critical spirit and brings correction out of love and compassion when it is necessary.

Africa, the internet and me

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Everywhere you look the familiar block red speech mark surrounded by a white circle that is the Vodaphone logo greets you. Street traders selling the latest knock-off Nokia mobiles pitch next to a fruit stall and right by that is a ramshackle stand with t-shirts, shirts and dresses pouring out onto the roadside. If it wasn’t for the Grace of God beauty salon next door and the stifling heat you could be in any local market in the western world.

But this is Ghana, West Africa.

As the rain drips down my kitchen window the thick, suffocating heat of Africa seems a distant memory. In reality, it’s been just over a week since my feet touched down on English soil again and I still have to take anti-malaria tablets that I swear are doing me more ill than good. But despite being a creature happiest in English Autumnal climes I miss Africa. A lot. 

The lifestyle, the heat, the friendliness, the bustle. The people of Ghana have left their mark on me. From their strange hissing noise to get your attention to the constant marriage proposals. The crazy smells of the market places (decapitated fish anyone?), the interesting toilet facilities and the tropical rainstorms. From just ten days in Ghana I have come away with more memories than I can comprehend. And I want to go back. Not to live there long term you understand – after just four days I was sick of drinking water out of bags – but to go back and embrace the people and enjoy a simpler way of life.

That said, life in the city is preoccupied with the information super highway. Everyone wants your mobile phone number and browsing (Ghanaian English for surfing the internet) is rife. 

It is impossible to go more than three steps without finding yourself greeted by Vodaphone logos, Tiga network slogans and adverts to get you to sign up for broadband internet. Life in the villages is not much different in terms of the constant awareness of modern communication. Visiting children in one of Compassion’s programmes, a short 90 minutes (give or take some traffic and Ghanaian time keeping) from the capital Accra, more than one school blackboard had the phrase “mobile phones are a means of communication” scrawled on it.

If you’ve got it, the internet and mobile phones are the way to communicate in Ghana. I didn’t experience the Ghanaian postal service but I understand it’s on the expensive and slightly unreliable side. 

I, on the other hand, relished the lack of communication services at my beck and call. Ten days without my mobile, without the internet and without Facebook and Twitter was certainly refreshing. Not only that it got me thinking about another little blog I can come back and post later. 

Africa, or more specifically Ghana, was everything I thought it would be, everything I never expected it could be and something that is going to stick with me in that oh-so-cliched way of forever. Dare I say it? Alright, I want to go back.

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Should you wish to know why I was in Ghana.

#GE2010: People robbed of vote as turnout seems to be on the up

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Even though the outcome is still to be announced, General Election 2010 promises to be one that will remain in the memories of many for a long time. 


Whether it’s the tales of voters being turned away from the polls or the uncertainty of the final outcome, #GE2010 as it’s been labelled by the social media masses has presented its fair share of surprises and controversies.


By far the biggest news story of tonight is the number of voters robbed of their ballots. Blamed on, amongst other things, the unexpected surge in voter turnout the Electoral Commission are falling over themselves to try and smooth the cracks and keep the peace offering a full investigation into what happened. 


The story broke in Nick Clegg’s constituency of Sheffield Hallam where hundreds of students and residents alike were turned away from St John’s Parish Church in Ranmoor without having had the chance to cast their vote. Reports suggest that students were sidelined and priority was given to local residents. Whether this is true or not many people are looking for a suitable scapegoat on which to pin the fiasco.


But is it really fair to criticise the Electoral Commission or the returning officers at the polling stations all over the country that reportedly turned away eager voters and closed doors? Shouldn’t these voters have arrived earlier to ensure their vote could be lodged? 

The next few days and weeks are sure to be full of finger pointing and accusations. Polling stations ran out of ballot papers meaning eligible voters could not cast their votes. The returning officers there should surely have a duty to ensure suitable provision is made for all those in the constituency have the chance to place their cross on a ballot. Surely the point of registering to vote means returning officers and councils can forsee a total possible number of voters, regardless of expected turnout levels? If a polling station runs out of ballots, that has got to be the result of poor forward planning. 


However the case that arose in Sheffield Hallam, Manchester and several other regions was too many people still queuing in the final minutes of voting time. Pinning the blame in this instance is less clear cut. Is it the fault of voters who didn’t arrive earlier to mark their ballots, or the ones who delayed the process by not turning up with their polling card? Perhaps blame should fall on the Electoral Commission for restricting polling time to a mere 15 hours – from 7am to 10pm – when we live in a 24 hour society. What about the returning officers? Is it their fault for not providing sufficient numbers of polling stations, booths and staff to deal with a rise in voter turnout?


