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Rawthmells: Where ideas brew

What is an enlightenment coffeehouse and how did they transform our world? Coffeehouses, first established in the 17th and 18th centuries, were places where, for the price of a cup of coffee, people could meet to share ideas. The RSA was established in an enlightenment coffeehouse, named Rawthmells, in 1754 by a group of people with a shared vision for a better tomorrow.

Like the original coffeehouse, we want our 21st-century version to be a place where individuals become part of a greater movement for social change – a natural home for anyone who wants to change the world. We see it as somewhere that enables people to connect, share knowledge, collaborate, and build new communities to tackle the social challenges of our time.

Watch Dr Matthew Green, an expert on the enlightenment coffeehouse, when he gave a talk at the RSA about the amazing impact these institutions had on the world. 


How do you like your coffee? Black, white, enlightened?

“Ever since I discovered the RSA, it has been a place where I have met people, shared ideas and made things happen. This is where you might just overhear one word of another person’s conversation and then suddenly, you’re through the ‘rabbits’ hole’ and you enter ‘Wonderland’ where the world changes and great questions are asked.” Maria Neves FRSA

The enlightenment coffeehouses were shaped by those who frequented them, and the RSA coffeehouse is no different. Almost 4,000 Fellows engaged with the question of how the new coffeehouse can contribute to the RSA's mission of a 21st-century enlightenment and 200 proposals were submitted. Following a very close vote by Fellows, five ideas have been taken forward – take a look below.


Fuel for thought

"It would be a fine thing to have an 'idea space' where Fellows working on projects that enrich society can put up ideas to be fired up by contributions from other fellows; a kind of mind-sharing leading to action. Fellows can get into the 'idea space' and add their fuel and follow-up contacts."


A Global Network

"For me, Rawthmells should act as the beating heart of a 21st-century coffeehouse movement: it needs to reach out beyond the confines of the building. My vision is to include satellite coffeehouses throughout the UK and the world, where local fellows can come together, connect, share knowledge, collaborate, and build new communities to tackle the social challenges of our time."


Conversation Zone

"People in London don’t talk to strangers, but ideas only happen in conversation. In the coffee shop, create a zone in which it is expected to have conversations and in which, if you sit, you are inviting/giving permission for conversation about ideas."


Collaborative Walls

“If a space is to be productive and encourage great collaboration to work on ideas, plans and strategies then it needs to be open, inviting and inclusive. Having an entire wall available to write on removes the usual limits of traditional whiteboards and means you can stretch images or ideas as far as you want.”


Partnering with student societies

"The coffeehouse should provide an informal space, such as a salon, for joint events and discussions organised in conjunction with relevant nearby institutions and their student societies, perhaps with a guest speaker to stimulate conversation."