Creativity, learning and tigers in the Forest of Imagination

September 9, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Arts and Society, Education Matters, Fellowship 

The Forest of Imagination took place in Bath this summer and attracted over 2,000 visitors. It was a 4 day contemporary arts, creativity and learning event organised and led by RSA Fellows and hosted by Bath Spa University. Over the past year I’ve blogged a number of times about the ArtSpace Bath and the Forest of Imagination (from now on Forest) project and I had been involved in many meetings, discussions and communications about it. That said, when the Forest launched I still wasn’t quite sure what to expect. What I discovered was a creative world full of surprises and learning.

foi picThe journey to the site began in the centre of Bath with graffitied paths creating the start of the pilgrimage, when I got to the top of Sion Hill and turned the corner to see the amazing tiger gate I was already sold! Once in the site, I’ll admit it, I got a bit lost, but this was part of the Forest’s allure – discovering places for yourself and learning through uncovering different areas both visual and sensory. The Forest was made up of four action packed days of performances, workshops, installations and exhibitions. It managed to engage new and inter-generational audiences in the city whilst helping to pave the way for a permanent contemporary arts centre in Bath.

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South West update: power to create, maker spaces, interactive workshops

June 12, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

We’re always leaders in the South West and this Saturday were the first of the RSA’s 14 regions/nations to hold our 2014 Annual Conference, which took place in Plymouth. A good number of Fellows came together to receive local and national updates on RSA activity, get some background on the Maker Space network and get involved in various breakout sessions.

conf1We started with feedback from Chair, Nick Parker and the locally based Trustee Keith Read. I then spoke about my work in the region, particularly in terms of working with Fellows on their projects and connecting Fellows and projects locally. In the past year we’ve had six applications to the RSA’s Catalyst scheme from the South West, covering varied subject areas such as; restorative justice; arts and auctioning and working with army veterans. As ever showing the depth and breadth of the RSA Fellowship. We haven’t as yet had a crowdfunding campaign from the South West and it would be good to get one up and running, they have been very successful nationally, with over £100k raised since September 2013.

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Making our Futures: Bristol Green Capital

May 19, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

A while ago I blogged about the announcement of Bristol Green Capital 2015, and said I “hoped the local Fellowship can get together to work on projects and initiatives during the next few years”. Well my wish has come true and recently we held an event to get things going.

The evening was organised by the Making our Futures team (who have previously organised events around health and shaping Bristol). A group of Fellows and interested others met in Hamilton House, which fittingly aims to create a better world for its community and the environment.  The aims of the evening were to find out what projects Fellows were already involved in, wanted to create, and how the RSA and its Fellowship could provide added value to Bristol Green Capital.

IMG_1392We started with an update about the Bristol Green Capital project from its Programme Director, Kris Donaldson. We also heard from John Pontin FRSA who set up The Converging World, a project that  uses ‘the surplus funds from wind turbines to support social and environmental projects in both our Indian and UK communities’, that had its genesis in the Coffeehouse Challenge, a scheme organised to mark the RSA’s 250th anniversary in 2004.

We then heard from a series of Fellows pitching projects, which have been summarised below. There were questions and answers after each pitch – with comments, suggestions, offers of volunteering and funding opportunitiesgiven.  If you are interested in any of the projects then please contact the individuals involved.

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SkillsBank: connect and share skills- case study: circus and marketing

May 13, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

One of the best ways for RSA Fellows to connect, share knowledge and skills is through the RSA’s SkillsBank, a network of individual Fellows who have been inspired to share their experiences, time and expertise to support others and specific projects.

SkillsBank is headed up by myself and Joanna Massie, and we’re always looking for new SkillsBank members and projects that Fellows can get involved in. As well as linking individual Fellows to projects, we send regular email updates which demonstrate a range of opportunities for Fellows to get involved in, from Fellow-led projects, RSA partner organisations and the RSA.

There are no rules of engagement – the connection can be a one-off phone call to give advice, acting as a mentor or trustee, or becoming an integral part of a project. This means that the matches don’t rely on geographical boundaries, so we could connect you to a Fellow or project in any one of the 80 countries covered by the RSA’s Fellowship.

We’re keen to showcase some of the connections we have made over the past couple of years. We linked Phyllis Martin FRSA (PM) who leads RSA Crowdfunded project Commonwealth Youth Circus to Amanda Chambers FRSA (AC), who has a background in marketing. This is how the connection worked.

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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  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 · 4 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 (

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 


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