Five countries in five months: 8 actions for 2018

In August 2017 my family - mum, dad, boy and Bo the border collie - took a risk that others might call madness. We left the UK, in the midst of the BREXIT chaos, rented out our house and hit the road in our van with an ex-army catering tent repurposed for PEACE called The Welcome Tent

And yes we had the privilege to make that choice. But once you jump off a cliff, there is always a sense of falling until you find your wings.

Five mindblowing months and countries later - UK, Denmark, The Netherlands, Switzerland and France - and we’ve made friends with people, including many displaced by conflict, from 32 countries around the world.

My 6 year-old is shit-hot at shit-head. We are officially Travelling. 

 Read more about our journey gathering Recipes of HOPE (Photo Credit: Guki Guinashuili)

Read more about our journey gathering Recipes of HOPE (Photo Credit: Guki Guinashuili)

You see everything changed when we went to Calais in 2015. Volunteering in the humanitarian relief effort to keep people alive. It was like a window into the future.

 Coffee in Calais, 2015 (Photo Credit: Emily Parish)

Coffee in Calais, 2015 (Photo Credit: Emily Parish)

War, conflict, economic and environmental turbulence will only lead to the displacement of more human beings. So this journey, amongst other things, is to discover the skills needed for this uncertain future. How are people creating community in chaos?

We have learned how to survive on food no one else wants (a revealing set of vids is in the pipeline). We have been inspired by and in awe of the tenacity, strength of character and commitment to education that every person fleeing conflict always has, with hope for a better future. We have been reminded that no human is illegal by @BlackDawit "the prince born to be a king" and that invisible borders are as restrictive as the walls we can actually see.

First and foremost we must remember to learn from our past. In Eindhoven we met Dick, one of the resident neighbours at De Huiskamer community learning space which "fell from heaven”. Dick’s father was killed in Sobibor, an extermination camp in Poland where 200,000 people were murdered. Dick shared a poem with us in The Welcome Tent in October about Ben Ali Libi - "the magician of Sobibor" - who was killed because the Nazi regime had no use for his skills.

Of course, this poem has a very special place in Dick's heart as it reminded him of his father. It became even more symbolic of our current times when being performed with Dick’s blessing here, in The Welcome Tent Eindhoven by Marcio from Angola in his newly learned language Dutch. Marcio, just one of thousands of displaced people arriving in Europe, whose skills there is (arguably) no use for.

Welfare state?

I believe in the state's responsibility to look after people who need support. Yet this must be delivered in a way that enables the individual to maintain their dignity - continuing to live well and not merely just to die slowly (see my previous work on Dementia here). To encourage ‘Usefulness' must be a priority, so that people still feel worthy and worth it and can continue to contribute to wider society. This is equally applicable to everyone, whatever their ability or status. 

But here lies the main problems that I have experienced through my own personal and professional observations:

- state authorities are funded in silos

- our lives are moving faster than state funded authorities can keep up

- there is evidence that state funded authorities are ignoring human rights


8 Actions for 2018

1. We must acknowledge and continue to find ways to challenge the bad stuff: gather evidence, speak out, support each other. Ultimately we must not feel alone. 

2. We must reach beyond our own interests and professions and recognise there are incredible people doing incredible work across the piste. We must connect across these boundaries.

3. We must remember there is no hierarchy in suffering: no one problem is more worthy than another. We must think whole systems.

4. We must recognise that our emotions control our actions. We all need to take responsibility for challenging our own unconscious biases in order to "Move The Elephant" - check out Tinna C Neilson’s work below about cultural change. 

5. We must continue to find loopholes in oppressive systems - I attended a great workshop a few months ago when humanKINDER's project The Welcome Tent was one of the partners in Vreemdland at Dutch Design Week alongside Hans Sauer Stiftung and De Voorkamer.

6. We must focus on the good and not get distracted by the bad. This lesson has been taught to us most poignantly by our friends from Sudan, co-founders of The Welcome Tent and our 'Happiness All Around' friendship group. 

