It's not everyday you get to attend an event that could be described as "symbolic", but the social media cafe held at Bletchley Park today could certainly be described as that. The site is the birthplace of the IT as we know it today and social media is the very latest development in how we use computers, and the place has pretty much everything in between those two points that to its hosting of the National Museum of Computing. It is also the site where incredibly important work took place that is credited with shortening World War II and saving millions of lives. It is an amazing site, and there is so much there that it is difficult to see it all in one day, and the dedication, friendliness and knowledge of the staff and volunteers bring the place to life and make it a visit a rewarding experience. Despite all this though it hangs under a big black cloud of government indifference, it has to attempt to meet the increasing challenge of restoring and maintaining this complex site largely though money it raises itself, an issue you may have seen highlighted in today's Telegraph online.
During the day we all saw a lot and got to chat with some really interesting people. The day started at 10am and ended at 4pm, which I didn't realise we'd been there for that length of time! Starting the day was a chance to mingle with the other attendees and meet new people and talk about technology. There was a strong showing of OU people there which was good as both are institutions important to Milton Keynes. We then got a guided tour around the site which included a look at the reconstruction of the Colussus computer, a tour of the computing museum (which contained pretty much everything I used while in school, funny to think of these items as museum pieces!) and even being shown some areas normally out of bounds to the public. It is rumoured that there were tunnels from the facility to the nearby train station and a local pub that were used by Winston Churchill, we didn't find them though, despite looking in the basement. We also saw the work being done on a new exhibition area for the computing museum, which is looking really good already. It was great to be in a group that all were interested in social media and had heard about the event on Twitter thanks to a tweet from the their account (@bletchleypark). They've started to get into social media sites largely thanks to Christian Payne a.k.a. @documentally, whose work is well worth checking out, his use of services like Qik is worth investigating.
Bletchley Park is a key site in 20th century history, and yet many people were completely unaware of this until a long time after World War II. This is because the work of the site was kept secret right up until 1974. The people who worked there never uttered a word about their war time work, not even to their own families, and in many cases took these secrets with them to the grave without seeing their contribution to our freedom ever acknowledged. The work carried out at the site still had significance right into the Cold War and the authorities did not want to tell the Soviets what they had found out at Bletchley Park. The case of Alan Turing is particularly tragic, now acknowledged as a genius and the father of computer science, a man who invented the Turing Test which still remains a goal of computer science even today, was behind many of the achievements of Bletchley Park. After the war though chemically castrated after a homosexual relationship, had his security clearance revoked for fear of his sexuality being used by the Soviets to compromise him and later committed suicide by eating an apple laced with cyanide. The secrecy surrounding the site may have also led to the UK sacrificing its early lead in computing and not becoming a major IT power today.
Bletchley Park was a site where 10,000 people worked to deliver hope in Europe's darkest hour and its tragic side is hard to ignore and continues even today. The staff and volunteers work very hard to keep up with the site and to make sure all of the visitors but it desperately needs more cash to survive. It has a bit of a problem that its famous huts where so many breakthroughs were made, and enemy codes cracked were all built as temporary structures and many of these huts are falling into a bad state. Preserving them costs money, but bizarrely the current UK government has not shown much interest in helping to meet these costs preferring instead to spend money on bankers and harebrained ideas such as the ID card scheme. Some might ask though - why spend the money on preserving this history? Well, while Bletchley Park is a part of British history, it is not really ours to let go. We have a responsibility to preserve it for future generations and it is not just our history, it is also a significant site in Polish history as well as world history.
If you ever get the chance to visit Bletchley Park I would certainly recommend it. You can show your support in many different ways, if you live in the UK you can sign a petition to try to persude the government to provide the funding that Bletchley Park so desperately needs, it can be found at: http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/BletchleyPark/. If you don't live in the UK but come here on holiday why not visit? It is really easy to reach from London, under one hour from Euston Station and you can easily fill a whole day there. If you are not from the UK and are not holidaying here you can still help, just tell people about Bletchley Park, read about it, tell people about it, tweet about it. You can help.