Developing through social enterprise

This is a guest blog by Kate Swade of Shared Assets, reflecting on the Developing Socially Productive Places conference at the RSA, 2nd April 2014.

It is when the different worlds involved in developing place and community meet that really interesting conversations begin to happen. The “Developing Socially Productive Places” conference last week was a brilliant opportunity to bring different sectors together – developers, local authority officers, urban designers and social entrepreneurs. As one of the speakers said, we should all be talking to each other more: there should be more pub conversations about place and the built environment!

I had a niggling feeling all day, though, that there was something missing.

The conference seemed to take it for granted that the creation of places is going to be developer-led, with local authorities and the planning system playing a strategic and regulatory role. It is certainly taken as read that when we say “developer” we are talking about private, profit driven companies. But there are a different set of possibilities which open up if we take a different starting point.

Some private sector developers are excellent; committed to fostering quality of place and quality of life. It was heartening to hear British Land talking about their long-term approach to the Regents’ Place development and their commitment to involving local people. Developers bring investment, of course: they have access to the cash on the terms and at the scale necessary to make things happen – and to buy enough land to create a critical mass around a development. Chris Grigg, the CEO of British Land’s point that diversity of ownership can mean a piecemeal place was a good one.

Tim Dixon from Reading University’s presentation on measuring social sustainability was fascinating and offered an insight into the challenges of measuring something that doesn’t easily lend itself to quantification. This is where we can start to feel possibilities for socially productive places evaporate.


If we take the developer-led, private sector model as the blueprint for how we make places in this country then of course we need metrics to help us understand the impact that that is having on society, and on the environment. That is a big “if”.

If we accept the dominant idea that development will be motivated by profit for developers, we will always see the social (and, for that matter, the environmental) as things that are considered separately from the “real” business of development; as externalities that need to be managed.

Private sector developers are driven to maximise shareholder value. That is why they exist.  For many, this means taking a relatively short-term view of the financial return on development: build and sell. It is shareholders who ultimately have the shortest profit horizon. (With computer algorithms dominating trading, the average share is held for 22 seconds).

Places built on the logic of a development appraisal tend to be homogenous and led by commercial property. While some developers are better than others, the crop of identical “unique landmarks” springing up all over London illustrates the cumulative effect of this shared logic.

We all know – and can feel – that good places, places where we want to be, which must be at the heart of what makes a place socially productive, respond to their location. People and the local environment are the logic.

Where this really has an impact is in the public realm: the spaces in between the buildings; the liabilities in between the assets.  At Shared Assets we believe that these spaces, regardless of ownership, are common goods, and should be managed and governed as such.

This requires more than just “community involvement”; it means that local people and organisations need to be actors in the development process. Local authorities need to see social enterprise development and land management as a viable option when thinking about the future of their areas.

This feels like a huge opportunity to me. How much more could we achieve if we truly put local people and their environments at the heart of the logic of development, rather than the creation of value for shareholders? If enterprise was encouraged, but profits reinvested in an area rather than siphoned out of it? If all investment in place was long-term, rather than the current short-term paradigm?

There are risks to this transition which would need to be managed, but it’s worth trying: physical regeneration has rarely delivered on its promise of associated social regeneration. When a community develops a shared asset collaboratively, this inherently involves both.

Property development and place making are skills, and there are many talented people in the development industry. I would contend that if we want to see places that are truly socially productive, the social sector needs to harness some of those skills and take an active role in development and place making.


The Big Idea… More than just coffee!

March 24, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

mark ashmoreHello! I’m Mark Ashmore FRSA and I founded Future Artists where we work under the motto “Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible”. I wanted to introduce you to a project that RSA Catalyst is helping me to crowdfund which I think totally epitomises this phrase, so hang on to your hats while I take you on a journey to a wet and windy city in the North West of England…

What if a coffee shop was able to generate £100,000 a year in grants that will enable a community to grow – enabling exploration of the arts and sciences, benefiting health and well being, and being a space to meet, share and create…? That’s our dream, and with your help, we can make this a reality…

Most high streets are full of identikit shops, repeated formula, and the same repeated sequel. When the Manchester rain beats down on its work force and the icy chills of the northern wind blows in, the high street offers little escape. For some, Starbucks and Costa Coffee’s bohemian commercialism is as offensive as the Manchester wet season itself!

