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2013 was a great year for Fellow-led and RSA Action and Research Centre projects. From the launch of our Crowdfunding project, the RSA’s Student Design Awards, through to Four ways to turn ideas into action, we’re looking to support people turning their ideas into great projects.

I joined the RSA in November 2012, and in September 2013 took over the South East and East of England regions. It’s been a fantastic year-and-a-bit, and I’ve been overwhelmed with the imagination, innovation, creativity and hard work that Fellows and colleagues put into making the world a better place. I could spend days talking about them, but in the nature of ‘New Year lists’, below are 13 of my favourite projects from 2013* which represent the inspiring work that’s going on. Find out about other projects we’re involved in at our blog.

In no particular order:

1) The Sunday Assembly (see more)

790179-the-sunday-assemblyBased on the simple ambition to live better, help often and wonder more, Fellow Sanderson Jones has set up a network of ‘godless churches’, bringing together local people to sing songs, hear interesting speakers and contribute to their local area. From their first meeting in London in January, they’ve only gone from strength to strength – having to move to bigger venues and setting up new ‘services’. They’re also expanding, nationally and internationally, offering a toolkit to any community, town or city that wants to set one up. I’ve been to one, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend a Sunday morning – and it brought together all sorts of people to make their community a better place.

2) 3-2-1 Ignition* (see more)

The mainstream media tends to mourn STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) skills at the moment, but doesn’t offer much improvement to the system. Enter Rick Hall FRSA. With funding from RSA Catalyst and a subsequent kickstarter campaign, Rick and his team of super-helpers are making science fun and accessible, popping up in empty shops and festivals. It may be aimed at children but like any good child activity, adults can definitely have fun too.

3) Plan Zheroes (see more)

Seeing a huge discrepancy in the number of charities needing food and the number of companies throwing away food, Maria Ana Neves and her team built an online interactive map to join the two. Charities can list what special dietary requirements they have, how many people they want to cater for and what transport accessibility they have, and companies can get in touch directly. In April 2013, Plan Zheroes were commissioned to create a portal for citizens in real need of food, and WRAP has asked Plan Zheroes to support the food services and hospitality sector to find solutions to divert surplus food.

4) (see more)

fellowship knotx120As a self-confessed data and policy geek, I’m always in favour of new projects that make data accessible – but also understand that it’s easy to suggest and very hard to do in practice, so I admit I was slightly sceptical about Nathan Boublil’s plan to create a one-stop shop for all socio-economic data. How wrong I was. The project is fresh and exciting, and with over 20 million data sets, yes, it’s comprehensive. It’s been successful in a number of Cambridge awards, and only continues to grow. Keep an eye out for it, it’s only going to get more useful.

5) Shout Out Suffolk (see more)

Suffolk County Council commissioned an independent inquiry into low ambition in education in the area, which was led by the RSA and involved school leaders, policy makers and local voices in Suffolk. Suffolk-based Fellows stepped forward to ensure that among all the noise from those groups, the voices of young people themselves were heard loud and clear. Shout Out Suffolk was created, a platform for young people to have their say about their own future. The platform led to an amazing 500+ responses in six weeks, which fed directly into the inquiry report. Read the evaluation.

6) RSA Short: The Power of Empathy (Watch it now)

“Rarely, if ever, does an empathic response start with the phrase ‘At least’”

image stillOn par with the John Lewis advert in terms of cuteness, this RSA Short features a bear and a fox exploring the difference between sympathy and empathy, and the power of vulnerability. The clip is taken from Dr Brené Brown’s talk in July 2013, and animated by Katy Davis, AKA Gobblynne - join the discussion on Twitter using #RSAbear.

7) Student Design Awards (see more)

This isn’t exactly new, as the Student Design Awards (SDAs) approach their 90th birthday this year, but rather branching out. The Design team and the Education team are taking the RSA Student Design Awards to the three RSA Academies, and if the model is successful, looking to branch out into national competition for all schools in the UK. The project is currently crowdfunding to get the project up and running, which you can support for as little as £1.

8) Wiltshire campuses (see more)

Wiltshire Council is introducing ‘Campuses’ in all of its Community Areas, bringing together different services and sectors under one roof. The RSA, in partnership with Fellows in Wiltshire, will be on the ground working with Wiltshire Council and finding out first-hand how the services are affecting local people. This project is an example of one that is both an in-house ARC project and works closely with Fellows to get the best local knowledge, and it’ll be exciting to see how it develops.

9) Unleashing Potential (see more)

IMG_3376This was the first year of Fellow-led and -organised Annual Conferences, an opportunity for Fellows to meet and engage with other Fellows and projects happening in their region, which happened in all 14 of the RSA’s Regions and Nations. The East of England conference, held in Cambridge in July, brought together over 100 Fellows from across the region to showcase local projects and explore how they can change their communities for the better. 23 different organisations and projects were represented on the day, ranging from a local community radio station in Norwich to the Big Issue, and it’s great to hear that the activity didn’t stop there, as Fellows continue to meet and work together to bring some of these projects to life.

10) RSA FutureMaker (see more)

IMG_5826Bringing together makers and designers from around the UK, the RSA in partnership with the Comino Foundation, took over the old HMRC Post Room in the basement of Somerset House. 300 people attended, from schoolchildren to high tech 3D printers to fixers and repairers, to celebrate the power and future of Making. As somebody who’s always fascinated with making but with the practical skills of a walnut, it was a fantastic to see the variety of technologies that are shaping our future, and the breadth of people getting involved in it.

11) The Social Brain: What older people want (see more)

Image via

The Social Brain, along with the Hanover Housing Association, published their report Sex, Skydiving and Tattoos: The end of retirement and the dawn of a new old age? In her blog, the late Emma Lindley explored findings from the report – and some of the attitudes highlighted made me sad to be a millennial. Emma described how the findings turn the idea of ageing on its head, and how if we can get policies and perspectives right, we can turn the ‘ageing population’ from a burden into an opportunity.

12) Raspberry Pi in schools (see more)

Fellows in the East Midlands are working with schools to help teachers and students learn to use the Raspberry Pi, an affordable, credit-card-sized programmable computer. The project emerged after a new network of Fellows met to discuss their common interests, and is really picking up pace with local businesses getting involved – and after seeing them at the East Midlands conference I went and bought one myself.

13) RSA Transitions (see more)

Finally, in August 2013 I was lucky enough to visit RSA Transitions in Hull. Taking over a run-down Ministry of Justice (MoJ) building, the project team has been working with HMP Everthorpe to see how unused MoJ buildings can be used to give offenders employment, skills and resettlement services while benefiting the local community and using space that’s otherwise empty. Seeing a project like that in real life was brilliant – it’s clear to see the positive effect it’s having

It’s been an exciting year, and I feel lucky to have been a part of or to have seen the development of so many brilliant projects from inspiring people. We’re always looking for good ideas; get in touch or have a look at our tools and techniques for Fellows. Nesta have also produced a very useful toolkit for innovators, creators and starter-uppers. 2013 has been fun, but I have every faith that 2014 can be even better. Not a Fellow but want to get involved? Find out more.

(* Any eagle-eyed fact-checkers may notice that some of these projects didn’t initially start in 2013; I’ve picked projects which have made significant developments  in 2013, for example through partnership agreements or successful fundraising campaigns)

Joanna Massie is Regional Programme Manager for the South East and East of England. You can follow her on Twitter at @joannacmassie.


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