How creative can citizens who believe in creativity get?

I visited the Creative Citizens fair at the Impact Hub in Birmingham today.

I met some very interesting people, though I’m sure I, myself, as is my wont, went on for far too long – in fact, ultimately ended up boring their socks off.

Maybe, on such a hot day, this wasn’t altogether a bad thing.


From @FormbyVillage in person – Sean Brady, a most genial, congenial, informing conversationalist and all-round thoughtful person – to the organiser of the event, @jezturner, to the always attentive, cogent and thoughtful Jennie Sandford to the cross-disciplinary speakers, stallholders and creative citizens in general, both Creative Citizens as an organisation and the Impact Hub they had chosen to hold the event in seemed to mesh perfectly in their philosophies.

A couple of conversations I’d like to focus on, if I may.

Firstly, Nick Booth of @podnosh (website here), who I only managed to speak to very briefly (so no lost socks there …), but with whom I would love to have a broader and more in-depth conversation if the occasion arose.

We talked mainly of why I had been dallying with wiki software and tech, in order to bring memory and easy auditability – effectively a cheap-to-deliver virtual micro-fiche – to local and hyperlocal environments and communications.

I also touched on the idea of customisable search engines as a way of limiting huge streams of information to their essentials – not only allowing local communities to learn sooner and more accurately about themselves but also facilitating curious and potentially investing outside worlds a better, more focussed and more exact comprehension of the needs and realities of such local communities.

Someone else I found it easy to talk to was Simon Baylay of Reel Eyes Films (Twitter @reeleyze; website here) – in part because we had both studied, in one way or another, Film & Literature at uni. He is another person I’d love to keep in touch with; a grand humanity expressed and desire to help society function better characterised most of what he spoke about.

Whilst Pamela Pinski gave a lovely overview of the challenges of a listening and ethical hyperlocal, and James Clarke showed us what can be achieved when gumption and intelligence manage to convince a council of the benefits of service integration, it was the brilliantly named Real Junk Food Project Birmingham which I’m sure caught many people’s imaginations for its sheer innovation – even bravado. I had little time to take down the stats: suffice it to say that the fundamental idea is about as sound as it gets: “intercept” waste food – especially fresh food – before it goes bad, so that effectively the one in five below the poverty line can get their otherwise out-of-reach five-a-day.1

It seems to me, particularly in this latter aspect, that both the traditional foodbanks (traditional? So sad we might now be able to say this …) and the new fresh-food recovery outlets springing up – the latter with what they see as the empowering and dignifying “pay as you feel” philosophy, whether this be in time, skills or money itself – should surely strive to find some way of working constructively in tandem for the growing number of foodless people living in the UK.

One final conversation I had was very extended and absolutely gobsmacking. I think if you want to find out more, you really really should contact Chris Sadler direct (Twitter @csadlerstudio; website here). Suffice it to say that I will never, ever, see the subject of design in quite the same way. Mind. Completely. Blown.

And as far as Cheshire West & Chester is concerned – as a community, political entity and financial institution of citizens who just have to be as creative as Birmingham has clearly shown itself to be – please do get in touch with the guy and his people before it’s simply too late to get on the beautiful bandwagon that are such strategies.

Don’t – whatever you do – allow us to miss this boat!

Some final thoughts. Cross-disciplinary approaches are no longer the future – they’re the present. With encroaching spending-cuts at national-government level, we simply do not have the luxury of acting as we did in the past. The technology, processes and approaches – which people like Sadler, Creative Citizens and Impact Hub use in their differing and innovative ways – are widely tested, rehearsed and practised in private industry already. There is really no reason any longer to say no to these frankly liberating approaches.

Liberating for you, for me – and, I promise you, for our democracies.

  1. Update and correction to this post. The Real Junk Food Project doesn’t aim simply (simply?!) to feed the foodless but reconceptualise and re-engineer all our eating:



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