The Home of Honest Coffeehonest coffee

Future Artists presents to you the ‘Home of Honest Coffee’, a brand new concept that we’re hoping to bring to the Manchester high street this summer. Introducing a coffee shop that’s designed to truly serve the community, not just with delicious fair trade coffee and locally produced snacks and treats, but also with opportunities for business start-ups and encouragement for network growth. Would you like a brownie with your cappuccino? Or maybe a sandwich? How about a business grant? The Home of Honest Coffee will run as a co-operative charity with profits being donated to schemes set up in the city, giving local creative and educational groups and start-up businesses the chance to thrive and develop in an otherwise unaccommodating economy.

We are fortunate in Manchester to be sharing our city with many forward-thinking ethical companies who are creative in their ways of giving something back to the community. All too often, however, these alternative venues and businesses are shoved to the quirky backstreets, overshadowed by the tax-avoiding giants. Why should the high street be dominated by corporations who care far more about their own profits than the wellbeing of the communities they inhabit?

The power is in every one of us, as we stroll down the high street, to choose where we spend our hard-earned money.

Leading up to this project, we have researched our market by hosting a variety of pop-up events in the centre of Manchester. These have included a street art exhibition, and an honesty café in which customers were trusted to sort their own payment and change. Following the success of these, our ambitions have raised and we now intend to take on the city high streets with something a little more permanent. We want to really make an impact by delivering a high street coffee shop that has community support and local improvement at the forefront of its mission. In order to achieve this, however, we first need a little bit of help and support ourselves.

The Home of Honest Coffee Crowdfunding campaignHow you can get involved

We are hoping to raise capital through Kickstarter and have so far been delighted with the amazing positive responses we’ve been receiving from the general public. Please find our campaign on the RSA crowdfunding area and see how you can get involved.

If you like our idea and would like to see it succeed, help us spread the word! Use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or just talk about us with your friends or family over the dinner table. Our mission is to prove that we can choose what kind of world we live in; the power is in every one of us as we stroll down the high street choosing where to spend our hard earned money.

In addition, to help with our expansion we’re looking to significantly increase the building and catering expertise we have as part of the project team, so if you can share even just a few hours, please do get in touch on the ‘Contact me’ button on our crowdfunding campaign (click on the image to the left).

Join us for an honest cuppa and vote with your brew!

Mark Ashmore FRSA
Visit our crowdfunding campaign on the RSA crowdfunding area

“Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible” – Frank Zappa

To get help from RSA Catalyst for your social venture visit our webpage

Read the RSA’s 2020 Retail report Shopping for Shared Value which argues that building a future retail model which coordinates corporate operations to maximise local social and economic impact will become a key competitive advantage in a decade in which traditional physical stores are set to experience transition and disruption 


RSA and Clore: investing in individuals to create long-lasting change

February 21, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

Many thoughtsAs part of my role at the RSA, I frequently meet and speak to people who have a personal goal to start their own business or social enterprise…at some point.

Starting up on your own is certainly no easy feat – in fact we often discuss the potential obstacles that lie ahead at the RSA’s monthly Social Entrepreneurs breakfast. However, one thing I have noticed is that the first barrier is not (as you might think) imagined lack of capital; it’s simply getting started.

Seemingly, a number of skilled, imaginative people are just unsure how or where to begin.

It wasn’t until I began working at the RSA that I fully appreciated the value of having a support structure. I thought breaking out on your own was something you should do…alone? I soon learnt that successful leaders do quite the opposite: they join a network, get training and tap into all the help that’s available.

A couple of weeks ago, we hosted an evening event at RSA House for thirty individuals currently undertaking the Clore Leadership Programme which focuses on those with experience working in the Arts, and the Clore Social Leadership Programme which is primarily for people with careers in the social sectors. We were privileged to have a mixture of current Clore Fellows join us for some drinks, networking and an historical tour of the building.

For those who don’t know, the Clore programmes are designed to develop strong leaders in the cultural and social sectors so that more individuals are better equipped to engender positive change in their communities, organisations and the world around them.

Given the electic mix of experience and knowledge in the room a number of interesting conversations were initiated – from discussing the trajectory of the Walt Disney corporation, to the role of art in school curriculums –  Clore Leaders are inspiring and inspired company. For more information about the current cohort of Clore Cultural and Social Leaders you can view full profiles on the respective websites.

