Introducing the Permission to Smile campaign

By Martin Graham, Permission to Smile

‘We’ is pretty much everyone working in the voluntary or community sector. Our shared need is to get people involved. Yet our shared ‘problem’ is that most people don’t get involved.  

Why don’t they? One massive reason is called ‘We keep ourselves to ourselves’.

A culture of insularity has developed in our communities. Walking down my own street, it no longer feels ‘appropriate’ to smile at, or greet, someone I don’t know.  Will my attempt at contact be welcome?  Will it be ‘invading their private space’?  Will they wonder: “What does he want?  What is his agenda?”

It’s all too difficult, and so I draw back – and many are in the same boat.

Reversing the worrying decline of simple, friendly contact within our communities


Social isolation is becoming a leading cause of a number of physical and mental illnesses.

So the first step to contact typically doesn’t happen, which means that the second or third steps can’t happen either – steps such as getting together to put on a street party, form a young mum’s group, organise something for the elderly, look after vulnerable neighbours, or volunteer together for a local charity.  Or even just to ‘be community’ in a genuine way.

And we need those second and third steps to happen, not least because the public sector activity (such as the council running a youth group) is like a receding tide.

In recent decades, this was an advancing tide, stepping in to fill service gaps in our communities. Now that we’ve got the opposite – the public sector in retreat – we urgently need to re-stimulate that sector of society which is about people doing things with and for each other – in other words, the voluntary sector.

But to do that, we absolutely have to combat the ‘keep yourself to yourself’ ethos, which is like a prevailing wind that blows against everything we try to do, and which frankly makes it so difficult.

Introducing Permission to Smile:

Today, we start the one-month countdown to a new, Birmingham-wide campaign, launching on 12th May, to be called Permission to Smile.  We raised our funds through crowdfunding, have lots of key Birmingham partners – and the campaign is on!

The idea is to have a very public and sustained encouragement – with the message: permission to smile; greet someone today, prominently, everywhere – coupled with ‘legs’.

The legs will be a website that suggests some of the ‘second and third steps’, with easy How-to guides.  (Here’s how a bunch of parents could start a youth club, how neighbours could start a Street Association, stay and play group or whatever.)

The website will also help community-minded people to find each other.  It will feature a new Google Maps-based facility, which we’re calling Meeting Point.

If you are up for linking with local people to do something for your community, you can register on the website, which will put a pin on the map (anonymously – just representing someone in you post code) and the map will refocus on your pin, with a quarter mile radius visible.  You can then click on any other pins visible and form a chat group, hopefully leading to meeting up and doing things together.

Would you help this diminutive organisation (albeit with lots of support and goodwill) to get the campaign rolling?

What we need is:

  • people and organisations who’d display one of our banners (2m x 0.8m, with eyelets and cable ties)
  • put up a poster and/or window sticker/car sticker
  • join our social networking to promote the campaign (one person can reach hundreds)
  • register on the map facility and help get things going where you live
  • join us on Birmingham High Street on 12th May (outside M&S) to help hand out leaflets etc
  • and, yes, do smile and greet people locally and help get the ball rolling that way.

If you’d like to be in contact, or can help in any way, please drop me a line or give me a ring.

Martin Graham – Permission to Smile

0121 440 8600 / 07931 282716

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