7. We must not feel guilty for sharing positive news. It is hope that keeps people going. We have to pick ourselves up, dig deeper, continue to be hopeful. We are looking forward to the release of the March of HOPE film by new friends in the virtual IG community. 

8. We must build on the good projects. We started this with Reframing Migration in 2016 and we continue gathering recipes of HOPE as we travel around Europe from people creatively making the best use of existing resources - both human and material - like Institute for X and RE-USE in Aarhus and and F.D.P. in Paris.


New year's revolution 

The wind whistles around the Mont Blanc Massif outside the window as I sit here listening to Backlash Blues by Langston Hughes and Nina Simone, planning the next leg of our journey around Europe. 

In my personal experience, Rescue, Recovery and Repurposing are only possible through human connection. We must not allow our future to be segregated, divided, compartmentalised. Instead we must all play our part in creating the conditions - our communities -  which enable cultural and genuine human interaction which in turn enables social change.  

Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community”. It is culture that lets us lift our voices, tell our stories, sing our truth (Musicians without borders). 

We need to believe in the possibilities for our future, but we can only discover these if we push ourselves beyond our current realities. It is sometimes difficult. But it will be even more painful to regret. 

I am hopeful that my experiences on this journey will lead to the co-creation of a multi-sensory approach where the universal languages of music, food, art, poetry are creative forces for good. Feeling, seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting. What can we learn from humanitarian pioneers, from people closest to nature, from nature itself, from the WILD?

So so many people have inspired me this year. You are all incredible, have made me cry, have made me laugh - thankyou. I am honoured to be collecting your #recipesofHOPE.

A special mention must go to Heather & Kelvin for your relentless efforts at Paris Refugee ground Support. Support them here. Your Revolution Coffee is one of our favourite recipes of HOPE. 

And Laxmi Hussain, the woman behind our beautiful artwork: “Being you, the real you, is the best you’ll ever be”.

Unprecedented times calls for revolutionary answers. I am willing to step up, push myself harder. 2018 is the year to find my audience. To have the confidence to share stories I know must be told. To connect people who together could change the world. If just by being true to ourselves is an act of revolution, this is a 2018 new year's resolution that I will do my best to keep. 

 Follow my family's journey around Europe with The Welcome Tent, an ex-army catering tent repurposed for PEACE 

Follow my family's journey around Europe with The Welcome Tent, an ex-army catering tent repurposed for PEACE 

Social Innovation Lab Kent - my reflections in 2017

I was contacted a few months ago by Stéphane Vincent of 27ème région to share my views on SILK one year after leaving. This morning I had a Skype with 5 representatives of social innovation units from Departments across France. Here is a version of what was discussed ... 

J'ai été contacté il y a quelques mois par Stéphane Vincent de la 27ème région pour partager mes opinions sur SILK, un an après son départ. Ce matin, j'ai eu un skype avec 8 représentants des unités d'innovation des départements de France. Voici une version de ce qui a été discuté ...

1) The METHODOLOGY. When we started at SILK we spent the first two years co-creating a Method Deck of social innovation methods to plan strategic, design and community projects. Many years later and we learned that actually we needed to use the method deck as a tool for reflection and learning together 'in the moment'. The world is changing too fast to be able to plan 6 months in advance - we needed to be responsive, adaptable and flexible. Indeed during the years I was running SILK the team was moved 5 times so we had lots of practice.

1) LA MÉTHODOLOGIE. Lorsque nous avons commencé à SILK, nous avons passé les deux premières années à co-créer un Méthode Deck de méthodes d'innovation sociale pour planifier des projets stratégiques, de conception et communautaires. Beaucoup d'années plus tard et nous avons appris qu'en réalité, nous avions besoin d'utiliser la méthode de plate-forme comme un outil de réflexion et d'apprentissage ensemble «dans le moment». Le monde change trop vite pour pouvoir planifier 6 mois à l'avance - nous devions être réactifs, adaptables et flexibles. En effet, pendant les années, j'étais en train de travailler avec SILK. L'équipe a été déplacée 5 fois alors nous avons eu beaucoup de pratique.