We were also joined by Asma Shah FRSA who spoke to the room about her social enterprise Ladies Who L-EARN. Asma demonstrates exactly how transformative the Clore programme can be. With a background in the Arts, Asma was a Clore Cultural Fellow though as she pointed out, you wouldn’t know it now as her current work sits firmly within the social sector.

Upon finishing the programme she joined the RSA Fellowship and by applying to RSA Catalyst, Asma was able to get her project off the ground. Since then she has been able to access further funding, attract more volunteers and ultimately, help more women.

Asma was keen to point out the combination of the Clore Fellowship and RSA Fellowship is a powerful one. This cannot be overemphasised. Asma began working with women in her community who had limited access to the kind of training or social capital that she had gained from joining influential, supportive networks like Clore and the RSA.

The RSA has partnered with Clore Leadership for nine years now and we continue to work together because of our mutual belief that investing in individuals is one of the fundamental ways to improve society.

Part of investing in people is offering them a framework to carry their ideas, so that getting started is never an obstacle.


Alexandra Barker is a Fellowship Development Coordiantor at the RSA

If you would like more infromation about RSA Fellowship or any of people or projects mentioned above, then contact


The Big Idea: Educating girls, one tampon at a time

February 10, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

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!

Matt Lill x1000

Matt Lill presenting Auntie Daisy at a recent RSA Engage event

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 – we look forward to hearing from you!

Matt Lill FRSA

Follow @AuntieDaisyUK 
Visit Auntie Daisy at
Take the survey at

To get help from RSA Catalyst for your social venture visit our webpage


How do you tell a powerful story?

February 5, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

magic book x120v2One evening over the Christmas break, I found myself at the home of a friend and her partner, both of whom happen to be psychoanalysts. Over dinner, whilst attempting to steer the conversation away from work, we began discussing the role of storytelling in our lives; the social narratives we believe in, the stories we pass on to others and the ones that resonate at a personal level.

The conversation led us to conclude that whilst a good story will always have readers, a really powerful story, will inspire people to act. In the Fellowship department, we often discuss how to make this shift. When there is so much great material available, it can be difficult to know how to piece it all together and the power in a story can easily be lost.

At first glance, social change appears to lend itself well to narrative. For a start, there is natural beginning; if we are trying to solve a problem, first we have to understand it. The starting point has to be-

What exactly is happening here?

This is especially poignant when encountering subjects that people might be uncomfortable talking about. Rachel Clare FRSA is Assistant Director at the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) which deals with the issue of male suicide. According to recent government statistics on mortality rates, suicide is a bigger cause of death in young men than HIV, traffic accidents and assault combined, with 77% of all cases of suicide in the UK every year being male. CALM was born from a simple need to generate greater awareness of the problem.

Once a problem is defined, we have to figure out the best way to solve it – how do we improve the world around us?

Monday night’s Fellows event RSA Engage demonstrated that within the Fellowship there is a wealth of ideas about how we can transition from the beginning to the middle; problem to potential solution. Amongst the seven Fellows who pitched their project at the event, was Richard Blissett FRSA. Richard was recommended for Fellowship by a previous Catalyst winner and in turn decided to apply for funding for his own project. Through RSA Catalyst, his digital tool Edukit is well on the way to helping teachers find the appropriate resources to support disadvantaged students, quickly and easily. For Richard, the how lies in getting the right tools to the right people.

However, for a modest enterprise like Edukit to earn a place in the grander narrative of social change, it must also create a story around itself. Tools will not reach people if it’s not clear why they’re relevant, so creating a strong, individual narrative is critical – it is not enough to be heard, you have to be understood.

New RSA Fellow Emily Farnworth founded her social business Counter Culture on precisely the understanding that powerful stories are the key to changing indiviual behaviour, yet when tackling complex issues such as poverty or climate change, a simple beginning, middle and end doesn’t always cut it.

Emily believes that ‘the only way to solve the world’s biggest problems in a meaningful way is to see all sides of an argument.’ Counter Culture was established to help businesses and charities reach their audiences through a more agile form of storytelling that incorporates multiple and differing perspectives.

This can be achieved in many different ways. Even if you don’t recognise it immediately, brands, charities and individuals are communicating with us all the time without ever needing to put pen to paper. New Fellow David Pope, filmmaker, consultant and member of the British Council’s Creative Economy Pool of Experts, is interested in the storytelling possibilities offered by new technologies because this evolution is creating opportunities for a more diverse range of voices and stories to reach wider audiences.

