It’s been a week of reflection as I prepare to depart from the RSA and take up a new role at Nottingham Trent University. During this time the issue of sharing has been buzzing around my head but the power and relevance crystallised in my mind whilst attending my last Fellows event as a member of staff.
I’d like to share four short stories that should inspire you to connect, speak up and put your ideas out there. They aren't about the Sharing Economy or technology but I hope you find them valuable all the same.
Those of you who come to Fellowship events will know that we have been piloting a range of event formats over the last few years.
The event I want to highlight was designed around our Meetup format, providing a space, refreshments and a little bit of encouragement to help people to connect with the Fellowship network. One twist on our event was to borrow Mark Hall’s RSA Bounce idea and use it to add something new to a meetup. We traversed the room asking if anyone had anything they would like to say: an opportunity for a one minute slot to say speak freely about anything they wished.
We expected interest from six speakers (in fact we’d already lined up four) - what occurred was an outpouring of ideas, projects, and introductions from new and long standing Fellows keen to talk about their passion or ask for help.
The event provided, what is to me the essence of Fellowship and the RSA; a safe and welcoming space for people to talk openly about their thoughts and ideas. We had four new Fellows talk, one simply to say hello and the others to share the beginnings of their project ideas. In total 15 people shared something with the room.
Tim Gray’s short pitch this week and Lorna Prescott’s recent Medium post reminded me I have a group of blogs in draft that have never been finished, but as my time at the RSA draws to a close I realise they are all connected and should be shared. To me, they all show that so much can be made possible through the generous and enthusiastic support of individuals and groups to turn ideas into action.
The Keith Connection
If you haven’t met Keith Horsfall your life is missing something. He’s a passionate Yorkshire/Black Country man with a love of sport, music, art and young people’s potential. He’s a serial connector and I have more stories about Keith and his powers of persuasion and connections than I can remember. The story I want to share shows the power of an introduction and encouragement.
As with many Keith stories it started after work in a pub. Keith was meeting a new Fellow he’d recommended for Fellowship, a young(ish), motivated, and opinionated teacher called Gary Byrne. Like Keith, Gary was impressed by the scope and desire of the RSA to bring about real world change and they both saw it as a space to meet and hear different views and ideas.
One of Gary’s many ideas was to explore the idea of creativity in education, inspired by the new Creative Learning and Development work at the RSA. As a primary school maths teacher, he was frustrated that people didn’t view his subject as creative so we hosted an event to highlight different types of creativity. This event provided a wealth of introductions and spin-offs with eight people sharing their perspective.
The most powerful of these talks came from a teacher at Gary’s old school. James Christie had a passion for writing. Through a chance encounter with a former student, he learnt his students were upset about the lack of opportunity to be creative with their writing. After that meeting James made a promise to himself and those students that he’d support them to be writers after they left his class and for as long as they needed him.
He recognised he couldn’t do this alone and we offered him a platform. We heard James and his students work and immediately one Fellow was able to help. As part of his promise to his students, he needed to find spaces and people to broaden the group’s opportunities. Fellow Lorna Prescott found them space at the Impact Hub on Open Project Night and they came and worked on their writing there. She also shared James' story with another Fellow who runs Beatfreeks (a creative youth engagement agency) who hosted a small workshop for his students and invited them to attend a poetry slam event at the REP. This led them to work with a radical poet who mentored them and, with James’ support, led them to write and perform at a subsequent poetry slam event in Birmingham.
Would James have made similar links? Maybe. Could he have done it as quickly? It's hard to say, but this story highlights that sharing your time and thinking processes can really help other people.
So many of the RSA’s events are designed around this concept. They create links and opportunities and whilst you may not always take up that offer of a coffee, or the link to a blog or report worth reading, I ask that you make sure you do.
Knowledge Exchange for the Knowledge Exchangers
Before the Nottingham Meetup I mentioned earlier, I was sitting with John, a Fellow who has a passion for knowledge exchange. He wanted some help to explore the value and role that knowledge plays in society. John wanted to share his experiences and learn from others to develop EMPACs work. He recognised the need to be open about the challenges he faces so he could ask for the help and advice. By opening up his issues and running a workshop he hopes to bring other organisations and individuals into a conversation about how to share, collate and build on knowledge to make improvements. We’ll have more details to share in the autumn and it’s something I hope to explore both as a Fellow and in my new job. I’ll even take up his invitation to help facilitate the session, something I was too coy to say in our meeting.
Immy and Open Project Night
Have you heard of Open Project Night? Well, nobody had until Immy and the team at Impact Hub Birmingham created it to provide space every week for fledgling ideas and projects in Birmingham. Immy shared the Impact Hub space and offered her Monday night so that people could talk, develop ideas and make stuff happen.
We used the space to help share the work of the RSA across our key themes and also given a platform to others working in these areas to share their thoughts and ideas. From topics such as childcare, self-employment and performing arts, through to primary school students doing research and teams delivering mental health first aid at work, we’ve covered a broad range of topics. This happened because a group of people recognised that providing a welcoming space with good coffee can be all the excuse you need to test, trial and launch your thinking into something that makes a difference.
I’ve been privileged to work with Immy when she was first sharing her idea of a connected and compassionate Birmingham that worked for its citizens to tackle the issues they faced. The success of the Impact Hub and TEDxBrum are awesome signs of the power of us as people to make a difference.
These stories and the actions and individuals highlighted are a small fraction of the great work that goes on, built on the generosity and kind spirit of people happy to share their skills, ideas and time to help. This happens everywhere but with surprising regularity at the RSA. Alongside Fellows this is made possible by the people who work here who contribute energy and enthusiasm, day in and day out, to make a difference. We develop from the experiences we take part in and the RSA has certainly helped shape me in a positive way and I can never thank the staff and Fellows for being a wonderful part of that.
So I’d like to finish with a rallying call.
Be open, be generous and never stop sharing.
Tell me your stories in the comments section below and thank you, one and all.
Keep in touch with me @pickfordrich or via MyRSA profile where I’ll be learning how to be an active Fellow of the RSA. Sam, when do I get my Fellowship Card?