The Big Idea: This University is Free (IF) is a new project co-founded by Jonny Mundey FRSA offering free humanities courses to young people priced out of today’s higher education market, by using London’s cultural wealth in innovative ways.
Late last year I met my colleague and soon-to-be IF co-founder Barbara for a coffee. Our meeting was billed as a routine catch-up but by the end of our talk we had posed ourselves a question it proved impossible to ignore: what if you could use the free cultural resources of a city, the web and shards of donated time from academics to create a series of free undergraduate-level courses? The IF Project was born.
The principles that have driven the project from day one are that an education in the humanities is an education that should be available to all (not just a luxury for the sons and daughters of the wealthy) and an education worth having, with the capacity to enrich young people’s lives and benefit society as a whole. In short, why shouldn’t the inspirational liberal arts education Barbara and I enjoyed be within reach of all school-leavers and young workers who wanted it?
There is clearly a demand for free self-driven learning: mass open online courses (MOOCS) have been expanding at a furious rate. Unfortunately, a lot of students abandon on-line learning. What they are probably missing is the college-type experience of debating and learning with and from fellow students; the fun and excitement of studying.
The IF project uses London as a giant lecture-hall, guiding students to free events relevant to our introductory short courses in subjects such as history, philosophy, music and the visual arts. It also brings together a network of academics and thinkers to lead weekly workshops, lectures and seminars with IF students. So far, we’ve forged partnerships with academic organisations such as Gresham College (which offers free lunchtime and evening lectures of the highest academic quality); recruited professors from top universities to offer free lectures; and connected with youth organisations who work with the young people who have been priced out of the current loans-based education market.
The IF Summer School
In May we are running our first course - a four-week humanities Summer School taking in history lectures at the Gresham College, visual arts experiences via the V&A’s standing collections and discussions around free concerts at The Festival Hall. We will use the Summer School to test out the logistics of IF and seek feedback and advice from our first students on how to expand the idea into something much bigger.
Get Involved with IF
We have just launched a crowdfunding campaign (as of yesterday!), supported by the RSA, to raise funds for the IF Summer School. We would be hugely grateful for any help in spreading the word.
We would also love to hear from Fellows and contacts interested in being involved in the IF project. To expand we need to connect with volunteer academics who can provide, say, one lecture a year. We need academics and thinkers and post-graduate students who love their subjects and want to talk to and enthuse new students about what they are doing in seminar sessions. We want to hear from organisations who can donate space for seminars and lectures. We want to form close links with cultural institutions sharing our aims.
Just as we have been inspired by the community of UK “free university” projects along the way, if we succeed in London, we hope others will copy the IF model.
Jonny Mundey FRSA
To get help from RSA Catalyst for your social venture visit our webpage
The Big Idea: Auntie Daisy is a new service that delivers sanitary towels and tampons discreetly through women’s letterboxes every month. 100% of profits go to Camfed - a charity educating and empowering girls in Africa. Matt Lill FRSA is the co-founder of Auntie Daisy.
When my partner Claire lived in Tanzania and taught English to young girls, she noticed how some of them would often miss school at certain times of the month. Without access to sanitary protection and without proper toilet facilities in schools, some girls in Africa can miss a whole week of lessons every single term – just because of their period. This leaves them way behind, which is just not right.
One evening many years later, Claire told me about the girls she met and the problems they faced. My brain automatically turned to my background of working with social enterprises, and a few glasses of wine later Auntie Daisy was born!
Auntie Daisy is not just about supporting girls’ education with our profits. We want to hit a chord with women in the UK by relating to something they use every single month.
We aim to inspire women to change their shopping habits ever so slightly, and buy their sanitary products through Auntie Daisy. By buying social, they can have a direct impact on girl’s lives in Africa and help Camfed educate more young women of the future.
The RSA Catalyst grant has been fundamental in getting Auntie Daisy off the ground. We invested the funding in the packaging for our boxes, which will be hitting women’s letterboxes soon. The boxes look amazing and hopefully women who receive them will agree and enjoy opening them each month.
As well as funding, the RSA has provided us with some invaluable advice from its fellows, including those with expertise in marketing – essential for helping as many women as possible to hear about Auntie Daisy. We have also received a lot of advice and encouragement from other fellows we’ve met, including at the excellent recent #RSAEngage event (and I don’t say that just because I was speaking at it!). We look forward to meeting more inspirational fellows over the coming months.