The figures are still vague but it seems that voter turnout has finally bucked the trend of decline and started to rise. After years of tales of voter apathy and many a political big wig trying to suss out a way to encourage voters to visit the polls it seems that all is needed is a recession, some bad political and financial decisions and a disenchanted generation coming of age. 


As I write Gordon Brown has secured his own seat and increased his majority in his constituency, while his transport secretary, Sadiq Khann kept hold of Tooting which saw the largest rise in voter turnout so far tonight, up 10% from 2005. 

It seems that increased voter turnout is a double-edged sword. On the one side, improved voter turnout is providing an interesting election with still no clear outcome coming through. On the other, unprecedented levels of voters coming forward to have their say has caused chaos at the polls, showing many regions to be completely unprepared and a lack of foresight and planning.

General Election 2010: Pre Polling Day Ponderings

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Tomorrow. Polling day. It looms with a sense of trepidation and nervous anticipation. 

Could we wake up on Friday morning with a hung parliament? Will we have the first Liberal Democrat government in 65 years? What will the BNP and UKIP have to show from the 15 hours of voting? As I write this, the once rank outsider is rallying his supporters in the centre of the city of Sheffield. (In case I lost you there, I am referring to Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg).

This is the first time I have experienced such a flurry of activity and discussion about a forthcoming election. I voted in my first General Election in 2005 and while, as a university student I was inflicted with a barrage of political campaigns, I don’t remember as much of a buzz about the whole fiasco. 

In 2005 there was no real competition. No party was strong enough to truly dislodge Labour’s grip on the country. They had won by a landslide in 1997 and despite the unpopular Iraq war and WMD scandals, 2005 showed little sign of a slip the other way. The media was full of stories of disenchanted, disheartened, disenfranchised voters up and down the country. Even the students who could usually be counted on to be political vocal and active were holding back. In my hazy memory of 2005, it seemed everyone was resigned to another Labour term. 


But 2010 is different. This time, at least in some parts of the UK, it is very definitely a three horse race. Labour MPs seem to be losing face after their 13 years in power. Nick Clegg and David Cameron are providing a competitive opposition where one has been missing for so long. 

And you can’t discuss GE2010 without a nod to social media. Twitter and Facebook and other sites are revolutionising the election despite there still not being an option to electronically vote. A survey conducted by Virgin Media Business showed that two fifths of all internet users in the UK believe the option of an e-vote would make them more likely to participate in tomorrow’s election. And surely a fair bunch of the electorate will be checking the internet while they wait in line at the ballot boxes?

Dare I say that the combination of social media pushing this election to the fore of a media savvy generation and the election of Obama has caused the British public to realise that if enough people act upon it, change is a real possibility.


Whatever we wake up to on Friday morning, I hope the second top story will be news of a record high turnout at the polls tomorrow. Change is possible, but only if we all unite.

GE2010: Is there a box for ‘none of the above’?

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Before I launch into my recent observations, firstly an apology. I mentioned when this GE2010 stuff all kicked off that I hoped to record my opinion here on the general tirade of politics, campaigns and faux pas regularly. Life, however, got a little in the way.

This time next week we will be mere hours away from finding out who is going to be in charge of our country for another five years. Will it be Brown, Cameron or Cleggy? Who can really tell? Polls announced after tonight’s debate suggest Cameron could hobble into 10 Downing Street come May 7th. However, just as likely, we could have a hung parliament with various collaborations clamouring at the infamous black door next Friday. It could be anyone’s race

Over the last couple of weeks the Liberal Democrats have managed to do something no one truly expected they could and turn an old boxing battle between to bitter rivals into a three-legged race. Whatever you think of Nick Clegg and his pals, the Lib Dems have come out reasonably well from the televised debates. So much so it seems people are considering them as a serious contender for control of Westminster. 

But while Brown apologised for a misplaced comment – bigotgate – which threatens to cost him dearly in the opinion polls, Clegg came unstuck just a day later when a student in Birmingham slated his party’s plans to put young people into training courses if they’ve been on jobseekers for 90 days or more. Cameron, aside from his pregnant wife, Samantha, not wearing a seatbelt, hasn’t yet put his foot in it quite so spectacularly but there are still seven days to go. Anything could happen. 


The debates have been interesting, although the best moment has to be the yawning man in the sky news debate audience last week rather than anything any of the politicians have said or done. It was hoped the debates would encourage the British public to vote. It has certainly been an unprecedented move, and something I for one think should continue in future general elections. 

