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“I mean, we can’t be the only ones…surely?”

Sitting across from me is a middle-aged man, well dressed, whose long-limbed repose and considered conversation contrasts starkly to my nervous energy and staccato (often syncopated) delivery, rising and falling in intensity with each subject.

As the conversation goes on, Andrew Middleton impresses me more and more with his curiosity and energy; he tells me about his new venture – I.N.D.Y – originally built to help people at the crossroads toward the end of their careers find a new purpose, but already finding application with people in their 20s and 30s.  We talk about the town we live in, a small, dilapidated commuter town between the M3 and M4.  It’s the kind of place people may have heard of, but couldn’t point to on a map. The kind of place that disappears each morning in the rear-view mirror of its brilliant inhabitants, on the way to do creative and innovative things some place more interesting, and barely registers when they arrive back 10 hours later, weary and already thinking about tomorrow’s agenda.

Which leads us back to the original question.  We can’t be the only ones, here in Andover, with an interest in applying the values of the RSA – social change, innovation, creativity – to this small town, instead of saving it all for London, or Southampton, or the other main hubs within commuting distance.

It was this question that drove Andrew to contact me out of the blue shortly after I joined the RSA, that brought us here to this café, and that compelled us to host an event with the idea of bringing together likeminded people to share their ideas, expand their local networks, and find out more about the RSA.

Which births an idea

We wanted to give people a forum to share and explore nascent ideas in a safe environment with a positive audience. But most of all, we wanted to create some momentum within the town, no matter how small at first, for people like us to start the slow process of building the kernel of a community network that will over time grow into something vibrant and positive.

Andrew engaged the team at the RSA to help us shape the vision, and as the day drew near, with venue, catering, and structure all agreed upon, it started to look very likely that we would be hosting an empty room, with only a handful of tickets confirmed.

But the numbers didn’t matter to us. We were determined to make the best of it. We’d taken it this far and even if five people came (the four pitchers…and my fiancé), that was a start!

The idea realised

First it was a trickle, occasionally interrupting that awkward semi-conversational clustering that happens when polite people are all waiting for something they’re not quite sure about.  Then a group turned up…and then another…in a steady stream until show time.

For Andrew and me, resigned as we were to delivering speeches to a handful of people, the sight of the room at capacity was quite something to behold. Neither of us could quite believe our eyes.

For those of you who have yet to attend an RSA Ideas event, it goes like this:

  1. The host (yours truly, in this instance) does the welcome and gives a little history on the RSA for those interested in joining
  2. Then there are 3 pitches, each one limited to 3 minutes (though we were a little lax with the clock…much to Andrew’s chagrin, there is a staunch disciplinarian lurking underneath that affable exterior)
  3. We break for a networking session where interested audience members can explore the ideas they’ve heard in more detail
  4. Then a further 3 pitches at three minutes
  5. Followed by a final networking session

Frankly, for a room full of socially conscious, extremely polite, and very friendly fellows (and hopefully future fellow), it was a mad house – and we wouldn’t have had it any other way. The enthusiasm with which the audience took to each idea was both inspiring and heart-warming, with questions and answers spilling over the time limits and the conversation continuing long after the final networking session.

We even had a couple of impromptu pitches at the end from people in the audience, which was fantastic.

Afterwards

To say I left that evening elated would be an understatement. I met some amazing and inspiring people and Andrew and I had fantastic receptions to our pitches (as did the other contributors).  Most importantly, it really felt like the start of something – to be surrounded by engaged, intelligent, passionate people, all taking an interest in each other and our local area, created a real high for everyone involved.

To RSA members everywhere – If you’ve yet to attend an event like this, and especially if that’s through nerves, I implore you to go, and – if you can – get up and bare your soul, share your ideas. The world deserves them, and you’ll be amazed at the reaction.

To my colleague, Andrew, on whose shoulders the responsibility for this event (and by extension, all future events) taking place rests, thank you for your drive.

To the fantastic staff at Basepoint Andover, thank you for your gracious hospitality.

And last, but by no means least, to Stuart, Oliver, and Claire – thank you all for the advice before and after the event, and a huge thank you for making the effort to come all the way out to Andover on a miserable March evening to show your support.

If you’re a Fellow in the Hampshire/Wiltshire region and would like to find out more about our plans for future meet ups, do please get in touch!

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