New mediums can transform the way an issue is presented and the type of people who can tell the story. An example -

In December, Mark Leruste FRSA joined the Fellowship. As well as being an ICF Certified Professional Co-Active Coach (CPCC), he is a Country Manager for Movember, the infamous worldwide men’s health charity that invites men around the world to grow a moustache for 30 days in November to raise awareness and funds for men’s health. This in itself proves that a serious message can be communicated through the power of a moustache.

The RSA's 2011 Movember efforts

The RSA’s 2011 Movember efforts

A story can still carry weight even if the chronology is disjointed or the medium unconventional.

Movember shows that a life-threatening disease affecting a particular demographic can gather mass support using humour and facial hair. If that isn’t re-writing the story, I don’t know what is.



If you would like to find out more about any of the projects or Fellows mentioned above, or would like to know more about joining the Fellowship  please contact


Alexandra Barker is a Fellowship Development Coordinator at the RSA


The Big Idea: connecting digital natives with small businesses

January 27, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

SineadMacmanusCloseUp smallerThe 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 Picture from Nesta pilot day (2) - fluency x 400work, 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 More information can also be found on

Sinead Mac Manus FRSA
Follow them at @getfluency

To get help from RSA Catalyst for your social venture visit our webpage


There’s more to shops than shopping

January 14, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Enterprise, Social Economy 

While several retailers sit reflecting on a disappointing Christmas trading period, 2014 promises to buzz with excitement about online, mobile and social network tools to get you to buy things. We’ve heard plenty about the ‘death of the High Street’; its time to contemplate the future of the ‘big box’ out-of-town superstores in the online era. Shops are about more than shopping, their advantage remains face-to-face interaction. Retailers need to make physical stores community hubs to entice shoppers, appease a restless public, and help a stretched public sector.

New research we released today suggests that a future retail model must make the most of the physical assets of large stores and their network of human relationships. A big supermarket typically hosts 200 staff and 10,000 customers every day. Physical space offers the opportunity for services and experiences which can’t be replicated online. Most important for shops, as people live more of their lives staring at screens, is human interaction. As well as sites of consumption stores are sites of social interaction and employment with a role in combating loneliness and isolation which are increasing. Our previous research found 40% of shoppers at one large DIY store talked with other customers.

With every self-service checkout there is a missed opportunity to build a relationship between staff and shoppers.

What’s in store for the store of the future? We are already seeing shopping malls, retail parks and town centres add leisure and entertainment attractions, but participants in our research wanted to see a wider range of community services offered at large supermarkets. As well as existing cafes and pharmacies, large stores have the flexibility to use space in their car parks, staff rooms and back office. Two years ago Asda started letting community groups use space in store for free; since then they’ve been used 65,000 times. In this period of public sector austerity, we’ve seen libraries and youth services shut their doors and while need for support rises. Local residents suggested to us that they wanted to see their local Asda used for recruiting volunteers, expanded health services and hosting homework clubs, art shows and sports tournaments. Successful large stores will need to be fun destinations: there could be food markets by day and drive-in movies by night in the car park.

Shopping for Shared Value report cover

In coming to terms with the rise of online shopping, we are not rejecting the concept of physical shopping as is frequently claimed. Rather, we are using apps and websites as a new channel to browse and buy, adapting the way that we use stores. As digital platforms which make sharing product information, comparing prices and organising consumer campaigns easier, key attributes that brands desire, like trust, must be translated to new types of customer interactions.

In reconfiguring the shop floor for the mobile-connected consumer, stores will need to differentiate themselves from competition, build loyalty and secure a reputation for being a positive force in society. Realising this prize will mean creating social value for the locally-connected citizen. We call the exploration of these opportunities ‘community venturing’. Early indications from Asda’s Community Life programme – which the RSA evaluated for its report – suggest that the most socially valuable projects will be developed in partnership between charities, public sector agencies and business.

So why should a large national supermarket care about community venturing? It gives people a range of reasons to visit a big store and deepens relationships which can generate local insight: something commercially valuable to retailers. As Campbell’s Soup is finding at their headquarters in New Jersey, engaging in community work is inspiring to employees. Perhaps most importantly, it’s in the interests of a big store to grow the social economy and help local people lead fulfilling and rewarding lives.

You can’t have a thriving store in a failing place.