What the debates have shown is politicians uncanny ability to not answer the question presented to them. I lost count of the number of times I found myself yelling at my TV during these debates, telling one or other leader to actually answer the darn question. A little over-involved perhaps?

For me at least the debates have not served to leave one clear choice. I am still yet to be convinced by any of the parties. Having grown up in a Tory constituency where there’s about a much point not voting Tory as there is straightening your hair before you go out in the rain, I’ve been brought up with at least some Conservative values. It’s been inevitable. Then for the last 13 years of my life I’ve been subjected to a country controlled by a Labour government. I can’t say that’s left me terribly optimistic for a Labour future. Frankly I’m bored of them. Then there’s the Lib Dems. Well, quite. I keep wondering if I really want Nick Clegg running my country.

Vince Cable, now he’s a man I think I wouldn’t mind controlling my country, even if he does look a little like Yoda. As for the rest of them? Darling looks like he shaved off his eyebrows and then decided to replace them with a couple of caterpillars superglued to his forehead. George Osbourne. Err? 


I hoped that by now I would have an idea where the x on my ballot paper might lie, but to be honest, it still hovers over ‘I don’t know’. Perhaps if there was a box entitled ‘None of the above fill me with enough confidence to let them run my country, can I have a go?’ I’d know where to mark my paper. 

Regardless I will be making my way to the polling station next Thursday. I might even have worked out who I’m voting for. 


For now I leave you with a link to a clip from an old episode of Mock the Week and the hope that I’ll be able to pop back here and comment on the social media side of the election. The fact that BBC’s Newsnight did a breakdown of the Tweets and Facebook comments surrounding the last leaders’ debate, has sparked my interest.

Great Expectations: The Grand National 2010

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As the clock ticks down to Grand National Day (tomorrow, Saturday April 10th 2010) bookies and punters will be anxiously watching. The bookies will be hoping for a non-repeat of last year’s result when rank outside Mon Mome romped home 12 lengths ahead of the field. The punters however will be eager to see a big payout. From even before starter’s orders to the first hoof over the finish line, anything could happen.

2009’s Grand National saw two false starts and a total outsider, Mon Mome – ranked 100/1 – claim the glory, winning one of the most anticipated events in racing’s calendar.
Known for its challenging four and a half miles over 30 fences, you can never be sure what to expect from a National. Whether it’s two finishers from a field of up to 40 (as happened in 1928) or a rank outsider galloping home to victory, you never can tell.
Last year Mon Mome, ridden by Laim Treadwell, streaked home lengths ahead of 2008’s winner Comply or Die (14/1), My Will (8/1) and State of Play (14/1), making trainer Venetia Williams the second woman to train a National winner after Jenny Pitman.
Since the first official race in 1836, there have only been four other rank-outsiders to have come home ahead of the rest of the field – Tipperary Tim (1928), Gregalach (1929), Caughoo (1947) and Foinavon (1967).
This year, Mon Mome, ridden by  Aidan Coleman is ranked at 12-1 (Ladbrokes’ odds on Friday 9th). If he manages to claim the coveted racing title in 2010 he will be the first horse to win back-to-back Nationals since Red Rum. 
Check any of the racing tips websites or papers and no one’s confidently predicting a winner, let alone a Mon Mome double. The field of 40, plus four reserves, includes horses young and old, some making their National debut (The Package) while some are old-hands or previous winners. 
Tomorrow could be anyone’s race. That’s what makes the Grand National an amazing event. In the few minutes it takes for the field to clear 30 fences absolutely anything could happen. As the horses and jockeys get under starter’s orders tomorrow, prepare to be on the edge of your seat, tentatively watching your TV or listening to your radio. Whether you like horse racing or not, this has the potential to be ten of the most exhilarating minutes of your life.

X marks the ballot paper: General Election 2010 #GE2010

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It’s official. The much-anticipated British General Election 2010 is coming. The BBC is primed and ready. In four weeks’ time, on May 6th, voters will leave their mark on ballot papers and elect the government for the next five years. 

Brown, Cameron, Clegg et al are probably hoping that #GE2010 as it’s been dubbed on Twitter will see unprecedented levels of voter participation. Surely there’s nothing like a recession to make people vote? 

But why on earth should we bothered at all? 

GE2010 is likely to be a closely fought election. Despite the fears of a hung parliament or a coalition government, an election with no clear winner from the beginning of the campaign season is hugely interesting. 

The last two elections have been a shoo-in for Labour, even the Foot and Mouth catastrophe of 2001 and the Iraq debacle which overshadowed 2005 didn’t really unsettle TB and New Labour. This time the future looks a lot more uncertain for Brown and his compadres.

