Learning about the city – Bristol

April 3, 2014 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Fellowship 

I’ve always enjoyed living in Bristol and although not a native have a strange sense of pride about the city.  Everyone always has positive stories and thoughts about Bristol, some not even cider related!  The city regularly features in top places to live surveys, in fact it topped one published last week.  So, when the City Growth Commission decided to hold one of its hearings in Bristol, I was curious to find out what key public figures had to say about the city and the issues it faces.

The City Growth Commission is an inquiry (led by the RSA) into how the UKs major cities can thrive, how we can change thought processes and create inclusive and sustainable growth.  The inquiry is currently holding a number of hearings across the UK to further the Commissioners understanding of key issues in cities in the UK and will produce a report in October 2014.

The hearing in Bristol IMG_1110based itself in the Lantern House at the beautiful Old Council House and we settled down to listen to three different panels in rotation.  The panels were asked to respond to the same questions (see below), and consisted of an interesting group of people including the mayor, George Ferguson, and the Happy City founder, Liz Zeidler.  There was a strong RSA Fellow contingent on the panels also, with Carolyn Hassan, Knowle West Media Centre, James Vaccaro, Triodos Bank and Stephen Atkinson, Aukett Fitzroy Robinson, all making their points.

The key questions the Commission asked were -  What are the cities challenges and opportunities?  What might the city want, if anything from central government?  What else would enable the city and wider economy to thrive?

Varying responses and arguments were put forward, I was interested to learn that Bristol is the only city in England to positively contribute to the GDP, but that there is a ten year difference in life expectancy across different parts of Bristol, pointing to issues around inequality.  There was also a plea to be given the freedom to fail – and being less risk adverse.

Some of the clear issues that came out of the hearing, were those I heartily agree with – transport services, housing, need to improve employability and skills of young people.  The Commissioners certainly went away with a lot to think about and take forward.


We carried the debate on into the evening with an informal Fellows meet up, and discussed a few key issues that weren’t bought up during the hearing.  The high concentration of creative companies in the city and the South West as a whole “is a hotbed of creative and digital media and the sector is growing more rapidly than anywhere else in the UK, employing more creatives than any other region outside London.” (Universities SW.ac.uk).  Also the green agenda having for a long time been a priority in the city (see my previous blog).

I look forward with interest to the Commission’s report and hope to continue the conversations about Bristol, with the Fellow-led Making our Futures series.

Lou Matter is the Programme Manager for West and South West. You can follow her @loumatter


Water, water everywhere, but ideas are still afloat in the South West

March 5, 2014 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Fellowship 

It has been a tough few months in the South West.  The region has dominated the national headlines for the past couple of months, the ongoing wet and stormy weather conditions creating havoc for local residents, businesses and transport services. Returning back to Bristol on the train I was shocked to see the extent of the flooding all along the route from London and travelling through the South West has been badly curtailed by the severity of the conditions. Bristol (where I live) has been lucky for the most part and when the Avon tide was particularly high the flood barriers have held – the main drama seeming to be sightings of the Bristol crocodile!

Many innovative ways are cropping up with how to deal with adverse weather conditions and RSA Fellows have been involved in a number of ways –

(c. Frank Challenger)

(c. Frank Challenger)

The Somerset levels is one of the most severely hit areas of the country with over 65 square kilometres flooded and seemingly still no respite for affected farms, businesses and residents. A group of local Fellows highlighted the issue of flooding after the floods in 2012 and are currently looking for funding for an oral history project, to give local people a voice in the debate that surrounds the issue. The project originated from concerns that local people, who have lived and worked on the land for generations, have largely been ignored when research for solutions has been undertaken. The group consider it vital that these voices should be given a platform in the debate. If you are interested in being involved in this project, please contact Frank Challenger (f.challenger@virginmedia.com).

Hugh Thomas FRSA of the Bristol Initiative Trust, received £2,000 from the RSA West Venture fund, to fund a ‘learning ship’ that operated as both transport and ‘classroom’ for young people to interact directly with local businessman while exploring the past, present and future of the River Avon and Severn Estuary. The initial voyage was led by experienced facilitators and other business volunteers representing a range of industry sectors (engineering, power, water, finance tourism, and environment) along with wildlife experts and historians. One particular emphasis of the voyage was to increase the young people’s knowledge of the river and issues around the impact of environmental changes around the area and the importance of the river for the future of Bristol and local area. This video has been put together to show how the voyage went.

