Had you been in the centre of Birmingham today, you would have seen a crowd of people wearing yellow T-shirts surrounding a huge block of ice with a slogan inside it, and two head sized holes. The slogan said, ‘Permission to Smile’, and the head sized holes were for people to peer through with a big smile and be photographed for Permission to Smile’s social media.

At the heart of the movement is an interactive website, http://permissiontosmile.org/    Register, and the map will focus on your postcode, putting a pin in the map, with a quarter-mile radius view. You can click on any other pins visible and start a chat group.

The Permission to Smile website also includes “How-to’ downloads on arranging a gathering for different purposes, including older people, and more.  It also includes an on-line ‘Meeting Point’, based on Google Maps, allowing community-minded people to find each other.

The campaign was started by the directors of charity ‘Street Associations’, Martin and Gina Graham, whose work has helped transform areas of Birmingham by bringing together neighbours and forming Street associations in low income neighbourhoods.  It’s made a huge difference to the lives of people in these areas.  You can read more here:  https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/generic/tsrc/documents/tsrc/reports/street-associations-final-evaluation-report-april-2015.pdf)

The Grahams’ experience showed much social isolation was due to a major barrier, that stopped local communities coming together.  It had become ‘inappropriate’ to greet or even smile at people you don’t know, and one in eight people didn’t know the names of their neighbours.  Martin Graham said, ‘Our mission is to turn this around, we want to unite communities, encouraging them to get together, and reduce social isolation. Therefore, we introduced the social campaign, Permission to Smile.’

It’s a great idea and a super way of reaching into your community.

Louise Morse

Louise Morse MA (CBT) is media and external relations manager for the Pilgrims’ Friend Society. She is a writer and speaker, and author of books on issues of old age, including dementia, published by Lion Monarch and SPCK. She is a cognitive behavioural therapist, and her Masters’ dissertation examined the effects of caring for a loved one with dementia on close relatives.

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