As for next steps – well to be honest as a new business everything’s a next step at the moment! But we definitely have some exciting times ahead. The first thing we want to do is find out what women really want when it comes to their periods. Together with Mumsnet, we’ve launched a survey about women’s monthly trends and habits. The responses will help ensure that we’re offering the best service we can, that appeals to women and gives them one less thing to think about each month.
Auntie Daisy needs you!
Auntie Daisy provides convenience, discretion and a contribution to a cause for our customers – we want to get these messages out in front of as many women as possible. We think that one way to do this is through partnerships with established women’s networks. Accordingly we would be grateful for advice from anybody who has held a senior position in such a network, or negotiated such a partnership, to make sure we get our pitch right, in a way that will be valuable for both sides.
RSA Fellows can help Auntie Daisy get it right from the start – please take the survey and pass it on to any women who might be interested. If you think Auntie Daisy is a service that could work for you, please visit our website and sign up. Again, please pass the link on to any women you know. You can also show your support and join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.
We’re really excited about what the future holds for Auntie Daisy and we strongly believe in everything it stands for. But we’re always very open to more suggestions and ideas. Please do get in touch at email@example.com – we look forward to hearing from you!
To get help from RSA Catalyst for your social venture visit our webpage
The Big Idea: Fluency is a learning platform and crowd work marketplace that gets young people into work and connects them with small businesses who need their skills. Sinead Mac Manus FRSA is the CEO and co-founder of Fluency.
I founded the company to solve two big problems: the fact that there are limited work opportunities at the moment for young people, both here in the UK and across Europe, and the lack of digital expertise in small businesses in the UK.
We teach our young people in-demand skills such as how to build a website, how to market a company on social media or how to optimise content for Google. Our learners complete digital challenges and collect badges to demonstrate their learning. But what’s really unique about our platform is that as our learners get mastery in a subject, they become eligible for work on the crowd work platform. In this way they can ‘learn and earn’ at the same time.
The story so far
My background is a digital coach and trainer to small businesses. For the past four years I have been working with them to overcome stresses about engaging in digital and showing them the potential that the web and social media can have for their business. But many of my clients were just too busy to implement much of my advice so I back in 2011 I saw a gap in the market for providing outsourced digital services and, with help from UnLtd and then the Nominet Trust, started training low income women in east London with these skills.
To be honest I never had a passion for working with young people specifically – as a feminist, creating economic opportunities for women and girls was always more my thing. But as I developed this work, I couldn’t ignore that youth unemployment remains stubbornly high here in the UK and is catastrophic in many European countries such as Greece. Spain and Italy. I realised if we don’t provide work opportunities for this generation of young people, then we run the risk of a ‘lost generation’ with knock-on effects in communities for decades. Since starting to work exclusively with young people last year, I have been amazed at their talents and ambition to make a better life for themselves and feel proud if we can help even one young person succeed.
Fluency was accepted onto Bethnal Green Ventures social technology incubator in July and have been building the platform and piloting our work with young people over the last six months. The Catalyst grant from the RSA was amazing and it allowed us to work with a great bunch of young people over the summer – one of whom is now working in our company, one is doing a technology apprenticeship, and the others are interning or in education.
What does the future bring
We are a very young startup but have received lots of recognition from industry and the press. We were finalists in Vator Splash, one of the most prestigious pitching competitions in the US and we won The Challenge Cup in November last year and were voted Best Education Startup in the UK. We have made strategic partnerships with some of the biggest youth charities in the UK such as The Prince’s Trust and are just about to start working with our first 100 young people getting them trained up and working as digital experts. We have grown our team from the original two co-founders to a team of five and are raising investment to bring the team to nine and reach as many young people as we can.
We have a passionate belief at Fluency that we can help some of the 75 million young people around the world who need work. As more people around the world come online and get access to cheap devices, we want to be there providing access to decently paid, online work opportunities, not only in the digital space, but moving into other verticals such as customer service, lead generation and customer support.
