The kindness of strangers - RSA

The kindness of strangers


  • Picture of Dr Amy Pollard
    Dr Amy Pollard
  • Mental health
  • Arts and society

Sometimes, challenges get so big that it is best to focus on little things. As Britain struggles to get to grips with a series of wicked problems in our politics, climate, economy and society, Dr Amy Pollard FRSA outlines plans to cement a new tradition for Valentine’s Day.

Last year, the Mental Health Collective piloted #GreatBritishValentine with the aim of encouraging small acts of kindness between strangers. Through the initiative members of the public can sign up to send a homemade card with a message of goodwill to someone they don’t know, and be allocated someone to send a card to them. Sending a card is a simple, small gesture but the Mental Health Collective had an incredible response. Over 1000 people took part, and we had participants from every county in England and two-thirds of the counties in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Watch this video for an explanation and overview of last year's #GreatBritishValentine experiment:

We found that this proved to be a powerful way to break down barriers and were blown away by how beautiful the messages were. #GreatBritishValentine cards were criss-crossing the UK with blessings, affirmations, suggestions for songs and favourite books, and just simple messages of good wishes and positivity. Some sent beautiful, poignant, heartfelt letters, with words crafted for someone to hold onto when life is at its bleakest. Others opted for puns and the funny, the silly and the cheesy. We saw dancing pineapples, confetti inscribed with love and affirmations and a card with all the different meanings of love from ancient Greece. Some went further; sending tea bags so that the recipient could have a nice brew or ordering an online card because they were too unwell to get to the post-box. Interestingly, we have found the initiative to be particularly popular with women and girls, who make up over 90% of participants.

It was incredibly moving and extraordinary to see. Participant Kim Forrester said, 

The card I received has pride of place above my desk, the positive message inside is one that I have looked at several times since and have quoted to others. Receiving my card was a really special moment… and watching others share their cards on social media also made me feel part of something bigger, kinder, happier.

Our pilot was run entirely with free tools from the internet and favours from friends. Since then, we have built an online platform to administer the scheme and improved our systems. We are all set to once again invite people from across the UK to take part. One of the things that is exciting is putting a new spin on a festival that has become hugely commercialised and pressurised and which is ripe for a revamp. As the cold days of winter drag on, it is refreshing to be part of something heart-warming and fun but the seriousness of our aims is underlined by the fact that our work will be evaluated with support from University College London.

In Mexico, Valentine’s Day is time to celebrate friendship and goodwill in general, not just romantic love. As Britain begins a new chapter in our history as a country outside the European Union – an issue which has divided the country and in some case friendships and family – wouldn’t it be nice if the first thing we did was show some kindness to each other? If you would like to take part, please visit the #GreatBritishValentine website, and sign up by 4 February.

Dr Amy Pollard FRSA is Director of the Mental Health Collective. She is a social scientist, facilitator and policy analyst and her award-winning mental health interventions focus on new ways of bringing people together, and unlocking the potential of social and collective interventions in mental health.  Mental Health Collective is Twitter and Instagram @MHC_UK

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