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"#Pat is intended to enable homeless people living chaotic transient lives to track their appointments."

What was the project challenge?

The Patchworks project was set up to explore the health and communication needs of homeless people in Morecambe. Specifically, the project set out to find out how homeless
people might co-design and co-develop a prototype digital tool using cheap, open source technology that can help to monitor and communicate their health and wellbeing.

Who were involved?

The Patchworks team of Lancaster University academics, from bio-medicine, computer science, art, design, anthropology, sociology and management science worked with Signposts, a charity focused on helping the homeless in Morecambe, and MadLab, a group of innovators who share and experiment with inexpensive open-source technology.

What new digital technology was developed?

A prototype called #Pat, a Personal Appointment Ticketing service. #Pat is intended to enable homeless people living chaotic transient lives to track their appointments with the
swipe of an RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) enabled wristband or card. The team developed a shoebox-size device that contained a Raspberry Pi low-cost computer, RFID reader, and a tiny printer, similar to that in an electronic cash register. The #Pat device then prints out a personalized reminder list of appointment dates, times and places.

As such, #Pat provides inexpensive, mobile access to information for those with limited or restricted internet access.

What are the ongoing impacts?

The biggest success of Patchworks was the development of a new process for working together where the power to imagine and invent futures is extended to vulnerable

The #Pat prototype itself is now to be developed and repurposed for a collaborative Big Lottery funded project, ‘CAN’ help, involving 15 local organisations.


Signposts is a national organisation that works at a local level to empower the community by developing and delivering a range of targeted services that are accessible and affordable to everyone.

Unfortunately, shortly after the Patchworks project finished, Signposts Morecambe lost its funding and was forced to close.


MadLab is a digital laboratory situated in the Northern Quarter of Manchester. It is a space you can get together with like-minded individuals and work on your urban gardening, crochet, hacking, programming, media arts, filmmaking, animating project without worrying that you’re in a library, coffee shop, pub or other unsuitable venue.



#Pat is a network connected thermal printer with RFID (NFC) reader, designed to be placed in multiple locations around town so that homeless people can get reminders of important appointments on their own timescales without the need to access the internet or use mobile phones. #Pat was developed as part of #Patchworks, an eight-month research project during which a team of academics from Lancaster University, homeless people, charity volunteers and DIY-bio scientists worked together designing and building affordable low-tech digital prototypes to address homeless people needs. Users are given a low cost ID chip, in the form of a card, keyring or wrist band (which cost less than £1 each) and they work with a caseworker to identify the types of reminders they might need. The caseworker sends an email containing reminders to the address associated with the ID chip. The user can then simply hold their ID chip up to #Pat and #Pat will respond by printing the latest list of tailored reminders. Users can get as many printouts as they like (the paper is very low cost and the thermal printer requires no ink). Some of the users lead quite chaotic lives, and if they lose their ID chip then they simply let Signposts know and they are given a new one.

#Pat contains a Raspberry Pi, powered from a USB hub which also connects it via USB to serial converters to a RFID reader and a thermal printer. Code written in Python loops waiting for an RFID chip to be found, when one is found it checks the email server for the latest message and then prints it via the thermal printer. With some further work the hardware and software could be refined (for example using GPIO instead of the USB->Serial converters), but as a rapidly prototyped proof of concept it works well.

In keeping with the ethos of the project, open source and community software libraries and tools were used to develop #Pat – of course the Pi runs Raspbian “wheezy” (http://www.raspberrypi.org/downloads) we used Adafruit’s thermal printer library (https://github.com/adafruit/Adafruit-Thermal-Printer-Library), Box-o-tron by Zignig (http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:404) along with Inkscape (http://inkscape.org/) to lay out the design for the laser cut acrylic.

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