I was frankly fed up of spending every day watching the news through my fingers or swearing at the radio. I was sick of retweeting stories of racism and intolerance, whilst the hostile rhetoric from mainstream politicians was given a free-pass and broadsheet column inches.
Roots is an attempt to keep myself sane. To retain a modicum of belief that people are fundamentally decent and that we need to find new ways to reconnect and rediscover our collective common sense.
It’s a very lonely time to be a chipper idealist.
I’ve always been called out on my optimism and the fact I fervently believe that happiness is an essential measure of the success of a society. My spirits were dented when Unicef reported in 2015 that UK children were some of the unhappiest in the world. Utterly shameful, but even worse, as a country we literally did nothing about it. A collective sad shrug and then back to our smartphones.
The mental health, hopefulness, emotional security and interconnectivity of people in this country is in crisis. Services are stretched, communities are divided, resources have quietly disappeared, fear and mistrust is high, the younger generation have been sold out politically, economically and professionally. We mock the amount millenials spend on their coffees – they need those quality stimulants to stay awake in their dreary zero-hour contract jobs.
Roots is a simple concept. Help people find each other without fear. Help to initiate conversations in a country where social awkwardness is our treasured national trait. Help residents talk proudly about their homes and heritage without looking and sounding like union-jack clad, card-carrying UKIP members. Ensure that the cultures, beliefs, and anxieties of those whose lives differ from our own are authentically heard and, where necessary, respectfully challenged. Using fact to counter fact, in safe spaces where people are civil, curious, occasionally vulnerable and most of all committed to ensuring all voices matter.
As I write this, we’ve just been turned down for our seventh funding bid and I feel deflated. It’s hard to convince anonymous funders in large offices far away that greater dialogue and demonstrable compassion iis work deserving of their money. I’ve sat round these tables when funds are being allocated and I know the pressures of trying to evaluate the worthiness of one ‘vital’ project against another. Kids are killing each other in major cities and we’re asking for money for conversations and kindness – not as instantly compelling, I know this, but without that dialogue and patience, very little will ever change.
Brexit is looming; with both government and opposition demonstrating the emotional intelligence of a vintage hat-stand, it’s time for the ordinary people to gain collective courage and create their own change. A belief that leaders motivated by self-interest and party political preservation would suddenly find solutions for the common good, is intensely foolish.
We have been touched by the number of ordinary people who donated to our crowdfunder and helped Roots get underway. Ordinary people who took a leap of faith in us, dug deep and helped us sow a seed. I place my faith in real people who live in ordinary communities, who understand struggle, who have compassion for those on the periphery and are willing to spend time (and their own money) working collectively to find a solution.
And if funders won’t fund Roots, we’ll do the work for free. It’s worth it.
There’s never a box in funding applications to demonstrate your level of passion , commitment and integrity.
There should be.