My Year in Ideas

| Azad Sharma

In a couple of months, I’ll have been working for the Ideas Alliance for a year! Time certainly does fly and I find the end of each year offers a good chance for pause and reflection. I’ve enjoyed my work as a community storyteller writing for the Ideas Hub immensely, mainly because it has given me the opportunity to listen, observe and acknowledge such a variety of inspiring people, many of whom I’ve been fortunate enough to meet during 2018.

This ‘idea’ of listening with the intent of understanding without the drive to respond, was the ‘idea of the month’ during my first days with the Ideas Alliance and was a stepping stone for a huge change I felt with my own engagement with my surroundings. I found it filtering down to the ways in which I communicated with my closest friends and loved ones as well as those I met through work. There were, initially, some stories I thought I knew, but actually didn’t. My interviews with Dr. Margaret Lobo and Andreas Rosenboom are testimony to that lesson, music therapists I’d known throughout my own childhood through their work with my autistic brother Gyan. It’s not only that I was touched by both of their charity and dedication to help people with learning difficulties to engage with music, I was actually shocked at how little I knew about them as individuals and the depth of their personal stories. So, to listen with the intent of understanding is the first idea of 2018 that I am glad I’ve come across and learned lessons from. I hope that for all of us it gives us the pause and poise to work with others, responsibly, ethically, and kindly in the new year.

Being a community storyteller also required me to go out into communities that I wasn’t familiar with. Such as the time I met Nicholas Okwulu of People Empowering People. As I walked through Peckham in South London with Nicholas in the summer, I remember being in awe at how many times we were stopped so Nicholas could greet or catch up with people he knew, through work, through life, and through his own love and dedication to his community. I thought a lot about what it means to give time and energy to your community. I realised that sometimes the community is formed of people you don’t know until you put yourself out there to help. Other times it’s your intimacy with people close to you that drives you to bring them all together. Nicholas for me was like a thread that weaved in and out of the shops, around the hands of those who were trying to build something – young and old alike. I met young artists and heard the story of nursery children putting on their own exhibition at the Tate. It was one of those stories I was fortunate enough to write about this year that left me feeling empowered. So, the idea of being ready to give your time and your energy to others manifested that day with Nicholas being stopped on the street and in Nicholas taking time out of his day to give me a personal tour of the Peckham he was part of. That’s my second idea of 2018 – give without the intention of receiving. Take that with you into the new year, your soul will thank you for it!

Another article led me to meet Craig from Centrepoint Sport this year. Craig showed me around their digs in the Black Prince’s Trust and told me about the wonderful work Centrepoint are doing by encouraging young people experiencing homelessness to take up sport with them with the view of finding them housing as well as developing their confidence and selves.

I was also lucky enough to read some poems of my own at What You Saying in Croydon, a poetry and spoken word event that provides in-house events management training to young people experiencing homelessness. And it was the issue of climate change and the impact of waste on our environment that lead me to a small DIY workshop at The Remakery, Brixton, to find out how items destined for the landfill were being repurposed and given a new life. Despite being terrible at Design and Technology at school, I actually found out I was quite good at sorting through the stock at The Remakery and contributing to them making a totem-pole for the London Design Festival to advertise and spread awareness of their work.

These issues, recycling and re-using, young people and homelessness, became really close to my heart this year and I thought often about opportunity, purpose, and ultimately: not giving up. I met organisations like Centrepoint Sport, like What You Saying, who refused to give up on young people, who wanted to give them a platform, an opportunity, not a ‘second’ chance, but just a chance to live and thrive. What more do we truly all want apart from to live, to thrive, to love and to smile? It sounds so corny I know, but it’s also pretty true. Too often today our landscape is polluted by disposability, of people, ideas, of plastic clogging up the ocean, and a photo-scape of depressing images of suffering. So when I think about The Remakery and what they do with otherwise discarded objects, and what Centrepoint Sport and What You Saying do for young people who are being left behind, it makes it clear why 2019 should be the year that we absolutely don’t give up on each other, our communities or environment.

I know I want to make the new year count and I can do that by continuing to meet people and doing my job as a community storyteller. The stories I’ve written this year, the stories of others that I was fortunate enough to hear, have inspired and changed me. And if none of the above has inspired you, well, I hope next year I write one that does!

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