How you can get involved
We are always looking for youth partners to get involved. If you or your organisation are helping young people get into work, then please do drop us a line and see how we can help. We are also looking for small business clients for our young trainees, so if you need help with a making a website, managing your social media, or a host of other digital services – then please do get in touch with us on firstname.lastname@example.org. More information can also be found on www.fluency.io.
Sinead Mac Manus FRSA
Follow them at @getfluency
To get help from RSA Catalyst for your social venture visit our webpage
Nathan Boublil FRSA co-founded Stat.io, a Cambridge-based software company aggregating the millions of statistical spreadsheets released by government units. While the data-driven software is mainly intended for professional decision-makers, Stat.io is now partnering with cities to launch OpenCity portals. These virtual townhalls allow any citizen to be able to seamlessly view all available data points about their city and engage with other citizens as well as their local policy makers.
The story so far
Stat.io, founded in late 2012 by a team of Cambridge University graduates, has been committed to developing technology addressing Open Data’s usability issues: segregation (the data divided across more than 500 portals on the web) and formatting (eclectic mix of data formats, structures and languages). As millions of datasets are being released publicly by government units, Stat.io has been working on ways to aggregate, geo-reference and normalise this statistical data, creating in the process a search engine particularly relevant for professional decision-makers (corporate strategists, NGOs, government officials). Supported by the RSA’s Catalyst programme, Cambridge University, Unltd and Google, Stat.io has already aggregated over 20 million datasets.
Stat.io will not rest until the socio-economic situation of every geographical point on the planet can be accessed in a few clicks.
We have all seen the deluge of citizens commenting about their cities, neighbourhood of street – in positive or negative ways – on obscure online forums or social media… The issue is that online citizen engagement has so far been inefficient. Comments often lack credibility as not backed up by data and simply hit a communications wall as there is no way for government officials to keep track (and therefore act on them).
Through OpenCity, we at Stat.io are essentially creating a 24/7 easy-to-use virtual town hall. The platform provides a common structure where every citizen has access to all the objective (recent and historical) facts and can, in one click, make data-driven suggestions/comments involving other citizens and local officials. The entire platform is geo-referenced, making it particularly easy to navigate. All discussions happen using twitter/facebook credentials, adding even more convenience as both citizens and (increasingly) government officials are present on the social networks. Stat.io will not rest until the socio-economic situation of every geographical point on the planet can be accessed in a few clicks.
At Nacue’s varsity pitch in November (where Stat.io won best financial technology), ex Ambassador David Landsman OBE called Stat.io “an important tool for democracy”. Indeed, Stat.io clearly intends to provide a way to improve both transparency and accountability – one city at a time.
How you can get involved
Stat.io is currently recruiting 5 partner cities (3 in the UK and 2 abroad), of all sizes. If you are interested to be part of the scheme or believe your city should be – please do get in touch with us on email@example.com. More information can also be found on www.stat.io/cities
Nathan Boublil FRSA
To get help from RSA Catalyst for your social venture visit our webpage
The Big Idea: The New Cross area of south London could gain a new arts space. A previously closed public library has re-opened as New Cross Learning, inspiring and uplifting thousands of local users. Catherine Shovlin FRSA has launched a crowdfunding campaign to develop a creative arts space working with the local community…
Over the last 10 years we, Artmongers, have been stirring things up in Deptford and New Cross, South London with thought-provoking public art that changes the way people relate to space. Now we want to create New Cross’s first public artspace: a giant 3D lightbox on the ceiling of New Cross Learning. We will work together with local groups, running workshops to create multimedia artworks that change every six months. Central to our aim, we will be collaborating with emerging artists in our local community as well as school children, community groups and Goldsmiths students. To do this, we need to raise nearly £5k.
This is where we need your help. Through RSA Catalyst we have launched a crowdfunding campaign, Looking up in New X, to raise the funds needed to bring a much needed art space to the New Cross area – and we have ten days left to go!
The story so far
Since it opened in 2011, New Cross Learning has quickly developed into a vibrant community hub. Locals go there for books of course, but also for computer access, street dance, poetry group, baby bounce, community meetings, training sessions, Chinese dragon making workshops and much more.
The front of the building got a great facelift in 2012 (thanks to RSA Catalyst and the Funding Network) with a participatory artwork that marked the beginning of community ownership and involvement. Now we want to do something about the inside. New Cross doesn’t have a public art space so we are raising money to make this happen.