Last year we were able to link a fire fighter based in Cornwall, who had received a travel fellowship from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust to visit Canada and the USA to investigate community planning and response to flood events, with a Fellow who is based in a national Drainage Board company. It is hoped this introduction will lead to useful shared learnings and connections on both sides.

Bristol has long been at the forefront of green issues and last year it was announced it would host the European Green Capital  in 2015, much work is now underway to bring together not only a programme for 2015 but to embed this agenda into the future of Bristol. A number of Fellows in the city are leading the way with this agenda and it is hoped the local Fellowship can get together to work on projects and initiatives during the next few years.

Hopefully, however small or large these initiatives may be they will all be beneficial for the area in the future.  The RSA is also looking at the wider context in which these floods have occurred, through our work on climate change. The winter’s weather has helped to push the issue back up the political agenda, but in a recent report Jonathan Rowson argued that we need to move beyond a recognition that climate change is taking place. Instead, we need to urgently examine our own behaviour, and why people who accept the reality of man-made climate change do not take action to avoid worsening it. You can read more in A New Agenda on Climate Change.

Lou Matter is the Programme Manager for West and South West. You can follow her @loumatter


Creativity in education, a debate in the South West

January 10, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Education Matters, Fellowship 

South West Fellows recently organised a debate in Plymouth focused on creativity in education, particularly in a time of austerity.  It links into the plethora of blogs coming out of the RSA around creativity, lead by Adam Lent’s blog Why is creativity the most important political concept of the 21st Century?. The debate was organised by Fellows in partnership with Fotonow, who create new opportunities in photography and facilitate socially motivated projects exploring visual culture across the South West of England.

The turnout of about 50 Fellows and interested others, in the week before Christmas during a howling gale, showed what an important debate question this was, and many in the audience participated with questions and comments to make it a vibrant discussion event, based around taking ideas forward.

plymouth debate

(c) Fotonow

Plymouth has a diverse landscape of educational provision and was a perfect place to hold a debate, the Plymouth School of Creative Arts opened for primary intake in September 2013, its mission to be “a centre of excellence for learning, living well and the creative arts for children from all walks of life and the wider community they form”.  The panel was made up of Andrew Brewerton (Principal, Plymouth College of Art), Steve Baker (Principal of Lipson Co-operative Academy), Dave Strudwick (Headteacher, Plymouth School of Creative Arts), Joe Hallgarten, (RSA’s Director of Education), Jonathan Clitheroe (Education consultant, Real Ideas Organisation), Steve Butts (Associate Dean Teaching and Learning, Plymouth University) who all responded to the debates question and then opened up for general discussion.

Some of the key points made by the panel are listed below, fuller transcript can be viewed here

  • What kind of creativity depends on affluence? More important to think about sustainability.
  • Should see austerity as an opportunity – austerity breeds innovation…makes people more creative
  • Don’t talk enough about creativity, talk more about the challenges, creativity should always be considered as an approach to education
  • There are advantages about having less in a time of austerity – amazing what the response can be to having less
  • In times of austerity challenge is key to look at a different model of thinking, diversity and having better well-being
  • If/when austerity hits it will be a good opportunity to focus on what only schools can do
  • Biggest challenge to keep alive is how to manage creativity in this world
  • Need creativity to break connections – students are taught to bring this together



jump x120

One of my favourite comments was a quote on how creativity in education showed be viewed taken from Pina Bausch the German choreographer, who said I’m “not really interested in how my dancers move…I’m interested in what moves them”.

The debate ended after a couple of hours, and informal discussion carried on  afterwards.  The overarching question that seemed to come out of the debate is what how can we ensure creativity remains vitally important in education.  We hope that we may be able to hold a day’s action workshop on this subject for the whole of the South West in 2014, if you are interested in being involved, please get in touch.

If you are interested in the RSA’s work in education, keep an eye on the blog site, the Learning, Cognition and Creativity page on the RSA’s website.  Finally, you can support the RSA’s latest project on Pupil Design Awards on kickstarter where the team are seeking the crowds support to launch the pilot for an innovative design project for pupils of secondary school age.

