Boingboing blogs from… London

Utopia Fair 2016, 24-26 June 2016, Somerset House, London

by Simon Duncan, Boingboinger

Recently, a crack team of Boingboingers answered a call from our fearless founder, Professor Angie Hart. Our mission, which we accepted, was to promote Boingboing’s resilience tools at the Utopia Fair 2016 by staffing our own Resilience Tools stall. The tools have all been co-produced with young people facing additional barriers to resilience as part of the Designing Resilience Project. From Friday 24th to Sunday 26th June, Boingboingers from all over the world (yes, really!) assembled at Somerset House in London to complete our objective. This is our story.

But, before I regale you with tales of our resilient feats, let me explain what the Utopia Fair is. Sir Thomas More wrote a book called Utopia that was first published 500 years ago in 1516. The book details an idealised island that is hard to reach, but where everything is perfect and orderly. The Utopia Fair 2016 is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Connected Communities programme which, “explores challenges facing contemporary culture and society, from community and sustainability to the pivotal role of the arts and culture in creating the space where dreams can take root”.

Utopia Fair 2016 Somerset House

So the Fair aimed to promote a diverse range of initiatives from different Connected Communities research projects, that will play a role in creating a better tomorrow, to the general public. Projects from all across the country had stalls, including one where participants could create their own utopian currency. Another stall looked at how to counteract loneliness later in life. Boingboing was invited to the Utopia Fair due to its unwavering commitment to promoting resilience in marginalised young people and vulnerable adults, as well as our commitment to giving marginalised people a voice. But of course, you already knew that!

And in case you didn’t, here’s our Resilience Framework, which I will be referring to in this post, and which summarises Boingboing’s approach:

Resilience Framework Children and Young People

Angie and Scott led the charge in getting the stall established on the Friday. They exemplify being organised as a way to be resilient. Scott really had to practice predicting the best from new experiences as he traversed the tricky London traffic in a rented van to drop off Boingboing’s stock. I hear he even battled with a dodgy Sat-Nav to get the job done! Dr Mandie Shean came along for the ride, despite already travelling thousands of miles from Down Under to be here. That’s dedication. With the stall set up all that remained was to prepare for the Fair itself.

The boingboing pop up shop

On a sunny Saturday morning the Utopia Fair kicked off in earnest. As I arrived at the Somerset House courtyard my wheelchair kept bouncing along the cobbled ground. My stomach was in knots, not only because of the vibrations, but also a bit of my nervousness about meeting so many new people. On the one hand, I may have been close to being revisited by my breakfast. On the other hand, I like to think that I was advertising resilience from head to toe at that point!

As I arrived at the stall, despite my wild ride, I had the opportunity to marvel at our newly developed resilience tools which included: the Resilience Tower (we’re not allowed to call it Jenga!), the Sun and Clouds game created by Anne Rathbone’s Arts Connect group and the Resilience Road Map co-produced by the young people of Blackpool HeadStart, to name just a few for now. We were lucky enough to have two co-creators of the Resilience Road Map from Blackpool with us on Saturday, Ollie and Taylor. They did a truly excellent job of explaining the Road Map to everyone. Thank you both so much for taking the long train journey and volunteering your time for Boingboing. It means a lot.

The Road Map game

After a quick briefing from Scott and putting on my Boingboing t-shirt I was ready to captivate the general public with the story of Boingboing and play a few games with people. I settled down at the Sun and Clouds game only to be presented with my first test. Professor Kate Pahl, the overall lead on our AHRC Imagine Project, arrived to play the game with her mother. By both wanting to play the Sun and Clouds game, Kate and her mother proved to everyone at the Fair that resilience-building is an activity for all the family.

Kate was closely followed by Gary Grubb, Associate Director of Programmes for the AHRC. With these two VIPs sitting down to play the Sun and Clouds game, I was anxious to showcase the game in a positive light and make everyone’s day a little brighter. To make matters even more complex, the Utopia Fair film crew showed up at the stall to record us playing the Sun and Clouds game and gave me the opportunity to briefly explain what the Resilience Tools stall is. It was great fun despite my nerves, but for anyone who sees the video please remember that the camera always adds ten pounds!

Despite my initial nerves, the game went off without a hitch. Even though we all landed on many clouds, everyone left the game feeling upbeat and thinking about resilience. Thank you everyone for being so game to play a board game!