2) The CHANGE PROCESS. Protecting the social innovation space as a sacred space where the pressures and hierarchy of daily life cannot enter and/or become a reason not to do anything. But how to do this? I talked about how to create an inclusive space where everyone is able to communicate in a way that is relevant to them, that makes sense in their world - mindful of timing, accessibility and multi-sensory forms of communication and expression. Everyone is different. And how to build a bridge between the learning that happens in this space and influence culture change throughout the organisation and across sectors? I described The Dementia Diaries and how we deliberately created a book that would be accessible to everyone - citizens, young, older, professionals in all positions, a book that was relevant to everyone. 

2) LE PROCESSUS DE CHANGEMENT. Protéger l'espace de l'innovation sociale comme un espace sacré où les pressions et la hiérarchie de la vie quotidienne ne peuvent entrer et / ou devenir une raison de ne rien faire. Mais comment faire cela? J'ai parlé de la façon de créer un espace inclusif où tout le monde est capable de communiquer d'une manière qui leur est pertinente, ce qui est logique dans leur monde - compte tenu du moment, de l'accessibilité et des formes multi-sensorielles de communication et d'expression. Tout le monde est différent. Et comment construire un pont entre l'apprentissage qui se passe dans cet espace et influencer le changement de culture dans toute l'organisation et dans tous les secteurs? J'ai décrit The Dementia Diaries et comment nous avons délibérément créé un livre qui serait accessible à tous - citoyens, jeunes, plus âgés, professionnels dans tous les postes, un livre qui était pertinent pour tous.

3) The MINDSET. How to prevent institutionalisation. I have been there, I know how it sucks you in. I had a post-it on my computer which said "Are you institutionalised?" - the first thing I read every morning when I got to work. How to keep your brain ticking over so that you can continue to think beyond today's limits. How is it possible to think WHOLE SYSTEM, when everything around us is divided into boxes and categories. 

3) Le MINDSET. Comment prévenir l'institutionnalisation. Je suis allé là-bas, je sais comment cela vous plait. J'ai eu un post-it sur mon ordinateur qui a déclaré: "Êtes-vous institionalisé?" - La première chose que j'ai lu chaque matin quand je suis arrivé au travail. Comment faire passer votre cerveau afin que vous puissiez continuer à penser au-delà des limites d'aujourd'hui. Comment est-il possible de penser TOUT SYSTÈME, lorsque tout ce qui nous entoure est divisé en boîtes et catégories.

So what are the right conditions to nurture points 1-3? Is government creating the right conditions? They will not flourish in a bad climate. Well I always thought that the most helpful position of an innovation lab would be one foot in and one foot outside 'the system'. We experimented with this at SILK - every project we did included people with lived experiences as part of our extended project team - some paid workers, some unpaid workers. It was the people who were motivated by REAL & GENUINE CHANGE that became the force behind SILK projects, no matter whether they were outside or inside the system. How can we put a spotlight on what actually matters to us? SILK was a space where we turned complexity into simplicity, adversity into opportunity. SILK was a space where we could all learn together, from each other, about simple things that would make a difference. There was no hierarchy, no job titles, no labels, no diagnoses, just us, a blank sheet of paper and our own worlds to share and improve together. And this approach is what we are now taking on the road with The Welcome Tent.