Lou Matter is the Programme Manager for West and South West. You can follow her @loumatter


A walk on the wild side

January 6, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

I am not a runner or athlete of any sort and am in awe of those who take part in marathons and treks.  My version of this kind of crazy, adrenalin-fuelled activity was to walk the Cotswold Way with my mum.  This was over 100 miles of what I would call (at times) challenging terrain, which we completed over 2 years. To clarify, it didn’t actually take 2 years for us to walk this, a tortoise could probably do it in this time, we took our time and completed it in four different stages.


(c) OpenStreetMap and contributors, Neil Hoggarth

There were minor incidents along the way: I injured my foot whilst refusing to wear proper footwear (in order to get a foot tan) and a number of wild animal situations (cows/dogs) – but it was a truly beautiful and amazing way of experiencing this part of the country.  How this relates to the RSA is that I was walking part of the West region that I cover in my role as Regional Programme Manager and it gave me an opportunity to see the breadth and depth of what goes on in the area.

We started the walk the ‘wrong way round’ and began in Bath walking north.  Bath is always an incredible setting and has a flourishing RSA Fellows network, who meet quarterly to talk through projects Fellows are involved in – sharing advice and volunteering to work on different projects.  A number of Fellows from the network recently led one of the projects in the launch of the RSA’s crowdfunding area on Kickstarter, and were successful in raising £10k to put on a four day festival.  The festival, originally known as ArtSpace Bath, has been re-named Forest of the Imagination and will take place 30 May – 2 June 2014. It is easy to see how the city could host such an event to boost the city’s cultural environment; the long term aim is to have a permanent space for contemporary creativity with education at its heart.



The Cotswold Way skirts along the edge of rural Wiltshire, where staff from the RSA’s Action Research Centre are currently working with Wiltshire Council and its partners to create ‘community campuses’ that bring public services and community facilities under one roof.  ‘Community Campuses’ are multi-service hubs, designed and led by local communities. They will be home to a wide range of services, including leisure, police, library, GP and voluntary sector services as well as community facilities.  The project leaders are keen to connect with local Fellows who may be interested in providing their skills/can offer advice to the community groups involved in the campus programme; if you are interested, please follow this link.

Further on the trail we took some time out to visit a National Trust property, Snowshill Manor, which holds an amazing collection that was owned by its previous owner Charles Paget Wade (1883 – 1956: an enormous and eclectic collection of objects reflecting his interest in craftsmanship.  Perhaps he was an early precursor for the maker movement in which the RSA is currently involved (see the recent blog by my colleague Hilary Chittenden) and would I’m sure have been fully involved in activity!

Food was a major element of this expedition.  One of the nicest places we found was Star Bistro,  a venture enabling young people with disabilities to gain real life work experience in a kitchen.  They use local ingredients and aim to develop “a truly local and sustainable supply chain”.  It is the kind of project that RSA Catalyst looks to fund.

We skirted along the edge of Cheltenham (ending up with an amazing view of the town and its famous racecourse), where local Fellow Richard Buckley would like to connect other local Fellows  in the next few months; if you’re interested please get in touch with him.

IMG_0501We finished the walk in Chipping Camden and felt a very big sense of achievement.  Whilst this kind of adventure is not for the faint-hearted, I would recommend it to anyone as a fabulous way of experiencing the countryside.  Now we’re planning to walk the Ridgeway which is only 87 miles – easy!


Lou Matter is the Programme Manager for West and South West. You can follow her @loumatter



Festival celebrating social enterprise in Plymouth

November 29, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Enterprise, Fellowship 

Plymouth’s annual Social Enterprise City Festival took place last week and had a particular cause for celebration, having recently been named as one of Britain’s first social enterprise cities by Social Enterprise UK.  It has certainly earned this title, having 150 social enterprises in the city, which collectively employ 6,000 – 7,000 people and generate £500m a year.

The festival is organised by the Plymouth Social Enterprise Network which has a number of Fellows on its committee.  One of these is Fellowship Councillor, Ed Whitelaw, who is quoted in the latest RSA Journal, where he talks about how a RSA Fellowship event helped get the idea of Plymouth being badged as a social enterprise city off the ground.