Last year’s flash mob on the A2 (for those outside London, the A2 is a major road connecting London with Kent) highlighted the challenges pedestrians face getting from one side of New Cross to the other. We didn’t break any traffic rules but we definitely caused a stir. And this year’s campaign to plant 1000 sunflowers has involved hundreds of school children, Goldsmiths University, local businesses and community groups. It brightened up the place and more importantly it encouraged people to realise the possibility that it is our environment and we can choose how it is. Then recently we worked with another RSA supported project – Talk to Me London to create unexpected creative interventions at bus stops in New Cross including a disco.
Taking back ownership of public space encourages all sorts of social benefits – not least the improved sense of well-being while you’re taking part.
Taking back ownership of public space encourages all sorts of social benefits – not least the improved sense of well-being while you’re taking part. Enough downcast acquiescence, people in New Cross are ready to LOOK UP and improve their public spaces for themselves. Backers get to be part of the creative process, and some will even get a piece of art for their home. Most importantly, those who support this project will know that they are part of transforming an area and empowering local residents.
How you can get involved
Those living around New Cross will know how much community spirit there is in the area. We want to give something back and give local residents the chance to express themselves through art – and in a local space everyone can enjoy.
We need your help to make this happen. Please visit the RSA crowdfunding page and find our project - Looking up in New X – and help us to reach our target. If you would like to get involved in the project or would like to visit us in New Cross, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow us on Twitter.
Catherine Shovlin FRSA
New Cross Learning and Artmongers
The Big Idea: Nalibeli is an online platform created by Blair Glencorse FRSA and Surabhi Pudasaini that helps citizens in Nepal to navigate complicated public services, and uses crowdsourcing to give people access to the information they need. Here, Blair explains more…
Accessing basic services, like obtaining a new passport or renewing a driver’s license, is a difficult, complicated and messy ordeal for citizens in Nepal. There is no clear and readily available information – of the sort taken for granted in a country like the UK, whose gov.uk website won Design of the Year award – to help Nepalis understand the services the government should provide. As a result, it can take numerous visits to offices and a great deal of confusion (and bribes) to navigate the administration.
That is why we’ve started a crowdfunding campaign on the RSA crowdfunding area to support our Nalibeli portal. Nalibeli (a Nepali word that gives a sense of understanding the intricate details of something) helps citizens navigate government and make more informed decisions about issues that affect their lives. With generous support from the RSA US Challenge fund and RSA Catalyst (which supported initial development, research and network-building on the ground) we are using web-based tools, like Facebook, to gather ideas on the problems that Nepalis care about. Then we are using our contacts across the country to organize, package an disburse relevant information through a wiki-tool (using MediaWiki, the free, open source wiki product that was evolved from Wikipedia).
The story so far
We’ve begun a massive outreach campaign around the country and despite our small budget, results so far have been impressive: Nalibeli has over 115,000 hits and over 400 pages of information on key services in both Nepali and English. We began with higher education and mapped information across over 60 college campuses and 38 faculties, and we’re now mapping services through District Administrative Offices (with which all Nepalis have to interact for obtaining birth certificates, marriage licenses and so on). We’ve held numerous “wiki-a-thons” at colleges in different parts of Nepal as well as numerous informal wiki-sessions to build a committed user base and demonstrate the importance of what we are doing; and we’ve built up a solid team of 5 people and an informal network of over a dozen institutions and organizations who, on a volunteer basis, give us their time and expertise.
All of this has taken just a few months. There have been challenges of course. Crowdsourcing information under difficult conditions has been harder than we thought it would be, and bridging the digital divide is proving tricky, but we are working on these problems and making fantastic progress. The wiki is fully functional and has a truly vibrant community developing around it. Now we need it go from a useful tool to the essential resource it should be for every Nepali citizen to ensure that the provision of government services is equal and fair for all.
The next stage of the project involves recruiting plenty more volunteers, scaling up the amount of information in the wiki to cover all public services, and greater outreach efforts to ensure the tool is as usable and accessible as possible. Friends from elsewhere have also indicated that Nalibeli would prove valuable in their countries – and we are keen to pilot it in other South Asian contexts and beyond. Citizens everywhere want reliable and up-to-date information on government, after all, even if the government itself is unable or unwilling to provide it.
