Paul Williams: Change is Happening

29 November 2019

I first encountered the work of Big Change back in 2015 at the “Virgin Disruptors In Education” day in London. As well as showcasing some amazing projects such as School21, what made me remember that day was the infectious, positive energy of this community of changers who really seemed to be making a difference – something that I just had to become part of.

So, I always look forward to Big Change gatherings – the chance to catch up with fellow Strivers from past adventures on bike and foot, and also to hear how current projects are doing and what is coming next.

We spent an evening together earlier this month, and again I came away buzzing with excitement about the things Big Change are doing. Holly Branson, one of the 6 founders of Big Change, has already written a great blog about the evening here – so I’m going to describe it from a supporter’s point of view.

The choir from the Harris Girls’ Academy opened proceedings with a couple of uplifting songs, then Princess Beatrice, another Big Change founder, introduced the evening. She brought Lord Michael Hastings on-stage. He has been a long-term advisor to Big Change, and delivered a powerful message explaining how so often people fear change, aren’t encouraged to step up and so miss out on doing extraordinary things. He said that, like it or not, change is coming – for example with the introduction of AI, many jobs will change, but what will still be needed most of all are teachers, enabling a generation of “vivid lights” who can grow not only technical and business skills but the things that are harder to measure – imagination, curiosity, empathy and compassion.

Essie North, CEO of Big Change, was next to speak, introducing the latest impact report – Change is Happening, and drawing our attention to the amazing statistics so far – over 700,000 young people and 66,000 teachers supported across all the projects.

Whilst the numbers are impressive, hearing personal accounts of each project is even better, and Essie then introduced people from projects Big Change has been involved with for a long time – RECLAIM, Voice21 and Frontline.

RECLAIM is a youth leadership organization helping working-class young people become leaders. We were all captivated by 17-year old Jaiden Corfield who spoke so eloquently and passionately about the programme and how it had helped him find his voice and mission. I got the same feeling I’d had in that first encounter with Big Change – that these were people who were truly making a difference.

Jeremy Pentreath – Co-Head Teacher at the Oaks Primary school, representing Voice21 – spoke about the emphasis in their school on oracy – a subject often left to chance in many schools, but one that provides skills the next generation needs to make an impact – for example, communication and reasoning. Voice21 is now influencing over 600 schools.

Brittany Bernard spoke about the impact Frontline is having on social workers – more young people engaged, more learning opportunities at home, work and within communities, and the building of an ecosystem of support. Frontline has grown to be the largest social working training provider in the UK.

Essie then brought on-stage leaders from 3 of the current initiatives we have been Striving to support most recently. It was really great to hear from them, as these are some of the projects we were particularly supporting during the 2018 Strive Challenge which raised £1,440,000.

Easy Peasy is an app for parents of pre-school kids, guiding them with ideas for games that can develop those kids in readiness for school. Jen Lexmond announced fellow Striver Kurt Long joining the board and bringing some new investment – Jen described how this came about after one of those extreme Strive hill-climbs in the Alps!

Kiran Gill, founder of The Difference, explained how her organization is helping kids who have fallen out of the school system get back on-track by encouraging and equipping teachers to support those kids, and creating a leadership pipeline of teachers in mainstream schools.

Charlotte Lewis explained the mission of the Big Education Conversation – helping local communities come together to support their schools, encouraging parents to be governors and running workshops on things like confidence in speaking.

It was great to see how these projects that were only introduced to us last year are flourishing and producing meaningful change. They were followed by the new cohort of projects being funded by Big Change with money raised from strivers, fundraisers, and donors – but I have been sworn to secrecy until they are publicly announced in January!

Holly Branson and Noah Devereux then took to the stage to thank the supporters, and the unmistakable, giant heart of a man that is Karl Lokko closed the evening with eloquent spoken word. He said “It’s going to take every single child’s potential, and yes, that means every single child’s essential.”

What has really struck me about Big Change’s approach has been their ability to figure out at what points in the trajectory of a young person’s education there are opportunities to inject targeted energy and resources that will have the most impact for good, strategically for this next generation. This is smart, data-driven, compassionate work delivering real change for good.

For those reasons I am even more encouraged to focus my own fund-raising and giving on this great cause, and so I have committed to get to a total of £100,000 raised and donated by 2 years from now, through a combination of Strive endurance challenges, side projects such as my photo book and my own giving. I even have a fund-raising thermometer thanks to Sarina at Big Change! An immense thank you to all those who have supported Big Change through my efforts so far – I’m already over half-way to this target. If anyone would like to support these wonderful projects, my page is here.