It’s lovely to be at Nesta’s 20th Birthday this evening. Nesta pretty much changed my life, so as sentimental as this may all sound, I’m incredibly grateful to the UK’s Innovation Foundation.
In the Autumn of 2003 I was a year in to running a fashion and costume company called Lorelei, which I’d co-founded. We’d been doing some work with underwear designer, Damaris, who happened to be a talent “head hunter” for a new programme called the Creative Pioneer Programme*. Damaris put us forward for it and it turned out that between my business partner and I, I was the only one who matched the criteria — you needed to be a design graduate from within the last 5 years. The premise of the programme was that ‘creative’ people were often seen as rubbish business people (especially with money — which by the way, I don’t think is true), but actually as designers are good at solving problems, so perhaps it was just we needed the opportunity to design businesses in a way that made use of our creativity.
I won’t go in to the whole programme now, but it did literally change my life. I’d never really consciously thought about going in to fashion (even though I got a 1st Class in my BA honours) and I certainly wasn’t happy working in the industry, but I didn’t really know what I did want to do. And I definitely didn’t have much confidence.
Imagine someone who’d been bright and capable at school, but different too — who’d even had the “special needs” team accompany her in lessons because she was a “problem child”. I’d believed being different, unconventional and challenging the status quo to be a bad thing. It had got me in trouble, singled me out, and it certainly hadn’t brought me very much happiness. I arrived at the Nesta Creative Pioneer Programme residential to discover a group of people who’d all, in different ways, been that “different” one. I felt like I’d found my tribe and most of all I felt that my difference, my creativity and radicality, was actually valued.
On the programme I realised I could use design to address social issues, instead of designing skirts. I was inspired by the people I met like Deborah Szebeko, who developed the idea for thinkpublic (the first ever service design organisation in the UK public sector) whilst on the programme.
Through the programme I also met people like Ellie Ford with whom I conceived and went on to start the Point People . I met so many people and made so many friends who were all part of that programme, and with whom I am still friends today. People like Harriet Harriss, architect and educator extraordinaire, Mary and Zoe who founded UsCreates, inventor Mark Champkins who’s now at Lego, Jane who invented Sugru…the list goes on.
So thank you Nesta, you changed my life, you broadened my horizons. I was the only person from my friendship group at our state secondary school that went to university (well, Art College), and here I am now, living a life (and hopefully having an impact) in a way that back then, I literally could never dream of.
*The Creative Pioneer Programme was an Action Research programme, the findings of which went on to inform the creation of the Creative Enterprise Programme and Tool Kit that’s still being used Internationally today.