Lindsey Hall tells of the ideas behind Real Ideas.

Since we founded Real Ideas fourteen years ago, we have worked with all kinds of ideas – big concepts, quirky thoughts, ideas that led to small-but-vital shifts and some that just turned to sand. Perhaps the most important thing we’ve learned is that ideas, good or bad, mean very little if you don’t act on them.

The work we do is varied, but all centred on addressing inequality, creating opportunity and helping people overcome disadvantage and find their way to fulfilling, purposeful lives. We work with thousands of young people, aged between 16 and 24 years old to identify problems, generate ideas for possible solutions and, together, take action to make real, tangible, change happen. We support them to address multiple barriers; recognise their interests, aptitudes and passions; try new learning or work options; and move towards a positive future.

There are numerous examples of young people overcoming significant challenges. For example, Billy Brown, a gamer who had left his front door fewer than ten times in seven years developed a board game to help others who had experienced isolation. There was a great response, and it inspired others around the world, demonstrating how someone’s passion can lead to a new solution to an entrenched problem. Now a youth support worker, Billy has transformed his own life and is bringing his experience and expertise to help others find their own way through.

Billy has transformed his own life and is bringing his experience and expertise to help others find their own way through.

With others, their solution is an entrepreneurial one. For Lydia Mena, Che Heaton Olivia Wright and Beth Foote, their solution was to develop Birdy Box – an interactive experience that aims to re-engage children and families with nature. It uses a series of QR codes which are strategically placed around a nature trail or walk.

We are frequently amazed by the energy and enthusiasm of people of all ages and from every community who want to tackle issues, big and small. Over the years we’ve worked with more than 300 socially-enterprising start-ups including the     Onion Collective transforming East Quay in Watchet, Somerset, and Nudge Community Builders, restoring Union Street, Plymouth.

Both are now firmly established as successful community enterprises, each employing several people and delivering much-needed local services and facilities. They are testament to the power of local activism.

Very different, but equally important are the many creative and food enterprises started as a response to Covid. The Mindful Art Club combines the benefits of creative activity and mindfulness, supporting children and families struggling to deal with mental health challenges. Meanwhile, Bakeaway helps people overcome social isolation through baking, while Precious Plastics gives people a chance to recycle their own plastic and contribute to tackling climate change.

There are many examples of individuals deciding the moment has come to change their lives. Clearly Covid has had a huge impact on all our lives. For Kate Langston and Sam Dennis it was the push they needed to return to Kate’s home town, start their own artisan, vegan bakery, Heyl Bakery and contribute to the community.

Although Real Ideas’ works with people across the world, we have a deep commitment to four UK communities: Devonport and Stonehouse in Plymouth and Liskeard and Newquay in Cornwall.

What started as a less than thought through “why not” when we were asked, fourteen years ago, to take on a Grade 1 listed building, has turned into five buildings, with a range of excellent facilities that enable us to support innovative, creative, purpose-driven people. Each building has its own focus, designed to give new life to beautiful, but redundant heritage buildings and to support a local, strategic development priority.

The Market Hall in Devonport is a great example. Built in 1856 as a major food and produce market for the Tamar Valley, heavy bombing in World War 2, followed by the Cold War extension of the naval dockyard, caused it to fall into disrepair. Indeed, the fortunes of the whole area had plummeted, with Devonport finding itself in the 10% poorest communities by the early 2000s.

The Market Hall in Devonport

A strategic partnership including Plymouth City Council, Homes England and others led to an asset transfer of the building to Real Ideas and our decision to raise what became £7.6 million to transform it into a nationally-significant, immersive technology centre. Despite Covid delays, the Market Hall will open this summer, giving new opportunities to immersive tech start-ups, young people and the local community.

As well as delivering practical benefits, the Market Hall is strategically important to the city, the creative industries and other key sectors such as marine and health. It embodies our core belief that making positive social change happen is not linear. It is a complex, interconnected, circular process that involves people, money and structures all working differently.

As we’ve repeatedly seen during Covid, active communities are powerful and when push comes to shove, money can be made to flow differently by central government and local authorities. It has also raised important questions about what we value and thoughts about “building back better”.

When push comes to shove, money can be made to flow differently by central government and local authorities.

In Plymouth, strong partnerships have enabled us all to move ideas about a fairer, greener society from the periphery to the centre of the city’s recovery strategy. Clearly, there is a huge journey to turn theoretical commitment into practical action, but the creative, socially-enterprising ecology that now exists in Plymouth means we have a better chance than most.

We are yet to understand the long-term impact of Covid, but there is no doubt that communities and ecologies will have a vital role to play in what comes next. Within Real Ideas, we realised our approach was also too linear, wasting the value everyone we worked with could bring to each other. To change this, we are building a diverse, interconnected community of people, all striving, in their own ways, to make positive change happen.

Much as it is attractive to think we can rely on governments to make change happen, the levels of inequality and the damage we are doing to the planet have continued to increase with every decade that passes. However daunting, we have to work together, make every small change we can, challenge in whatever ways we can, and keep on doing that every single day. And we need to make a noise about it.

Come and join us –

Lindsey Hall

Lindsey Hall is co-founder and CEO of the Real Ideas Organisation group, leading the organisation to run it’s own social enterprise ventures and enable others, particularly young people, to set …

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