In 2013 national retailers faced public and political scrutiny over supply chain practices, pay conditions and tax payments. In 2014, High Streets will continue to adapt, and new retail businesses will show us products and producers in new ways. Several recent research reviews have suggested that with coordination among stores, High Streets can harness the power and reach of online channels. Vacancy rates will stabilise in most places; independent businesses have often been first to respond to the opportunities of contemporary consumer demands whether its coffee, bike repairs, or ethical products. Internet companies, both startups and established heavyweights, will increasingly try to develop a localised retail offer. It’s up to our big national chain stores to use their local presence to beat them to it and offer us something as citizens as well as consumers.

This blog was first published on Huffington Post.

Jonathan Schifferes (@jschifferes) is a Senior Researcher working with 2020 Public Services and Connected Communities


Cooking with Mama

December 16, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

This is a guest blog from Jennifer Fong FRSA. Jennifer is Founder and Co-Director of Cooking with Mama, a project which received Catalyst funding earlier this year.

Coconut biscuits, Sri Lankan pumpkin curry and Mexican chiles en nogada. These are a just a few of the many dishes that over 150 Londoners have learned to create at Cooking With Mama (CWM).

A RSA Catalyst-funded culinary school and social enterprise, CWM has had a productive first year, including cooking classes, secret supper clubs, catering, corporate events, market stalls, Mama training days, an expansion into Berlin, and kitchens filled with new friends learning to create authentic home cooked meals. Best of all – we have been able to empower women, our Mamas, with confidence and work-readiness skills through training and paid opportunities to lead cooking classes in communities across London.

CWM is taking shape at a critical time for women. A report from the Fawcett Society earlier this year showed that women’s unemployment has risen to a 25 year high, with almost three times as many women as men having become long-term unemployed since 2010. This is a context within which social enterprises like CWM can help fill a critical gap. As ‘conventional’ full-time jobs become increasingly rare, people are acquiring work experience in more creative ways.  And, if you’re a great amateur cook, you can pass along your skills and knowledge to a curious and committed audience with CWM.


Beyond our cooking classes and supper clubs, CWM recently held a ‘Mama Training Day’ dedicated to our Mamas’ personal development, professional goals, and building a strong community of women with whom to learn and grow. A focal development area was the importance of storytelling and developing the skill of bringing cultural content to life during the classes.

For our official launch party, CWM also gathered a diverse mix of individuals from the foodie and social enterprise spheres to showcase our Mamas’ culinary talents and celebrate our achievements for the year. See a video highlighting the moments here:

How you can get involved

CWM is thankful for its supporters! As we continue to grow and develop, our goal is to serve our existing Mamas by providing them with access to opportunities to gain food industry experience and continue to support as many women as possible. Based on the feedback we have received in recent months, the encouragement and motivation provided by the RSA’s Catalyst Award, and our genuine love of yummy things of all kinds, we believe the future is bright. Our future is looking very tasty indeed!

If you think our idea sounds delicious, there are many simple ways to get involved!

  • “Like” us on Facebook and “follow us” on Twitter
  • Sign up for a Cooking Class or Supper club
  • Let us plan your next group team building event with a Corporate Class
  • Contact us to join our mailing list to learn about upcoming events and news
  • Volunteer with us – we’re particularly looking for people with expertise in partnerships, recruitment, social media and websites. We are also looking for legal/tax advice. Please get in touch if you think you can help us!


Find out more about Cooking with Mama at

Sayo Ayodelesayo

If you would like to support some of the fantastic projects run by RSA Fellows – such as Cooking with Mama – please sign up to RSA Skills bank and join a growing network of individuals inspired to share their knowledge, time and expertise to deliver social change and enhance human capability. 


The Big Idea: turning the spaces above us into art

December 2, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 
catherine shovlin

Catherine Shovlin FRSA

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!

new cross

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 or follow us on Twitter.

Catherine Shovlin FRSA
New Cross Learning and Artmongers


The Big Idea: a wiki guide to public services

November 18, 2013 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

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…

galligalliAccessing 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 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).

One of the many pages on the Nalibeli portal that provides information on basic services.

One of the many pages on the Nalibeli portal that provides information on basic services.

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.

One of their regular 'wiki-athons' compiling basic information.

One of their regular ‘wiki-athons’ compiling basic information.

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 or follow him on Twitter @blairglencorse.


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