How you can help
We’ve had tons of interest in the project from Fellows so far. We’d love to speak to any other Fellows in the technology field, with experience in crowd-sourcing information or who may have grown projects like this across issues and countries.
We’d also welcome any support for this next stage which you can do through the new RSA Kickstarter crowdfunding area. There are plenty of amazing pledge gifts up for grabs including Intercontinental Holistic Missiles (ICHMs) – collections of medicinal, cooking and other healthful herbs grown in Nepal (all in Nepali embroidered bags!); vedic astrology charts and much more! Please help us continue to build transparent and accountable government in Nepal.
Support ‘NaliBeli: Helping government work in Nepal’ by finding his Kickstarter campaign on the RSA curated area. To get in contact, email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @blairglencorse.
This is a guest blog from Sanderson Jones FRSA who along with Pippa Evans set up the Sunday Assembly. Sanderson blogs here about their plans for the next few months.
The Big Idea: Helping people live better, help often and wonder more through the Sunday Assembly
The Sunday Assembly is a godless congregation that celebrates life. Our mission: to help everyone find and fulfil their full potential. Our vision: a godless congregation in every town, city and village that wants one.
- Live Better. We aim to provide inspiring, thought-provoking and practical ideas that help people to live the lives they want to lead and be the people they want to be
- Help Often. Assemblies are communities of action building lives of purpose, encouraging us all to help anyone who needs it to support each other
- Wonder More. Hearing talks, singing as one, listening to readings and even playing games helps us to connect with each other and the awesome world we live in.
Since 250 people turned up at our first Assembly in January 2013, in a run-down deconsecrated church in North London, we’ve discovered that there is a massive desire across the country to celebrate life. By June we had over 600 people in our congregation and thousands of people have reacted to our motto of live better, help often, wonder more. We will have 30 Assemblies started by the end of this year and around 1600 people across the world have asked for their own Assembly.
We’ve discovered that there is a massive desire across the country to celebrate life
Supported by RSA Catalyst, the Sunday Assembly is now going on a global tour called 40 Dates and 40 Nights: The Roadshow. The plan: to launch 40 Assemblies in 40 nights across the UK, the US, Canada and Australia. We’re going to 29 cities including Oxford, Milton Keynes, Manchester, Dublin, New York, Chicago, Washington, Nashville, Adelaide and Sydney. The roadshow will be a launch-pad for local Assemblies, allow us to meet the local teams, and demonstrate what goes down at an Assembly: basically all the best parts of church (but with no religion).
Ultimately, we want to reach the 300 million people across the world who have no religion, but to do that we need to get digital.
40 Dates & 40 Nights: The Roadshow is coinciding with a crowdfunding campaign to raise the start-up funds needed to get a global movement and organisation off the ground. We are raising the capital to create a custom-designed, digital platform that will allow the millions of people who believe in good to connect with other like-minded people, and build wonderful life-giving congregations.
It is quite impressive that we’ll start 30 Assemblies in our first year, but if we were to have a site like this we can help start thousands.
We want RSA Fellows to get involved as volunteers and speakers, and to connect us with community projects
- To find people who would like to help organise a local Assembly
- To source inspiring speakers for the Sunday Assemblies themselves
- To find wonderful community action projects with which we could connect volunteers from our congregation. Each Assembly is going to be very focused on helping out in the community, so we’d love to hear from local community social enterprises and charities that are in need of volunteers or who could think of good partnerships.
Please watch our video below to find out more about our crowdfunding campaign. If the Sunday Assembly sounds interesting to you, I’d love to hear from you. Please get in touch.
This is a guest blog by Lisa Oulton FRSA. Lisa was awarded RSA Catalyst funding for her project to help young people start creative businesses, and is now seeking crowdfunding to run a Festival of Enterprise in November. You can support her campaign on Kickstarter.
The Big Idea: Student Makers’ Markets – street-based business training for young creatives
Creative young people are the most likely group to start up a business straight from education. They are often natural entrepreneurs: creative, innovative and visionary with immediately transferrable skills that lend themselves to self-employment. But they are also some of the least likely to have picked up the skills that they need to grow and sustain a business – failure rates are high – and the reality seems to be that once burnt these early starters often never return to entrepreneurship.
