TEDx Comes To Newham

Last Saturday I was invited along to the TEDx Newham conference, held over at the Crystal building on Royal Victoria Dock. It’s theme? ‘Where Resilience Lives‘, emphasising the fact that Newham is an area of London which continues to undergo massive change and that this requires residents to respond in different ways. Organised by Margaret Manning, founder of Sixty & Me (which aims to empower women over 60), read on for an account of the day.

TEDx events are independent of but associated with the official TED conferences that take place throughout the year (TED is a little problematic for me – read Alex Pareene’s considered article on Alternet which shares some of my concerns about their business practices) . Fortunately the ethos at TEDx Newham was one of all-encompassing  inclusivity, which was apparent on a number of fronts – attendees were of all ages and backgrounds and grabbing a ticket required virtually no financial commitment – maximum ticket price was set at £10, with many people able to attend for free.

Organised in the same way as the official TED events, a series of speakers were invited to take to the stage and explore the day’s theme in no more than eighteen minutes. I’m sure that videos of the speakers will be available on the official TEDx Newham page soon, but in the meantime I’ll mention a few of my favourites of the day:

I’ve actually met him before, but Richard Reynolds of Guerilla Gardening is a unique horticultural rebel – he has been advocating the adoption of unloved fragments of public land since he started planting flowers outside his block of flats in Elephant & Castle without asking permission first. Now a global movement, growing numbers of people are involved in these green-fingered sneak attacks that serve to beautify the local environment when local authorities and the private sector fail to do so.

I found Tamsin Omond & Ethel Odiete, two local community activists to be a real inspiration – in addition to establishing a new community centre inEthel’s native Silvertown (not an easy task when faced with the bureaucracy of a local authority) they have the greatest ambitions for the development of new facilities in their area, which due to its peculiar geography remains rather cut-off from the rest of London. Ethel’s enthusiasm in particular knows no bounds – she wants to see the Royal Docks get its own swimming pool, city farm and even a public aquarium!

Probably the most encouraging of the speakers at TEDx Newham was Saci Lloyd, a local activist and writer who reminded us that the people of Newham have survived thousands of years of change, and that we are still going strong despite the challenges that constantly come our way in this part of London. She explained how the ancient tribal system of organising communities can be repurposed to work today – during her eighteen minutes on stage we were invited to name our own ‘tribe’ and to devise a battle cry. You might like to know that while people turning up at TEDx Newham on Saturday morning were individuals, when we left at the end of the day we were all members of the ‘Wolves of the East’ tribe, and that our warcry was the (admittedly rather unoriginal) howl of a wolf-pack…

I won’t go through the full list of speakers but some of the other interesting people that appeared included Selena Bolingbroke (the University of East London’s Pro Vice Chancellor, who shares a common past with me as an ex-DCLG employee who also hails from Dudley in the West Midlands), Leo Johnson (a Partner in PwC’s Sustainability and Climate Change team and one of Boris’s brothers) and George Hardwick, the beanie-wearing beat poet and youth mentor who played us out with a summary of the day set to verse! I can’t fail to mention the cute kids of the Royal Dock Singstars Choir either, who serenaded us with two songs just after lunch…

I came away from TEDx Newham with a renewed sense of positivity, although that’s faltering as my continued search for paid employment yields nothing of any significance so far this week. Anyway, you can see some of the videos interviews with visitors over at the Be Inspired Films Page here and I would also suggest keeping an eye on the official TEDx Newham page where you should be able to see some of the speaker’s contributions shortly.