Alors, quelles sont les bonnes conditions pour nourrir les points 1-3? Est-ce que le gouvernement crée les bonnes conditions? Ils ne fleuriront pas dans un mauvais climat. Eh bien, j'ai toujours pensé que la position la plus utile d'un laboratoire d'innovation serait d'un pied et d'un pied à l'extérieur du «système». Nous l'avons expérimenté à SILK - chaque projet que nous avons fait comprenait des personnes ayant des expériences vécues dans le cadre de notre équipe de projet étendue - certains travailleurs rémunérés, certains travailleurs non rémunérés. Ce sont les personnes qui ont été motivées par REAL & GENUINE CHANGE qui est devenu la force derrière les projets SILK, qu'ils soient à l'extérieur ou à l'intérieur du système. Comment pouvons-nous mettre l'accent sur ce qui compte pour nous? SILK était un espace où nous avons transformé la complexité en simplicité, l'adversité en opportunité. SILK était un espace où nous pouvions tous apprendre ensemble, les uns des autres, des choses simples qui feraient la différence. Il n'y avait pas de hiérarchie, pas de titres d'emploi, pas d'étiquettes, pas de diagnostic, nous avons une feuille de papier vierge et nos mondes pour partager et améliorer ensemble. Et cette approche est ce que nous prenons maintenant sur la route avec The Welcome Tent.

tree child

I see a child 

up a tree 

crying silently


for his mother 





Be safe

My son

Be safe from this terror

May Mother Nature 

Protect you 

In her arms 

be safe 



I will see you 

Some day 

On the other side

But until then

Believe in me

I tried


To do my best

When there was 

no best to do 

to save your soul

while mine was ripped 

from my heart 

In two 


My screams 

Are in your dreams 

My terror will 

Forever lurk

In the darkness

Of your mind


But as you perch

Like a little bird

In the tree 

Waiting for me 






Your pain is my pain 

And the shadows 

In the soft branches

Will comfort you



As you sing your last song

As you breathe 

Your final breath 

Mother Nature's hands 

will stroke you 

and hold you tight 

While you are 

crying silently



For me


sharing a meal

Sharing a meal

as though these friends

have been mine forever

as though these friends

have been together



But we all know the uncertain future

the pretence of freedom

while invisible chains

hold back from a life

where can I be free?

where can I be me?


where my gaze wanders

back to the atrocities

I’ve seen

to a life

that was more harm than good


despite being my home

i had to flee

to live

and be me


and now?


do we glimpse a life

that is true?

as I sit alone

on the verandah

looking in


an honest life

with no requirement to report in

where i can watch the TV

without fear of recrimination

where my neighbours smile at me

where i am welcomed


as a human that has seen too much fear

I need to be cared for

not spat at in the street

not treated like a criminal

not pretending to be ok


when the reality is bleak

i cannot stay forever

for now

life is in perpetuity

in no-man’s land

in nomad’s land


my phone is connecting me

to a world that is dying

on its bare feet

which keep walking onwards

though cut and bruised

though battered and sore


clinging to words

that allow us to think more

is possible from this situation


let’s work out how

we can share

our world



share our dreams



share our lives


while flying

on a magic carpet

to the stars




of distraction

ruling our minds


rolled around

in sweaty hands


daily fail bullshit

legs to their armpits

NHS relegation

divided teams



road rage

no words


Mandela reaching

towards democracy

now a fading light


legs in tights

eyes in pain

hands clasped

face down

concrete embrace



so convenient


so demeaning

screams heard

while dreaming

fake reasons

to die


sunset sunrise

cancer cells

blind eyes



south circular ride


safety vista

now off radar


bricked up

while distraction


reflections on socially good design and social innovation

interviewed by Annie-Marie-Buxton, 3rd year BA Graphic Design Student, Central Saint Martins

1. How does design help to encourage social innovation?

design provides a framework in which to position social innovation.. when i started using the term social innovation in 2007, it was so new I didn't really know what it meant myself.. we used design to make the case for social innovation …

social innovation does not always needs design.. my new adventure humanKINDER is about social justice and social innovation - I draw on the discipline of design, amongst others, to achieve social good.