Youth entrepreneurship is being promoted and encouraged as a way of helping young people into the labour market and promoting job creation, but without business skills and resilience entrepreneurial inclination is no guarantee of success. Global Entrepreneurship Monitor research identifies that young people in Europe feel less confident about starting up a business than their global peers, with a strong fear of failure and belief that they are ill equipped to start a business.
With the support of RSA Catalyst and the Canterbury Festival’s Prosper Programme we have created Student Makers’ Markets, a street-based programme of business and entrepreneurial training. It gives young people a supported space to come and test their business with access to informal training, workshops and on-going mentoring whenever it’s needed.
We bring young entrepreneurs together to create vibrant mini-markets within established street markets, festivals and galleries. We supply free stalls and equipment for unemployed young people, graduates and school students from communities struggling with high levels of youth unemployment and other social and economic problems.
The ease of selling through online platforms like eBay, Etsy, Big Cartel and Facebook means that many young entrepreneurs are already trading from bedrooms, sheds and kitchen tables. We’ve been surprised at the range of businesses we’ve found, from complete beginners to established on-line shops. Our ethos is to look for the “bright spots”, inspired by the Heath brothers’ book Switch: we look for what’s working and how can we do more of it, the don’t solve problems – copy success.
Connecting young people already running successful businesses to those just starting out creates amazing enthusiasm: when young makers meet those of the same age who are making a living from their creative skills it shows them what’s possible. It has been extraordinarily exciting for everyone involved – the market traders, the business community and ourselves – to find just how much drive and talent is already out there.
We offer free business advice during the markets and we’ve been astounded at the requests so far. Our assumption was that our traders might ask about setting up a business, accessing government loans or writing a business plan. Instead, we are answering questions from young people about exporting to multiple countries, registering for VAT and employment versus outsourcing. Taking part in a rolling programme of markets and training means the young people can access learning when they feel they need it, from realising that they’re struggling to make sales at one market, to learning vital sales techniques before the next.
We want our young people to be excited not just by the opportunities that are open to them, but those which they can create themselves: to make their mark on their community, be visible and to inspire others.
We’re working in Kent and have been given an opportunity to extend our work into Folkestone to create a month long pop-up shop and Festival of Youth Enterprise. We’ve been given a beautiful old arcade building for the whole of December, where we are planning a programme of inspiring talks and workshops covering a wide range of subjects, from crowdfunding and social enterprise to printmaking and digital manufacturing. A production space will enable those without facilities to create work for the markets and a Christmas shop will enable everyone to sell what they make!
How you can get involved
In partnership with the RSA we have launched a crowdfunding campaign to support this initiative. The building we’ve been given is large and empty; we need to equip the production space and create a fabulous shop for visitors.
Our funding campaign is live on Kickstarter and we are aiming to raise £2,000 by 2 November. We would be very grateful if you could pledge your support, or help spread the word by sharing our campaign with your contacts. To find out more please contact me by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or via Twitter @StudentMakers.
Take advantage of a special launch offer to the first 200 crowdfunding pledges made by RSA Fellows. The RSA will match the campaign(s) you have backed to a maximum of £10 if you tell your network which project you’ve backed via: a comment in the RSA Fellows LinkedIn group discussion on crowdfunding; tweeting using the #RSACrowdfunding hashtag; posting a status update on the RSA’s facebook group.
To get help from RSA Catalyst for your social venture visit our website.
This is a guest blog by Martin Webber FRSA. Martin received a grant and help to run a crowdfunding campaign from RSA Catalyst for his ClearFear Game combating social anxiety. He is currently running a crowdfunding campaign through the new RSA curated area on Kickstarter to further develop his project.
The Big Idea: harnessing the power of fun and games to combat social anxiety through a real-life participatory social game.
Anxiety affects us all. Sometimes, a little bit is a good thing. It can sharpen our minds before a performance or help us to complete a piece of work, for example. More often, though, it can get in the way of leading a normal, productive life. Severe anxiety can stop us sleeping, going out and getting on with our lives.
