Norwich’s coffee house challenge


  • Picture of Robert Ashton
    Robert Ashton
    Non-fiction author & social entrepreneur
  • Communities
  • Community engagement
  • Fellowship
  • Fellowship in Action

It must be more than 10 years ago that I first became an active Fellow of the RSA.

It was the coffee house challenge, a partnership project with Starbucks that had caught my attention.  I hesitantly visited my local Starbucks, found the local organising Fellows and launched in.  

It didn’t take me long to realise that RSA Fellows are an interesting bunch. Whilst they come from a wide range of backgrounds, all seem to have the ability to think wider than their day-job suggests. Yes quite a few were retired and older than me, but all seemed to lead interesting lives and have an appetite for challenging debate.  

The RSA was clearly a powerful network, but unlike so many, here were people  willing to share ideas, nurture innovation and gently challenge the status quo. It was very different from some of the self-centred professional networks I’d tried before. 

Since then the RSA has become part of my everyday life. I was fortunate to win a Catalyst grant for a social enterprise I’d founded, ran (unsuccessfully) for election as a Trustee, organised RSA Ideas events and a couple of local conferences. At every single meeting, found the conversation both stimulating and intellectually refreshing. 

I recently decided to return to my RSA roots and now organise a monthly informal coffee & conversation event in Norwich for RSA Fellows. At our last event 20 Fellows turned up, some of whom I knew and all of whom I was delighted to spend time with. Ideas are emerging for potential RSA projects and others are now sharing the task or organising our gatherings.  

For our next meeting I’m introducing a little, but not too much structure. We’ll be meeting in Pizza Express at the Forum in Norwich on Thursday 7th December between 1600 and 1800. There’ll be more space than our usual haunt, Café Marzano downstairs.  

There will be five tables each seating four people. They’ll be labelled with themes that are emerging from our conversations; mental health; heritage; ageing and business ethics. There will also be space to move about, so we can choose a subject, explore it then change tables if we wish. 

My goal is quite simple. I want to make it easy for local Fellows to connect, consider and conceive plans and ideas that can continue our city’s reputation for non-conformity and creativity.

Join me on Thursday 7th December by clicking here, or just turn up.

As it’s December, there may even be mince pies!


Robert Ashton FRSA is an author, publisher and social entrepreneur 

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