For me social innovation is about people, passion, justice, rights, communication, compassion, kindness and love. It is about connecting the dots, translating across cultural boundaries, embracing and celebrating different perspectives 

2.How could designers improve at becoming more socially innovative?

there are far too many people / systems / places that still encourage elitism and hierarchy. I include some designers in this, but also people from all other professions.. I prefer to work with people from a cross sector of disciplines  to understand multiple perspectives , this creates better conditions for social innovation to flourish.

For me social innovation is about people, I like to see how you can design an inclusive process where everyone can be involved whatever their ability, interest, background... a process of learning how to learn from each other… I think everybody, including designers, need to understand they are a part of the whole process, not THE whole process. To do good social innovation, I draw on my experiences in law, languages, teaching, charities, design, music, community action, research, art etc...

3.Do you feel like design education could be improved in order to produce more socially innovative/good projects?

Designers need to recognise that it is a discipline that can add huge value, potentially a massive contribution for social good … I think it is about understanding people's needs, aspirations and most importantly their context, walking in their shoes…. taking the time to explore, and contextualise an experimental process to find solutions WITH PEOPLE rather than making assumptions and jumping in too early. Design has taught me many lessons in a formative part of my career.. To do social good, and to do good social innovation, is not just about the tool, it is about the people. Working WITH people requires a whole different skill set. Design is a very useful discipline, but first and foremost for me, it is people and how you work with them, that matters. 

yet still 2016

mother nature

setting sun


souls who left us

shared parting gifts

singing Hallelujah

wild as the wind


wherever you look 

and actually see

is it worse than

ever before really

red bloody graphs

white lines on mirrors

gin with polar ice

and a slice

melting our hearts 

drowning our sorrows


the homeless dog's howl

piercing the ears 

of those souls

who care too much

who care to listen

to the screams

as the last hospital 

in Aleppo 


prem babies

pulled from their dusty tombs

what a way 

to celebrate

world prem

baby day


as the tabloids sink

to an all time low

cockroach editors

skuttle through 


drinking french champagne

in red, white & blue



london bridge is burning down

on a pyre of social media

churning ourselves




the kids they already knew

for years

this world

tumbling down

around us

cutting away

at their own flesh

through their tears


US boy

no gun in his holster


while safely in school

as the united others

hail their new leader

the stench of death 

wafting through the truly 

White House

climate change deniers

holocaust liars


activists are in shock

but no more numb 

than the Syrian people

who ask to be left

in peace

to die

their cries for help

unheard for too long


there's us

and there's them

there's before 

and there's after

the generation

who remember 

before the ws

world wars

world web

world wasted 

our friends die

mothers with no answers

children with no fathers


ladybird apocalypse

world war three

what to pack in my bag

where do we have to run

when we head for our sun

precious belongings

falling down mountain chasms

into the bleak midwinter


Yet Still

the songbird sings 

a yellow canary

illuminating the stars


Yet Still

the eagle soars


at standing rock

on the shoulders

of veterans


Yet Still

the female beatboxer

in oxford street

lifts us



Yet Still


stops us

in our tracks

to listen

to real beauty




jungala is sanctuary

where butterflies

will forever stamp

their millennium eyes 

on infinite souls

where roots hold firm

and truth

is our only hope. 

coproduction the humanKINDER way

In the aftermath of first Brexit and now Trump, 'co-production' is not at the top of the To Do list for some of the most influential world leaders. 


So why do we know that it is still the right thing to do? Why is there still a growing movement of people dedicated to the collaboration cause?

Big P politics aside, I want to start by focusing on the small p politics. 

In 1958, on the 10th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Eleanor Roosevelt, an esteemed US First Lady amongst many other roles, delivered the 'In Our Hands' speech: 

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin?

In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world.

Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighbourhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works.

Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.

Without concerned citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”

For me, human rights are the foundations of co-production, which I believe, represent the conscience of our current democratic system. A reminder that we are all human and we all have rights – but creativity and perseverance are often required to uphold those rights within our somewhat restrictive systems.  