Research in the US has found that as many as one in ten people suffer from social anxiety disorder – a persistent fear of social situations – at some point in their lives. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidance recommends medication or psychological therapy for the treatment of social anxiety. However, only about half of adults seek help and most only do so after experiencing problems with their anxiety for over 20 years.
As we all have fears and anxieties, and because formal treatments are either inappropriate or unavailable, we are creating a game which helps people to confront their fears in a fun way.
With the support of RSA Catalyst, I am working with Philippe Greier of Playmakers Industries to create the ClearFear game. Along the way, we have harnessed the expertise of people recovering from substance use problems at Kingston Recovery Initiative Social Enterprise and researchers in the Connecting People study team to design the game. Through introductions made by RSA staff, we also gained the help and advice of other RSA Fellows David Floyd, Andy Gibson, Ellen Pruyne.
ClearFear is a real-life social game in which players are helped to find their own super-powers. By becoming our own superheroes, ClearFear game players tackle missions with the support of a small team to overcome their fears. Together, game players create a secret smiling society which no longer fears fear.
The ClearFear game has been tested by many people in the UK, Austria, Bolivia and Sweden. Our latest test has been with people recovering from substance use problems in the West Kent Recovery Service, where the RSA is piloting its Whole Person Recovery System.
The feedback we received from players has been positive. The laughter emanating from the attic room in Tonbridge where we last played the game suggests that it can be fun. Perhaps that was because the missions which players completed were completely bizarre, such as asking a stranger to move their car from one place to another or making a box out of twigs. Others included finding out an interesting fact about Tonbridge from someone in a local shop – which took a few attempts – or hugging a stranger – which, as you might expect, met with diverse responses.
The missions took people slightly out of their comfort zone, but as they were completed in a team their successes were celebrated together.
How does it work?
But does playing the game actually make a difference? We don’t yet have an answer to this question, but at the International Centre for Mental Health Social Research (University of York) we’re evaluating a pilot of the game to see if it helps to connect people, reduce anxiety and improve players’ well-being and feelings of empowerment. We have some ideas how it may work.
The ClearFear game superhero narrative provides a fictional frame for the exploration of reality. Unlike psychological therapy which takes people towards their fear, ClearFear takes players away from it into a fictional frame to poke fun at it. This ‘dramatic distancing’ is somewhat paradoxical, but enables players to engage with buried aspects of themselves more profoundly. Fear becomes a nemesis to overcome through a series of fun missions.
Missions are the antithesis of gradual exposure techniques, which are typically used in psychological therapy to carefully expose people to situations which they are fearful of. ClearFear missions are fun, some may say frivolous, but being part of a team of players where everyone has a mission to complete equalises the status of the tasks and reduces individuals’ anxiety about what they have to do. Teams of three can frequently complete their missions in under one and a half hours, demonstrating that exposure to fearful situations with the support of other players can be tackled with fun.
The superhero narrative of the game reminds players that they have strengths. Developing and testing the game with people recovering from severe problems who sometimes feel that they have nothing to offer to society has demonstrated how powerful this can be. Starting off talking about the problems they have experienced in their lives, players help each other to identify what they are good at and enjoy doing most. Asset-based approaches help communities to develop and we see the same beginning to happen with the ClearFear secret smiling society.
There is a long way to go. We need to take the game to the next level and to complete our evaluation to see if it works. To help us, we have launched a crowdfunding campaign on the RSA Kickstarter page last week. We are doing well so far but need to keep up the momentum. Please take a look and help if you can: bit.ly/clearfearfrsa
We aim to source some additional funding to enable us to develop a version of the game with mission cards, a gamer’s toolkit, and a fully-functioning website with clear instructions so that people can share their successful missions. This is to allow individuals to play the game.
If you want to help us reach our target of £5,000 by 31st October, please pledge your support and share it with your contacts.
We all have mental health and we need to look after it. Let’s embrace the possibility that social gaming is good for our mental health. Let’s clear fear together!
To get help from RSA Catalyst for your social venture visit www.thersa.org/catalyst.
Lynette Warren co-runs the Centre for Sustainable Technologies, a social enterprise that helps more people get into growing food. Here she blogs about her RSA Catalyst-funded project to create vertical allotments.