After talking to a few more visitors to the stall, I was a bit tired, so I decided to take a short break and survey my surroundings. To my left I heard Mandie call out “Wanna play a game?” to a group of young people who walked by the stall. Immediately Mandie and Mirika Flegg, another Boingboing superstar, began to encourage some young people to play the Resilience Tower game. Fortunately, the young people were down to play. As blocks were carefully removed from the tower, questions were asked like ‘When do you feel safe?’ or ‘Do you eat healthily?’

Even though Mandie and Mirika only knew these young people for a few minutes, as the game progressed and the tower began to fall, so did the group’s emotional barriers. The whole group was able to discuss deep topics such as who they could count on in a crisis and learn about each other in the process. It was amazing to watch. I like to think of the Resilience tower as a powerful visual metaphor. Even though sometimes our levels of resilience can fall, they can always be built up again.

The Resilience Tower game

As Saturday afternoon rolled on, British summertime lived up to its name and the rain made an appearance. But Boingboing’s spirit can never be dampened by a small downpour. We put on our rose tinted glasses and continued working tirelessly. Scott and Angie were both equally busy telling folks the story of Boingboing and showing off our new audio-visual talking heads Resilience Framework that you can use with an iPad or Smartphone. At this point it was nearing 6pm, closing time for the Utopia Fair. Because of everyone’s joint enthusiasm to stay a bit longer, Angie had to remind us all to remember that tomorrow is another day and that we all needed rest to work just as well on the Sunday.

Even though I tried to get as much sleep as possible to maintain my own resilience, Sunday arrived before I knew it. Myself, Angie, Scott and Mandie were joined by the dream team of Dr Claire Stubbs and Anne Rathbone, PhD Student and Senior Consultancy Manager for the Utopia Fair’s final day. Sophie and Dominic from Arts Connect came with Anne to show off the Sun and Clouds game and celebrate their achievement with others at the Fair. They sat down and instantly attracted intrigued onlookers wanting to play the game.

The Sun and Clouds game

On the Sunday, I took on the role of a merchant trying to sell as much of our merchandise as possible. I positioned myself near the Resilience Mugs and postcards, hoping that this would entice people to come near me, and knowing that if there’s anything a Londoner can’t resist, it’s a good cup of tea! The Resilience Mugs have different resilient move images on them such as ‘hobbies 4 life’ or ‘find somewhere to belong.’ They’re designed by Arts Connect and include Dominic’s and Sophie’s own illustrations of resilient themes. Lisa Buttery helped Arts Connect with some other drawing and the Arts Connect crew chose a beautiful photo taken by Mel Gambold to illustrate the theme “Tomorrow is another day”.

You can see (and buy!) all these designs on the Boingboing ‘pop up’ shop page. I was able to convince a few people to buy mugs by marketing the use of the mugs with tea as a great to self-soothe. I like to think that with the range of resilient moves that are presented on those mugs, Boingboing inverts the old saying of ‘tea and sympathy’ to ‘tea and proactivity.’

Greetings cards and merchandise

As luck would have it, Scott and I were also able to sell some of the books, such as ‘One Step Forward’ and ‘Resilient Therapy’. I was so engrossed in selling that Claire had to remind me to go and take a lunch break. She reminded me that self-care is very important.

The afternoon flew by. I showed some passers-by the final tool that we had in our arsenal at the Resilience Tools stall; the Resilience Boxes. Designed by Camilla, these boxes are small yet mighty. They contain a key ring and some blank cards where you can draw your own pictures which represent the steps to achieving a goal. You put the small picture in the keyring and if you’re having a tough time achieving your goal it’s always there to motivate you.

The Resilience Boxes

Before I knew it, it was time to pack up our stall for the last time. It started to rain again after a day of glorious sunshine. Perhaps this was a sign that London was sad to see Boingboing leave. On a personal note, I’m proud of everyone involved and what we all achieved as a group. I’m sure the AHRC were very pleased with Boingboing’s efforts.

My last mention must go to Mandie, who has now bounced back to Australia. Your enthusiasm and infinite motivation put me to shame! You will be missed by all of us and I hope you can visit again soon!

Signing off, with feelings of nostalgia,
Simon Duncan
Participation, Training and Project Worker for Boingboing

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