By Philippa Watts, who attended the 2016 School for Changemakers, held at St Mary's University, Twickenham from 17 to 19 June.
Times are pretty bad. More than ever, we are bombarded with negativity, fear mongering, hatred and death. For decades, we in the UK have watched war and suffering from afar, but now, with the Referendum, terrorism, refugee crisis and the murder of Jo Cox MP, hatred is right back on our doorstep again. For many people, that results in a sort of numbness, apathy and fatalism. Even in my politically active, motivated friendship circles, the weight of all the badness of it all is starting to show. Facebook feeds that used to be a cocktail of activism (one part outrage, two parts hope and two parts enthusiasm) now reveal that people are emotionally tired and getting despondent.
Luckily for the world, there are people out there who are pushing through all this and using it as a springboard for change. I was fortunate enough to meet some of these people this weekend at the School for Changemakers, run by Initiatives of Change. Krish Raval, Denny Braggins and their team pulled together 50 young people interested in social justice, and a whole spectrum of speakers and workshop leaders to motivate and inspire us.
I am not easily inspired. I don’t see the universe in rainbows and glimmering dew. I don’t post motivational quotes. I am as cynical as I am optimistic. In general, I am not easily impressed. But here, at the School for Changemakers, mind = blown. Pat Magee (‘the Brighton Bomber’) and Jo Berry speaking on Reconciliation, Onjali Rauf (Making Herstory) on Social Entrepreneurship, Frank Bookman and Irene Laure (Visionary Peacemakers) on change yourself change the world, Akala (poet, rapper, activist, Hip Hop Shakespeare Company) on Race, Class and Imperialism, to name a few. We explored empathy, motivation, hope and anger, self-development and so many other aspects that come together in the minority of the population who are driven enough to actually go out and make change.
While all of this was sending my brain into overload, what really was the best part of it all was having a safe space, a bit of a bubble, full of optimism for the future. It has been very refreshing to be away from all the rubbish and spend time with other young adults who care enough to act and are happy to do it, because not everybody does or is able to. It is a luxury to be able to think of problems outside your own, to have the time, energy, money and skills to devote to taking a risk and challenging the status quo. I do wonder about how we can make sure those people who lack these things become changemakers in their own right, rather than those of us with those privileges taking up the mantle. Perhaps we have too, perhaps that is why the need is there. I don’t know. But for now, for those of us who do have those privileges, you could do worse than starting your mission for change with The School for Changemakers and Initiatives for Change.
Photos by Sophie Coxon