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A partnership proposal for UK towns and cities

Our shared experience of the pandemic has in many ways brought us closer together.  How can we embed that positive experience of community, so that it doesn’t just peter out as things (eventually!) get back to ‘normal’?

In our personal lives, the experience of Lock-down has for many been highly impactful.  There has been bereavement, loss, fear and trauma; a knock to confidence in socializing; a sense that we may have rediscovered things that had been forgotten, things that matter; a desire for ‘something’ – a spark to light a new fire. And now it’s proving to be a long winter…

A key response to all of this is found in real, supportive, loving, community.  A vision for a restoration of neighbourly relationships, solidarity and a sense of belonging is a prize worth fighting for – and now is the time to fight, as the refreshing of community spirit during the Lock-down and subsequent restrictions gives us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to facilitate something more permanent.  

But how?

as one has emerged from a Birmingham campaign started in May 2018, called Permission to Smile.

That combination of a high profile message, a ‘thing to do’ and local facilitation has proved a winner.  Now, a new campaign for new times has been crafted together and we want to introduce it to you.

The message

In Birmingham, the high profile campaign – including 850 two-metre vinyl banners ‘everywhere’ – showed how we can re-affirm and re-energize a vision of community and bring it to the attention of hundreds of thousands of residents, with demonstrated impact.  The new message for a new time looks like this:

There is space for a local slogan and a local web identity, as part of a national movement.


The thing to do

Over 10 years, we have been developing the concept of a Street Association – literally, a relaxed association for a single street, with an agenda for ‘friendship, fun, belonging, a helping hand’.

Street Associations are led by a core group of residents, who come together to say, “What shall we do next”, bringing the street together with something like a barbecue, quiz night or children’s party.

It only takes a few people on a street, acting together, to say, ‘Let’s start one’.  So, how can one bring those ‘few people’ together?

Local facilitation

We propose that in 2021, all over town and some time after the banners go up, local organizations put on simultaneous ‘Back Together Celebrations’, using the high profile as one branding on the invitation, with each host organisation delivering to about 10 nearby streets.

Crucially, when residents arrive at the Celebration, they are asked, “what street do you live on?”, and then guided to join the table reserved for residents of that particular street.

As well as getting to know other near-neighbours, they hear how they could together start a Street Association.  Before Covid-19, there was already a highly positive response to that suggestion.

Now, after all the clapping for carers, volunteering and helping of neighbours, how much more so?  


Who’s who?

To pull this together, you need: local groupings willing to put on Back Together Celebrations for their respective neighbourhoods.  Networks of churches, for example, are responding and saying “we’ll do it!”, along with other organisations serving their local area.  Host organizations can be of any faith, a medical practice, community centre or other local organization with the welfare of its neighbourhood at its heart.   

The local authority as an equally important partner, able work with the local catalysts and attract more to take part, and to help to broaden the partnership to include businesses, the health sector, the voluntary services council and so on.  In Birmingham, about a third of the Permission to Smile banners were put up by the council on their buildings, parks, wellbeing centres, libraries and so on.  50 schools also put up banners (causing a new friendliness to break out at the school gate) and many used school assemblies to unpack the message.  The cathedral, central mosque and Hindu temples all took banners, while Veolia displayed a banner in each recycling centre, supermarkets took them, as did GP surgeries and 1,000 children from 60 primary schools sang the Permission to Smile song in Symphony Hall.  In all, 158 organisations joined the campaign. In response, council leader Cllr. Ian Ward said, “I have been greatly impressed with the imagination, hard work and determination of the Permission to Smile campaign team in gathering a huge partnership and in gaining a high profile across the city for this important message.  The campaign has been an amazing success”.

The service

as one is ready to provide banners, posters, stickers, branded invitation letters to overprint, clear instructions, plus mentoring and support to localities all over the UK, along with social networking, media promotion and national energy to complement local vision and mobilisation. This website, currently in pre-launch mode (and geared to proposing a campaign), will post-launch be re-cast to be primarily for members of the public who have seen the banners and/or received an invitation to a Celebration event.

Building real community is not easy.  But now is the time to make the effort, the opportunity being to ‘capture’ the renewal of community spirit we have seen in 2020 and give it long-lasting shape.  as one is high profile but also focused on the individual street, nationally resourced but locally-driven, vision-led but highly practical.  Every aspect of the campaign has been tried and tested.  

All that is needed for any area is that a stakeholder takes it to other partners with the question: ‘why wouldn’t we?’

Who might that stakeholder be? The local authority and/or a faith network could be the starting point – or anyone else, connected in at the strategic level, ready to say “we really should look at doing this together!”

Please contact us and we’d be delighted to help you develop the right kind of partnership to take this forward, along with other areas of the UK.


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