IMG_0719We continued the RSA’s involvement in this process by getting involved and organising a number of events that took place over the festival week.  The plethora of events started on Monday evening, where I ran an RSA Engage event.   Engage events are for Fellows to “meet, connect, share and grow” and we have been running these across the country.  In Plymouth I had a group of Fellows coming together to talk about the RSA’s involvement in local and national projects.  It also provided an opportunity for Fellows to meet each other and make connections, the breadth of the Fellowship shone out, with one Fellow tweeting  “(engaging with a) person who runs a quarry, Churchill Fellow, Chair of Pride, head teacher, artist, professor and more!”.  There was an inspiring talk from Colin Doctor FRSA the new head master for Sparkwell School, which has recently been re-opened as a free school, working alongside social enterprises locally to help teach the pupils.

(engaging with a) person who runs a quarry, Churchill Fellow, Chair of Pride, head teacher, artist, professor and more!


Tuesday saw an early start for Ben Dellot from the RSA’s ARC team, who spoke at the Plymouth Chamber of Commerce’s Social Enterprise Breakfast.  He spoke to a packed room at the National Marine Aquarium about research he has undertaken on young enterprise with RBS, around how young people become entrepreneurs.

Wednesday was packed full of events, firstly I attended an interesting panel discussion around social enterprise and culture, that involved Lindsey Hall FRSA from the Real Ideas Organisation.   The debate bought together key organisations from across the South West, including the Eden Project and CoExist project in Bristol, with a lot of audience interaction and helpful areas of shared learning and coordination from these organisations.

The RSA then partnered with Plymouth Chamber of Commerce, Plymouth Social Enterprise Network and UnLtd in a fast paced speed networking lunch – it was strict(!), you only had one minute with each person.  Nick Parker (Chair of RSA SW) managed to speak to the 60 people in the room about the RSA in this time – a good effort!

IMG_0731Following on from this we ran an open space event with UnLtd which focused on sustainability in social enterprise.  There were a number of Fellows and UnLtd award holders who set their own agenda on the day – who got into small groups to discuss problems and issues.  I met with some inspiring local social enterprises; one was a small charity working with providing dogs for veterans and an asylum seeker who has set up the Give Back project which involved asylum seekers and refugees volunteering to help communities they are based in.

Thursday saw the Trade Fair and conference take place, we had a stall brimmed full of information about the RSA and talked to a whole range of students and local people about the RSA and its work.  Built around the day were a number of key note lectures, two of these were given by Fellows, Steve Coles who talked about the relationship between social enterprise and well-being and Sara Burgess who spoke about CiC’s and communications.

The week was a great success with over 1000 people engaging across the events that took place as part of the festival.  It also showed the impact the RSA can have when working in partnership.  I have created a Storify of the week event’s in tweets.

The RSA has a vibrant Social Entrepreneurs Network, please sign up and get involved.  I hope that in Plymouth we can work with Fellows more to get involved in the city, and with the Cornwall Social Enterprise zone about to launch – is the South West leading the way with social enterprise in the UK?

Lou Matter is the Programme Manager for West and South West. You can follow her @loumatter 


“Cracking good job, Gromit!”

November 11, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Arts and Society, Fellowship 

Bristol, and indeed the west region, was taken over by Gromit fever over the summer.  Eighty different 5ft high giant Gromits  were painted and situated all over the city, creating an art trail and the opportunity for people to explore Bristol whilst searching for the Gromits.

(c) Roz Bonnet

(c) Roz Bonnet

It’s not exaggerating to say Bristol went crazy over these Gromits, Bristol Evening Post reported “The city’s museums have seen a 65 per cent increase in the number of visitors through their doors this summer compared to last, shops and restaurants have seen a rise in customers while Bristol’s tourist information centre has seen more than double the number of people through its doors.

Most of the businesses and organisations that are seeing a boost in visitors are crediting the Gromits.”

015 (2)

(c) Roz Bonnet

The Gromit’s were finally brought together in the Royal West Academy for a week and the queues were insane – up to 6 hours queuing to see them altogether, it caused chaos.This chaos was good however as the Gromit’s were auctioned off to raise funds for Bristol Children’s Hospital and over £2.3million was raised.

My question is why this fever for the Gromit’s, a similar trail was around last summer with gorilla’s and although popular it didn’t cause this kind of fever, not seen since the Banksy exhibition at the Bristol Museum.  Was it because they were Gromit’s (Nick Park’s Aardman Animations is based in Bristol and therefore it has a close connection to the city), was it because the Evening Post featured photos in the paper? Was it the gamification of the gromit’s and the fact you had to follow a trail to find them? Was it social media – so many photos were posted on facebook, twitter…. I’m not sure but it is something I would like to explore in the West region.

