The then Department for Children Schools & Families (DCSF), impressed by the success of Change the World for a Fiver, asked us to create a product and campaign that could engage students with similar themes in similar ways.
The Department’s 2008 National Framework for Sustainable Schools provided 8 Doorways, designed to help schools focus their thinking and action. The next big step was how they could be used as a basis for children and young people taking the lead in designing their own solutions and delivering their own projects.
As we investigated the brief, a series of other barriers became clear:
- A “new initiative” was developing among teachers and schools around sustainability.
- The number of sustainability packs and “toolkits” arriving in pigeon holes from NGOs, campaign groups and brands continued to increase and get less and less cut through and take up.
- While interest, even passion, for environmental and community issues was strong in Years 5 and 6, the transition to secondary school and a more self-conscious social atmosphere made participation in “charity” and “green” groups and campaigns niche and stigmatized.
- The concept of “sustainability” meant very little to many teachers and most students.
After a pilot phase, working with 9 schools in east London, we found that we could combine children’s own ideas with our creative team’s talents to co-create new ideas and products made for and by children.
A national competition was the first part of the project, designed to both solicit new simple, everyday ideas for sustainability actions and generate lots of excitement and ownership. We established a strong media partnership with The Times, which would launch and showcase each phase of the project, which started with a national invitiation to children to answer the question – “what simple action would you ask one million people to do to change the world?”
The response was overwhelming. From Bangor to Brixton, from preschoolers to Year 12s, over 1,000 schools and groups and 4,386 children entered, coming up with Actions that touched on global warming and community, knife crime and recycling. Suggestions ranged from the sublime; ‘Walk your dad’ to the ridiculous; ‘Save your hair when you have a haircut and give it to someone who is bald’ with a huge number of innovative, practical and thoughtful ideas in between.
A committee of experts at We Are What We Do, teachers, children, parents and celebrities (including Dermot O’Leary and Ronnie Corbett) selected thirty final actions, which became the basis for a new children’s book.
One of the most exciting themes that emerged from this final selection was the way they showed children willing and able to take control of boosting action in their schools and homes – they wanted to take the lead and we just stood back and let them. Actions like Test your Teacher, Talk Rubbish to your Parents and Teach your Granny to Text were great examples of this ambition.
After crowd-sourcing a wonderful set of ideas, the suggested Actions were refined and road tested in schools and in youth groups around the country – if they weren’t immediately engaging and understood, they were tweaked and improved until they were.
As well as contributions from children’s author Anthony Horowitz and Where’s Wally? Illustrator, Martin Handford, the interactive book included maps to colour in, seeds to plant, stickers to stick and calendars to organise a year of doing.
At the heart of the creative work was the aim to bring these issues and themes to life in entertaining, compelling ways, that would allow them to slip effortlessly into the everyday habits of children and families.
The book was published by Walker Books and Short Books in 2007 and, as well as major retail partnerships with Sainsbury’s and WH Smiths, the DCSF put a copy in 22,000 schools across England. To date around 150,000 copies have been sold.
Since the launch in 2007, the book has been adapted and launched in Australia, USA and Spain.
I am pleased to be working with We Are What We Do on this project which is a part of our Sustainable Schools’ Year of Action. They are in a unique position to involve children and young people in sustainability issues on a new scale and in a way which is fresh and engaging. This is a real opportunity for children to have their voices heard and start to make a difference.
Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families
This is more than do-goodery for the digital age. Even those too jaded to want to save the planet or make people happy can be intrigued by the process that is supposed to be at work here. It also happens to channel the optimism and pragmatism of childhood to practical ends.
The suggestions offer a unique insight into how young people see the world and how they think it could be changed.
It’s nice for grandparents and children to keep in touch in an easier way than e-mail and writing a letter and quicker and cheaper than a phone call – especially if they live far away like mine!
Erica Ritchie, aged 10, who contributed the title action “Teach your granny to text” explains where her idea came from.
Me and my family went on holiday to Tanzania and I saw some boys outside our hotel kicking a sponge wrapped in plastic like it was a ball. I had a football with me so I took it down so that we could all kick it round. Every day when I came back to the hotel the boys were waiting for me to play football. With a ball you can make new friends even though they don’t speak the same language.
Omar Bynon, aged 11, who came up with the action “Speak football”, explains where his idea came from.