The UK meets GE2010 in more turbulent times to the affluent noughties. The economy may be recovering but the recession is hardly over. People are still feeling the strain of falling house prices, redundancies and bankruptcies. 

A generation of young people are beginning to find their voice and speak out. Whether it’s against the rise of extremist parties like the BNP or to criticise the main parties, there appears to be a growing number of twentysomethings preparing to cross their ballots. 

For the first time in decades the Liberal Democrats could get a sniff of success. The chance of Nick Clegg walking through Number 10’s doors on May 7th is, let’s face it, unlikely, but 2010 could be the year his party get off the starting blocks. As a generation of disheartened, displaced and disenfranchised people realise the potential of their vote and use it, this could be the year of change.

Surely the British public will be inspired by the American Presidential election of 2008. Everyone dreamed that perhaps, just perhaps, the first African-American president would be elected. It might have been a closely fought battle but gradually it happened and millions of people watched as maps of America turned blue that November day. If this hasn’t roused a discouraged electorate, what can?

It’s been almost impossible for the last month to go anywhere without being faced with some reminder that there IS an election this year and YOU NEED REGISTER to vote. Bus shelters, TV, radio, even spotify. So what are you waiting for? Register. (You have to be on the electoral register 11 days before polling day to have your say.) Then sit back and wait for the rallies, the fights and the primed photo opportunities and make sure you go to the ballot boxes. Who knows what the next 30 days hold?


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I know it’s been quiet around these parts recently but over the next few weeks I plan to document what looks to be one of the most enthralling elections of recent times and definitely of my lifetime.

As General Election 2010 creeps upon us amid a tornado of party political broadcasts and morale boosting rallies up a down the British Isles, face-to-face media combats and a generally public slanging match this blog will attempt to comment on the developments. At the very least there should be comment on the latest politician to receive an egg to the face. (My money’s on Nick Griffin.) 


Stay tuned. To quote Terry Pratchett, “we live in interesting times.” 
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Brown, Cameron and Clegg image taken from independent.co.uk 

Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime – Sheffield Lyceum: Any Murder Will Do

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Ben Kenwright’s production of Oscar Wilde’s Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime, based on Trevor Baxter’s adaptation and directed by Christopher Luscombe, sees Any Dream Will Do winner Lee Mead take to the stage in his comedy drama debut. Alongside Gary Wilmot, Louisa Clein, Kate O’Mara and Derren Nesbitt, Mead’s performance at the Sheffield Lyceum‘s opening night as Wilde’s Victorian London aristocrat, Lord Arthur, proves he is more than just a pretty boy with a good voice.
 

Lord Arthur Savile is due to marry Sybil Merton (Louisa Clein) but a palm reading by the esteemed clairvoyant, Mr Podger (Gary Wilmot), foresees Lord Arthur will commit a murder in his future, leading the young gentleman to postpone his wedding.
Fearing he will kill his future wife, Lord Arthur considers which of his distant elderly relatives he could do away with instead. Enlisting the help of Mr Podger, Lord Arthur hatches various outrageous plots and plans to commit his crime before marrying Miss Merton.

Much of the press focus has been on Mead and his transition from the musical stage – which he does very well – and this is in danger of overshadowing what is a brilliant production. The play bounds along at a great and enjoyable pace full of Wilde’s humour – which has succeeded in transcending time and culture – and some fantastic acting. 

Kate O’Mara performs brilliantly as the frightfully wonderful London socialite Lady Windermere and David Moss plays a convincingly eccentric and confused Dean of Chicester. But it is the genius pairing of Mr Podger (Gary Wilmot) and the explosive German Herr Winkelkopf (Derren Nesbitt) that embodies Wilde’s humour and carries the comedy through the darker moments. From curtain up, Mead perfectly executes his part, complete with Victorian London gentry accent and comic timing, showing he has got what it takes to be a well rounded stage actor.

The performance is enhanced by great set design for a travelling production, placing us in the heart of upper class Victorian London, and quality musicians, Anna McNicholas and Matthew Wycliffe, who sit on stage throughout, with Wycliffe making a brief entrance as a cockney copper patrolling Embankment. 

Notable moments of opening night:
Lee Mead’s wonderfully comical expressions.
Louisa Clein’s off-stage violin duet with Anna McNicholas.

Gary Wilmot’s punctuated egg and soldiers breakfast.
Derren Nesbitt’s Herr Winkelkopf’s Zorro-like entrances and exits. 

Showing at Sheffield Lyceum for one week only until January 23rd 2010.
Box Office: 0114 249 6000 www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk

Learning to be a bridesmaid

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Tonight I was asked a very important question by one of my longest, closest friends.