We recently saw how the focus of a key theme can bring Fellowship together (at the RSA Yorkshire conference) focusing around the Incredible concept, spearheaded by Pam Warhurst (FRSA), see blog about it from Matthew Taylor.  I would like to find what could ignite the Fellowship interest in the West – our key themes have been identified as environment, health and education – how can we create a Gromit effect for Fellowship?  All ideas gratefully received!

Lou Matter is the Programme Manager for West and South West. You can follow her @loumatter 


Fellows eye view of the South West annual conference

September 25, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

The recent Annual Conference in the South West marked the end of my first year in the job as Regional Programme Manager for the region.  It has been an enjoyable year – meeting many fascinating Fellows, working with them on projects and covering a lot of miles!

This year’s annual conference took place in Taunton, where we welcomed the RSA’s new Chair, Vikki Heywood – who shared the Trustee Boards current thinking and took questions from the floor.  There were also a series of workshops which gave Fellows an overview of different areas of activity and opportunities of getting involved.  A Fellows eye view of the conference is posted below, a blog written by Kate McCormick FRSA, which she has kindly let me re-post here –

I spent Saturday at the RSA South West conference in Taunton.  I’ve been a Fellow of the RSA for more than twenty years, have used ‘The House’ in John Adams Street as my London office to hold meetings with clients; dined in the elegant restaurant in the vaults; and listened to interesting lectures in the state rooms, including a memorable one by management guru, Charles Handy. And, like millions of others, I have marvelled at, been entertained by and educated by the Animate presentations, (developed by the RSA with Cognitive Media), particularly the brilliant discussion on Changing Education Paradigms from Sir Ken Robinson. If you’ve ever thought there was something wrong with how we educate our kids (and who hasn’t at some point?), then do take a look at this presentation next time you have a spare 10 minutes.

Vikki AC

 But until now, I haven’t managed to really get a handle on what the organisation does — or why I am involved in it. At the conference we met the new Chairman of the RSA, Vikki Heywood, who gave me exactly what I was hoping for. In addition to the strapline, I now have an elevator speech I can remember: enriching society with ideas and action. The RSA is the only organisation with which I’ve been involved which doesn’t really provide benefits for the members; it’s more a case of what the members can do for others. And yes, I know there are lots of other organisations which have the same focus, from Rotary and Round Table to the Mothers’ Union, but this is the only one to which I have belonged. So it’s nice to finally understand what it’s all about.

Vikki Heywood, who gave me exactly what I was hoping for. In addition to the strapline, I now have an elevator speech I can remember: enriching society with ideas and action


One RSA project which is dear to my heart as a former production manager is Great Recovery . The idea is to work with designers and manufacturers to develop products which at the end of their life-cycle can either be repaired (remember when we used to repair things that broke, rather than throwing them away?) or recycled. Someone described it as ‘Cradle to Cradle’ approach to manufacturing, rather than ‘Cradle to Grave’. In a week where we have just bought a new printer and discovered a full set of replacement ink cartridges is more or less the same price as a new printer (complete with cartridges), this is music to my ears.

One of the perennial problems for any organisation of people from disparate locations is how to communicate effectively. Our region covers the three counties of Cornwall, Devon and Somerset and we only get together physically once or twice a year. Someone suggested we might use Twitter to hold regular discussions or get-togethers. Putting aside the fact that many of the people in the room are not Tweeps and have no wish to be, this raised the question in my mind, and not for the first time, what is Twitter for? Do we use it effectively? And is it really an appropriate medium for bringing large groups of people together? blog continues here

We are looking at ways of communicating across the region and have recently set up a South West Group on the RSA’s social network – please sign up.  In terms of Twitter I have pulled together a storify, which is a series of tweets that were tweeted throughout the conference, example below.



