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10 unusual things about the Unusual Suspects Festival

Published Date: 29 June 2017

As usual, the Unusual Suspects festival showed lots of things that are not found during an average social innovation event...


1) We facilitated unlikely connections creating genuine social change


Orode Faka from Roehampton R.O.C.K.S. met Louise Foreman from the Young Foundation for the first time at the Unusual Suspects ideas exchange, months before the Festival began London on 14 June. Together, Orode and Louise designed a workshop, “Finding Common Ground: Community Action and Research on Alton Estate”  to bring together local residents, community leaders and external participants interested in how underused community space can be converted into a resident owned community space.


2) We explored what power is and who has it

“Power over, albeit the most commonly recognised form of power, implies a win-lose relationship where having power implies taking it from someone else, and then using it to prevent others from gaining it. In absence of other models of leadership and relationships, people end up repeating these power patterns in their workplaces, local communities, as well as personal lives.” To read more, see Corina Angheloiu from Forum for the Future’s blog.


3) We swapped numbers!

If we really want to create unlikely connections for social change, we need to do more than invite a load of people to a few events. As we know from 10 years+ experience of bringing people together, it is important to keep experimenting and exploring  new ways of developing conversations and engagement.  


4) We walked with a psycho-geographer, a comedian and social designers

‘Walk shops’ can help us see our city in a new way. The festival had three. Social Life hooked people up to sensors taking them on a psycho-geographic walk around Elephant and Castle to  better understanding the lived experience of others in our community. Most citizens can agree that they want more walkable streets, so STBY looked at the way in which cities can be redesigned in a way that makes them more walkable and pedestrian friendly, whilst comedian Susie Steed took festival participants on a walking tour of money and capitalism around the City of London, providing a lesser-known history of the city.


5) Young poets challenged language and power - ‘Man Up’!

Power can be used to marginalise and isolate groups within society and how poetry can provide a positive outlet for feelings of powerlessness. A group of young poets aged from 16-25 designed and facilitated a session to discuss how to reclaim and repurpose certain ‘oppressive’ phrases, such as ‘Where do you come from’ & ‘man up’. Poet Zena Edwards closed with a piece she had written, based entirely from the conversations she had been a part of and overheard during that morning session. Find the poem here.


6)  We used food connected people who wouldn’t usually meet

Food can facilitate meaningful, deep conversations with people we don’t know, and people who are different from us. Three session at the festival focussed on food: the SIX Supper Club brought 60 people together to eat together and talk about fear, power and hope; a cooking session where participants signed up to cook with young people who have recent experience of the criminal justice system with Only Connect; and we drew on examples from across Europe including Mollet del Valles in Spain, where food is being used transform the city through the Diet for a Green Planet concept.


7) A cricket ball, a tie and a flower became symbols of belonging in London.

Following the recent tragic events in London, we need new types of community more than ever. We found resilience and hope amongst each other in turbulent and dark times by using the beautiful Calthorpe Community gardens as the venue for a very personal conversation on what belonging means in London. Our speakers, which included the Deputy Mayor Matthew Ryder, Refugee Connections and an elderly woman’s gardening group all brought meaningful objects as a tool to have a honest, frank and open conversation on the very raw, and sometimes controversial issue of identity and belonging in the city.


8) We used of art, sheds, and sculpture to connect people on a human level

Forum for the Future used strangers to create human sculptures symbolising the community problems they were experiencing, morphing and evolving to symbolise potential solutions to these problem. Doing this also immediately connected participants through the power of humour and laughter. Richard DeDominici’s Shed your Fears project also used art as a medium of connecting people, although through slightly different means. Richard opened the festival talking about how the Shed, with an interior that resembles a secular confession booth, in which two random members of the public go inside the shed and share their deepest fears.


9) We found unusual and unique locations across the city

Across many European cities, temporary spaces are being used as a space to invent, experiment and develop the future of the city. And so we hosted a discussion on ‘The power of fluid urban spaces: learning exchange from European cities’ in the Meanwhile Arches in Loughborough Junction in South London. Space can also help develop empathy, and so Spice Innovation’s interactive asset mapping workshop was held in Mare Street Hostel. It explored how people often excluded from participation and volunteering can both make a huge difference for others and get the most themselves from being empowered to get involved.


10) The festival became a platform

We need a new kind of politics. Our democratic institutions are in crisis and we need different channels to engage with people. Indra Adnan and Pat Kane, from Alternative UK and Ella Saltmarsh, who started the #SheVotes campaign both demonstrate a new kinds of platforms and convenor roles that are increasingly needed. The Unusual Suspects Festival could be another platform or channel for the communication we need. How can we build a platform where unlikely connections for social change happens on a regular basis?


We invite you to join us in building this movement.

For highlights and tweets from the festival, click here to see the #UnusualLDN Festival Storify.