She asked me to be her bridesmaid. I naturally squealed at her and said yes. After all I’ve been secretly habouring a desire for her to ask me ever since the over-excited ‘phone call when she announced she was engaged.

After the initial excitement and teasing died down, there was a moment of terror as it dawned on me. I haven’t got a clue about what my new found role as bridesmaid entails. I could hazard a guess that there’s a definite need for me to be massively organised. Something that I can do, although it doesn’t come especially naturally.

But seriously, what does a bridesmaid actually do? She must be glamourous and look the part, but not so much she overshadows the bride. She’s the glue that holds the bride together as she flits about the morning of her wedding. That’s what the movies would have you believe.

The bridesmaid soothes, she calms, she is the voice of reason, she is the emotional support. She holds the dress up while the bride pees. Right ok, I can do that.

However a little bit of research courtesy of www.confetti.co.uk suggests that the role of bridesmaid goes much further than this. Not only have I got to hold my best friend’s dress up when she pees, if we were living several centuries ago, I would be a shield against evil spirits which may attack the bride. 

Then there’s the whole predicament of whether I am chief bridesmaid or just a general one. My friend hasn’t yet specified. She has confided that she has no idea who else she wants to ask. This bride is an only child, so there are no sisters to be an obvious choice. I somewhat think that by default I could land this additional title. And with it the additional responsibility.

I continued my research and discovered that aside from organisation and calmness I must also be enthusiastic about the wedding, focussed, in control of the day and ready to deal with even the most ludicrous of tears with a compassionate ear. This means understanding my friend’s hysteria when the table cloths she wanted to be orange turn out to be lime green.

Is it too late to say no?! I wonder. According to confetti there are only five acceptable reasons for refusing this great honour of bridesmaid-hood.

Feeling I don’t know the bride well enough. 
No, that one won’t do. I’ve known the bride since I was 13. That’s over half my life. We have many a shared tale and adventure, not all suitable for the public domain.

Pregnancy.
I’m not and I’m not planning children into my life anytime soon.

Illness or disability.
Frankly I don’t think I would let that stop me if they were an issue. I am a fit and healthy 24 year old however and bar some serious accident in the next 12 months I should be more than capable of assisting my friend in her big day.

A previous liaison with the groom.
Interesting one this one. I can safely say that this one also doesn’t apply. My friend and the groom had been together at least a year when I first met him and I’m not that kind of girl.

A prior engagement.
With over a year’s notice for my friend’s wedding this is unlikely to be an excuse I can use even if I wanted to.

That settles it then, I’m going to be a bridesmaid. So help me God. 

What would Jesus Tweet?

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Everyone’s tweeting. Stephen Fry, Lily Allen, Downing Street and The White House. Even churches are tweeting in 140 characters or less.

Celebrities use it, ordinary people use it, churches use it. Even the Church of England is on Twitter. What’s more, some churches are using Twitter to connect with people and inspire them before, during and after church. Unless you’ve been living in a cave in the depths of the Himalayas for the last year, you’ll know that Twitter is the latest social networking fad spreading across the world faster than Swine ‘Flu. Just to refresh your memory, the object of Twitter is to tell everyone what you’re doing in a mere 140 characters, known as “tweets”. You can “follow” other “twitterers” – people who use Twitter – and others can choose to “follow” you. 

 
For churches with large, growing congregations, Twitter is the perfect way to keep connected. It can help to bring those on the fringes into the core. It is an easy and relatively effective way to update people on what’s happening, which helps to develop a sense of community. Twitter is even being used to encourage churches that has done just that. In June 2008, Westwinds,- knowing that through podcasts, videocasts and other online resources, they reached vast numbers of people via the internet – decided to set up a screen in their church solely to stream tweets sent to their Twitter account, westwindsseries, during the service. 
 
John Voelz, pastor at Westwinds, said, “I have seen life-altering small groups formed and forged through Twitter. I have witnessed theological discussions, seen prayer answered and much more because of Twitter. It’s helping people to feel like they belong at church and like they have a role to play.” 
 
It’s not just American churches embracing Twitter. Hope City Church and Abundant Life Church, both in the UK, are using Twitter to encourage their congregations and promote community. Hillsong Church, based in Australia and with churches in England, Kiev, France and South Africa, uses Twitter to unify the congregations. Even the Senior Pastor, Brian Houston, tweets, although he’s banned his key team from tweeting during services. 
 
Twitter is strengthening communities in an age where it’s easier to connect with someone of the other side of the world than with our next door neighbours.