I’ll leave the last words to Nick Parker, Regional Chair, who I would like to thank for all the hard work he has put into the region over the past year -

Thank you all for taking the time to join us in Taunton. I hope the content was interesting and the networking useful. Early feedback suggests we achieved both .We have a lot of exciting opportunities across the region, including

  • Strategic leadership support and challenge in Cornwall
  • Developing a theatres and performance network in Exeter
  • Supporting the link with Petroc College in North Devon
  • Supporting the national ReMake programmeProviding challenge for a strategic social enterprise funding initiative
    • Community outreach
    • Thought leadership
    • Education
    • Networking
    • Supporting local debates and local networking

And much more. Please contact me or your local network lead if you would like to get involved. Meanwhile, any comment or feedback on the conference or matters discussed there will be gratefully received.” Contact Nick via email, nicholasjparker@btinternet.com


Lou Matter is the Programme Manager for West and South West. You can follow her @loumatter 



Exploring the RSA as a ‘critical friend’ in the West

August 8, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

The West regional team were keen to explore the RSA’s role as a ‘critical friend’ through their Annual Conference.  On the night we were able to use this theme and look at how the RSA can work as a “critical friend” with partnerships, projects and initiatives and delivered what I hope was an interesting and thought provoking conference.

h park

The Conference was hosted by Fellowship Councillor, Allan Bosley at Hartham Park, Corsham. We were blessed with a beautiful summers evening and were pleased to have about 50 Fellows gathered together.  As an introduction to the evening we were given a brief history of Hartham Park, whose story includes visits from both Byron and Winston Churchill.

The evening then began with a series of lightening talks around the RSA’s core themes arts; manufacturing and commerce. The talks were given by Lauren Scholey from the Tobacco Factory and Terry Lockwood, Paravail Telecom.  Lauren spoke about work the Tobacco Factory has undertaken from its inception in collaborating closely with the local community and making the community an integral part of the building and its uses, along with striving to regenerate the area.  Terry described his work as a telecoms consultant and where his employment journey has led him through the years.  He also spoke about how the RSA should engage more with commerce and manufacturing.

Over the next three years, staff from the RSA’s Action Research Centre will be on the ground in Wiltshire as ‘critical friends’ – learning partners, providing support and challenge for the programme. 


Next up, was Paul Buddery from RSA ARC, officially launching the RSA Wiltshire project.  He explained how Wiltshire Council and its partners are changing how public services are delivered and controlled.  They are establishing ‘Community Campuses’ – which are multi-service hubs, designed and led by local communities.  Over the next three years, staff from the RSA’s Action Research Centre will be on the ground in Wiltshire as ‘critical friends’ – learning partners, providing support and challenge for the programme.   Community Campuses provide an exciting opportunity for Fellows to be involved in civic improvement, sharing skills with local communities.  If you would like to be involved with the RSA in this programme, please contact me (see below).









Fellows then heard from projects which have been funded in the region, both of which I have blogged about in the last few months, giving an update of their activities; Making our Futures, led by Ted Fowler, also Bristol Story Lab, led by Jon Kennard and Sam Taylor.

There was then time for Fellows to get to network and make connections, which is how such projects are initiated.  There are also avenues available to apply for seed funding for projects, through the RSA’s Catalyst scheme and West seed fund

Finally, we were pleased to have the RSA West’s digital champion, Martin Newman attending who produced a social media summary of the event and has posted numerous pictures on the RSA’s Flickr site (some of which are being used in this blog).

Lou Matter is the Programme Manager for West and South West. You can follow her @loumatter


Learning through facilitation and working in partnership

August 6, 2013 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

As a Regional Programme Manager I get to contribute to a number of events covering a wide variety of different topics. When you run an RSA event, you are sometimes unsure of what the feedback will be, but after the recent facilitation workshop that we run in Bristol a key piece of feedback was how hot and sweaty it had been – not a common occurrence in Bristol! Luckily, we received more than just that, as can be seen from the graphic below:









The workshop was part of a series that the RSA have delivered across the UK, working in partnership with ICA (Institute of Cultural Affairs).  The Bristol workshop took place in conjunction with Coexist, as we were hosted at their headquarters in Stokes Croft, Bristol.

We were training Fellows and others in some of the key techniques that the ICA employ in facilitating.  Over the past year, the Fellowship department of the RSA have been working with ICA to develop resources to support Fellow led ventures and ideas through the use of facilitation methodology.  The current series of workshops have been a way to extend this knowledge further into the Fellowship, so that the skills can of use more widely.

Since the training I have facilitated two sessions with our team around income generation and marketing. The first one I used the consensus method, the second a focused conversation. Both were really successful. Doing it in practice really helped to embed the learning and enable me to fully appreciate the process

The ICA trainer, Ann Lukens, who I worked with to run this workshop, has used these methods to work through conflict in the Middle East.  She led the training in two key methods – focused conversation and consensus workshops.

