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I met Steph McLaren in my first week at the RSA. She was working on the UpRise anti-racism festival, and I was trying to work out where I'd find time to cope with all the ideas bubbling away in the 8,500-strong London Fellowship.  We talked about her work with young people, and I knew we’d have to find something good for us to do together.  It’s taken over a year and a half for that to happen, in the shape of an event on collaboration and young people which took place last Thursday.

In a few weeks I’m moving to a new role at the RSA helping to increase engagement in our research projects, and in terms of personal satisfaction it’s hugely pleasing to finish my work with London Fellows by returning to that first conversation with Steph.  More importantly, though, I think anyone who was at the workshop the she and Ansel Neckles ran yesterday afternoon with more than twenty RSA Fellows would say it was worth being patient.  The aim of the session was collaboration: how to get people who’re working with (or interested in working with) young people to pool their ideas and resources. ‘Collabo-magic’ was what they were after — and they certainly got it.

Steph and Ansel started out with some sage advice on what makes collaboration possible, which (if they’ll forgive some wild oversimplification) boils down to listening carefully, being open to new ideas and setting some basic ground rules about how decisions are made in a group. It sounds easy enough in principle, but as I’ve discussed in other posts the practice is where things get tricky.

For that reason, I was all the more pleased by what happened next. In groups, we looked at three kinds of ideas: those that tackle social problems faced by young people; those that bring together different generations; and those that celebrate young people’s endeavours and achievements. At the end of the three hours, each of the groups had come up with some brilliant ideas — and two of them were confident enough in what they’d achieved to make the pitch for a £500 down-payment on an RSA Catalyst award. 

‘Collabo-magic’ was what they were after — and they certainly got it.  

The winning idea was a reverse mentoring scheme that connects young people with businesses that need help with social media. There are potential benefits both ways: young people get to experience and network in an environment they might not otherwise have access to; the businesses get some savvy advice from ‘digital natives’. Here's a video interview that Fellow David Wilcox recorded with Barbara Anderson and Keith Horsfall from the winning group:

The idea is still very much on the drawing board (as you’d expect for the fruit of two hours’ work) but hopefully the small investment will help get it happening in practice.  What’s most pleasing is that the three Fellows who came up with the idea had never met before. Emily Druiff, who runs an amazing community gallery in Peckham has already suggested a group of young people in the area who might help pilot the scheme.

It would be remiss of me not to also mention the other project that was presented on the night, an alternative guide to the museums of London produced by participants in the Young Graduate for Museums and Galleries (YGMG) programme. Two Fellows – Matthew Gansallo, who runs the programme, and Rob Reed, an illustrator — have worked on the guide together and are now looking to start disseminating it. It’s a brilliant project and deserves some backing. Can any Fellows help make it happen? On the basis of yesterday’s workshop, nothing would surprise me.


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