As I arrived at last Wednesday’s gathering, the (UK) government was collapsing. Over 50 ministers had resigned. Political journalists were having the time of their lives. This at a time of war and spiralling prices — consumers are bracing for an annual energy bill of over £3,000. Lloyds Bank’s CEO is warning that 80% of its customers have less than £500 in savings as they confront the escalating cost of living. Meanwhile, motorways which have recently been blocked by climate protestors (who want fuel consumption to be discouraged) are now being blocked by angry HGV drivers (who want it to be more affordable). Crisis and chaos.
Yet I was to leave that evening filled with hope. Six weeks ago, I wrote that now seems a good time to revisit or explore the qualities that have made and will make us proud of our country and explained the aims of the Anthropy conference at the Eden Project in Cornwall.
I was with around sixty others at an event hosted by John O’Brien, Anthropy’s founder, and our conversations reminded me that this is a country teeming with good ideas and imaginative initiatives to improve quality of life and build a fairer society.
Meeting as we did two miles from Westminster, the contrast was eloquent.
Government might be ceasing to function, but all around me were energised people who are proud to live in the UK and who are, in their different ways, working to make it a country of which we can be even prouder.
John O’Brien introduced the meeting to people of imagination from all over the country, from Doncaster to Cornwall.
The talk was not of crisis but of opportunity.
Social entrepreneur Alex Hughes was there. This is a man who fought through major personal setbacks to build his own business. He then founded Inspire 2 Ignite in St Neots. Alex says:
“Inspire 2 Ignite is my way of giving young people, who — like myself — may have found themselves in unusual or challenging situations, the chance to be their very best selves, taking back control of their lives, and creating a future of endless possibilities.”
I heard Carol Homden, CEO of the charity Coram, talk of the achievements of their founder, Thomas Coram, who battled many obstacles to create the Foundling Hospital in London in 1741. I heard EME Managing Partner of Reed Smith Tamara Box describe how coming to the UK from Texas and doing her degree at the LSE while interacting with people from 60 different countries and many different cultures opened her eyes.
I met Catherine Johnstone, of Royal Voluntary Service. She told me that more than 4.6m people volunteered for the first time during the pandemic. There were success stories where young benefit claimants from ethnic minorities had discovered career pathways in the NHS helped by mentoring support from the DWP’s national mentoring initiative.
For many more in the room the pandemic had been a catalyst. People talked to their neighbours when they had never done so before.
Our economic, social, and political crisis can be a catalyst too. Our government may look hamstrung, yet Anthropy will showcase the confidence we have in our own civic resilience; in our own determination to build on all our strengths.
During World War Two, as the bombs dropped, there was a ferment of discussion about the better country we might become. That’s how the foundations were laid for the NHS, the welfare state, compulsory secondary education, and Town and Country Planning.
This is described in The Road to 1945, a fascinating study by historian Paul Addison. It tells of patient collaboration, permitted but not dominated by Churchill and Attlee. Political parties put aside their differences and joined with civil society to discuss the steps needed for rebuilding society at the end of the war.
The aim from Anthropy is to build a new manifesto for Britain. Non-partisan. Positive. Long-term. Across boundaries. Ideas across frontiers.
Do get involved!