We worked through the heat and were refreshed by lunch and an opportunity to get to know one another more informally.  In the afternoon, Ann led the consensus workshop method through focusing on the question, “What are the key issues that face Bristol and the South West communities?”.  This created a fascinating discussion and came up with some really interesting groupings around food, generational segmentation and housing.  I hope to be able to feed some of these discussions into potential projects that could be initiated by the Fellowship in the West and South West.


The training was aimed at giving Fellows the opportunity to learn some new methods of facilitation and a chance to meet one another, therefore I was pleased to receive this feedback from one attendee “Since the training I have facilitated two sessions with our team around income generation and marketing. The first one I used the consensus method, the second a focused conversation. Both were really successful. Doing it in practice really helped to embed the learning and enable me to fully appreciate the process”

These workshops have shown how integral it is for the RSA to work in partnership with other organisations and emphasise how partnerships are a key way in which the RSA can -

  • Provide new engagement opportunities for Fellows
  • Help further the charitable objectives of our partner organisations and so in turn further the charitable objectives of the RSA
  • Raise our profile within new communities of individuals committed to positive social change, and recruit new Fellows from amongst these leaders and thinkers
  • Contribute to the growing sense that the RSA Fellowship is made up of people with the inclination and the tools to intervene when solutions are needed.


If you are interested in learning more about the RSA’s work on facilitation or would like to explore opportunities for making use of it in your area, please contact the Regional Programme Manager for your area.




Lou Matter is the Programme Manager for West and South West. You can follow her @loumatter

Debating arts and education in the South West

June 20, 2013 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Fellowship 

I have spent a lot of time on the M5 recently driving around Devon and Cornwall and, incidentally, found it a good way of catching up with RSA lectures via the listen again app.  The reason for my travels has been to attend a really stimulating series of debates that RSA South West are hosting in partnership with the Dartington Hall Trust.  They are being led by the networks in the South West – Exeter, West Cornwall, Plymouth and North Devon and are focusing on some of the key issues relevant regionally and nationally -

  • Can social enterprise fill the public sector gap in service provision?
  • Can the arts remain part of civil society without public subsidy?
  • What direction for education in the age of austerity?

I attended two of the debates last week, firstly dropping into Exeter where they were discussing education.  The debate had an interesting mix of panellists, who each gave their views on key issues involving education in the current climate.  The panellists were – Professor Debra Myhill, (Dean of Education at Exeter University); Andy Hannan, (councillor and professor of education); James Bond (who leads Carving Community which focuses on using creative and practical skills to work with disengaged young people) and Hannah Peckham, (NUT officer).

concern of losing creativity and the arts in the current curriculum

The debate opened out into general discussion and some of the key issues that were highlighted included – the real need to invest in education in a time of austerity; learn lessons from the past; would be good to pair young people with older mentors; and concern about losing creativity in the curriculum that is being overtaken with literacy and maths.



Later on in the week, I briefly lost myself on the wild edges of North Devon and stared in wonder at the amazing range of places that the RSA Fellowship find themselves in.  This debate around the arts was held at Pickwell Manor, Croyde, and a small group of Fellows and local artists discussed the future for the arts without public subsidy.  Local artist, Sandy Brown FRSA, championed the arts and culture and the tangible benefits they bring to the well-being of society, we also heard from David Francis director of arts for the Dartington Hall Trust and Mark Wallace chief executive of Beaford Arts.

One of the strands of conversation focused on the What Next?  movement which is aimed at bringing together arts and cultural organisations from across the UK, to articulate and strengthen the role of culture in our society.  I have been working in Bristol with Visual Arts South West and Theatre Bristol to bring together people to talk around the What Next? movement and this debate helped me to understand better the position of the arts in the South West.

Another area that came up was education and linked straight back into the debate in Exeter – about the concern of losing creativity and the arts in the current curriculum, all these threads are linked together in Joe Hallgarten’s (RSA’s Director of Education) blog.  It certainly sounds like an area that will be bought to the fore at the final open forum workshop to the debate series.  This workshop is taking place at Dartington on Saturday 28 September, where the principal themes and issues raised across the region will be explored in more detail – with a view to initiating collaborative projects.  I look forward to seeing what projects are taken forward and seeing how Fellows can get involved in a practical way around these issues.

Lou Matter is the Programme Manager for West and South West. You can follow her @loumatter


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