The Big Idea: providing spaces for people to grow their own plants and vegetables in urban spaces.
During recent years ‘grow your own’ gardening has increased in popularity, and it has been recognised that it can promote healthy eating, physical activity and social interaction. However, due to the lack of sufficient allotments and the predominance of high density and high rise buildings in urban areas, the opportunities to grow food are limited.
Mike Anstey and myself, both RSA Fellows, have created a vertical allotment system called ‘GutterGrow’ to address this and provide a versatile and flexible unit to grow vegetables and plants on balconies, small patios or any confined space. We’ve designed it to be accessible to the elderly, people with disabilities and children of all ages.
How RSA Catalyst helped the project
The RSA’s Catalyst seed fund enabled a pilot project to be established in two Cambridge residential homes – Lammas Court, accommodating up to 25 residents, and Kay Hitch Way, supporting up to nine residents with special needs and physical disabilities – both run by Granta/Metropolitan Housing Association. Granta staff welcomed the project, as local authority-funded activities have been reduced through budgetary cuts. They felt it would benefit residents’ health, while also addressing the loneliness often experienced by the elderly.
The Catalyst project funded a variety of vertical allotment systems to enable residents to grow their own vegetables or plants on their balconies, in small patios or in communal garden areas. The project was also supported by Mr. Fothergills, the seed producer, who agreed to provide seeds and plug plants selected by the residents, including beetroot, tomatoes, chilli peppers, kohl rabi and strawberries.
The project so far
The growing programme was set up in March 2012, with Mike and I making weekly visits to ensure everyone was happy with their frames and sowing seeds at appropriate times. A number of residents had their own personal frames on balconies and patios, with one lady adapting hers for growing raspberries and beans. The large communal frame was overseen by the keen gardeners, but all residents were welcome to join in and all the herbs and vegetables were shared.
Through an RSA Fellow, we were introduced to the Cambridge University student volunteering hub. Two students were keen to be involved but unfortunately the growing season clashed with their final year dissertations and exams, so they were unable to continue with the project.
In spite of the very poor spring and summer weather – and random attacks by squirrels, who thought they had a personal snack bar – the residents had good harvests of broad beans, lettuce, runner beans, onions, herbs, and a bountiful crop of tomatoes (a particular favourite). New residents were keen to join in with this initiative, and visiting relatives thought it was a lovely idea. In Kay Hitch Way one resident was delighted to be involved as the frame made it easy for her to garden in her wheelchair. Others were encouraged to join in watering and caring for the plants.
On hearing about the project, Aldwyck, another housing association, asked if we could run an Easter growing event with children from deprived families on an estate in Luton. This was great fun: the children loved building their own frames to fit on their balconies, and chose vegetables and plants they liked, including one of the hottest chillis. The focus was on good healthy food, and hopefully the children encouraged parents to join in too.
The years growing ended in October so the frames were dismantled and put in storage. Various herbs were kept on windowsills and all agreed that it was a success and they wanted to continue the following year. The gardeners really appreciated that there was no digging and few weeds or pests, particularly as a number of them were over 90! They felt it was relatively easy, interesting and a good social interactive experience – and many were surprised what they could grow in containers.
In spite of the poor weather there was enough produce for sharing even with the squirrels. Wednesday, the ‘GutterGrow’, day provided a focus for discussions and comments about the project. We were always greeted with “here come the gutter-grows!” It was always an enjoyable experience, not only were we regaled with what was growing well or not but also life stories and the odd glass of sherry.”
What has become apparent was that for the project to grow, it needs dedicated personnel to co-ordinate building and maintaining the frames, and to give ongoing support to help grow and harvest healthy plants. Our weekly visits provided a focal point and sustained a growing enthusiasm by residents, and this is an area where more volunteers would be welcome.
How can you get involved
We feel that this has a huge potential to ‘grow’ as a social enterprise. Both housing associations are keen to continue to run it across their estates, and see it as a viable social initiative. We’re really interested to hear from any RSA Fellows who work with housing associations or schools elsewhere in the UK, as we’d be glad to discuss opportunities to spread what we’re doing. Hopefully we’ll be recruiting an apprentice soon to help expand the work – if you’d like to find out more about this, or any other aspect of what we’re doing, please get in touch via our website.