'In Our Hands' was shared with me at a Dementia Lab that I ran last year in Northern Ireland. Over the five days, people living with dementia were deliberately the highest represented attendees.

Co-production is not consultation. Co-production is not tokenistic involvement. 

Co-production is equitable participation where people, in a paid and voluntary capacity, work together to solve problems. I have taken co-production to mean taking notice of what actually matters to people - the 'small places' where people may be struggling - and working with those people to make those 'small places' bearable and indeed enjoyable.

One of the most inspirational people in the dementia world is Tommy Whitelaw who hit the road to share personal experiences after caring for his mother with dementia. Tommy’s campaign, which puts the 'care back into dementia care', underlines that when professionals and citizens genuinely work together, a movement can follow.  

Another example of this is The Dementia Diaries, a project we developed in collaboration with the grandchildren of people living with dementia. We involved these young Carers BEFORE the project had started and they subsequently became our editorial board for the full project lifecycle. They designed the brief for a learning resource 'where the facts are true and the feelings are real'. Professionals and citizens are now using the Dementia Diaries globally. 

Critically, when people ask who the target audience is, the answer is everyone. We found many professionals in the dementia field had retrained after personal experiences of caring for a loved one. 

The great thing about co-production is that it is, for the most part, values based – the same principles can apply to any project where people work together. 

Recently I have been involved in Reframing Migration, a collaboration between the University of the Arts London, Design for Social Innovation and Sustainability Network, and Social Innovation Lab in Kent. It offered a fresh look at migration - a way to understand migration as social innovation and explore how migrant and resident communities can live well together while creating value for the whole of society. As poet Hollie McNish says so succinctly in the now viral Mathematics: 'most times immigrants bring more than minuses'.

Reframing Migration demonstrates another benefit of co-production - creating 'safe' spaces to challenge institutionalised thinking and culture. A co-production approach can connect people with shared experiences - both professionals and citizens – who may often feel marginalised and alone. ‘Rites’, currently playing at the National Theatre Scotland, a co-production about Female Genital Mutilation, uses the 'safe space' of theatre to explore and understand this taboo subject. Creative approaches can provide co-production tools with which to understand and address issues in both a participatory and accessible way. 

So to conclude, how do we, the 'concerned citizens' go forward?

  • Continue to perfect the art of relationship and communication so that everyone can be involved - if they want to. Make it relevant and useful, in a language that is accessible, remembering that communication is multi-sensory 
  • Continue to understand context and need before jumping into solutions. Work alongside diverse communities, learning together and cross-checking, to unpick the complex world we now live in. Manage people’s expectations and acknowledge their incentives and disincentives to involvement
  • Continue to find common ground, respecting people as individuals, but also as part of a network that is as unique to them as their own DNA. What insight or skills do people bring to the table? Bring people together across cultural boundaries, with music or food, before tackling some of the tougher challenges 

Above all, remember co-production is about what matters to people. Continue to celebrate the difference that co-production can make in the 'small places, close to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world'. 

the article was written for #CoProWeekScot and was first published in November 2016:

the US presidential election.

But what a choice!

Much like the recent Brexit vote in the UK, I wonder how it ever got to this in the first place. Today I came across the following via yesware:

As we wait to hear the results of perhaps the biggest decision in election history, I find it extremely worrying that the whole US political system has been reduced to just this: pantsuit aficionado v. trump...

Tonight, of course, the tension is rising across the Atlantic, but also across the world: this election result has profound implications for our future. In parallel, the events at Standing Rock symbolise the hope of those who do want a peaceful existence - I am drawn to the courage of the protestors and protectors of our future.

I just wonder whether either of the candidates - pantsuit or trump - or indeed anyone in their billion dollar entourage for that matter, have ever read or remember the following words? If government institutions will not bring peace, concerned citizens will. 


“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin?

In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world.

Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighbourhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works.

Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.

Without concerned citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”

Eleanor Roosevelt “In Our Hands” speech delivered on the tenth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1958).