Ignite! in a time of corona virus

A personal reflection by the Founder of Ignite!, Rick Hall

Ignite! is an independent charity based in Nottingham UK that promotes creativity in learning. We are especially interested in creative approaches to the teaching and learning of STEM subjects and all aspects of Citizen Science.

Two weeks ago, at a particularly low time, I felt the impetus to articulate the following challenge, ‘how to progress in our core mission with less purposelessness.

Introduction and context

It doesn’t need much saying that this is a challenging time to be a pro-active agency for change and innovation.  We feel variously in limbo, passive, attendant on other decisions, dependent on changes in circumstances beyond our control.
Motivation is similarly dependent on having projects and programmes to develop and deliver. Our constituency of collaborators, partners and especially participants and audiences is beyond reach for the interactive, collaborative and participatory work we thrive on.

Social, educational and community groups do not look like reconvening or being open to access for 3 or 4 months at the earliest – and then we do not know what interactions will be possible.  Quite the opposite of mission creep, we are experiencing mission shrinkage.

We have consolidated our resources and learning materials; we have placed them online; we are producing the audio book of my A-Zs.  But these are activities almost for their own sake, things we can or could do while we wait for something else to come along. We need fresh thinking; and a new and different impetus; we need a refreshed cultural imperative to help inform what we must do in these new circumstances (rather than what we could do).  And we need creative sustenance.

Where do we find the cultural imperative

We turn to our Board of Directors and partners to help us find some fresh thinking – not to create a new business plan, or a plan for survival, or even new ideas. 

To these fundamental concepts we hold fast: creativity, curiosity and community are the essentials of a just, informed and culturally vibrant society; and the interactions of these are where we operate.

What can we do in these spaces when and whilst our constituents are denied social intercourse?

What is our new (?) purpose and how can we express and deliver it?

During the time of corona virus, this is what Ignite! did

Our Board of Directors turned the challenge back to us. At the end of the first phase of the global crisis, what can we say that we achieved, what did we do differently? In particular:

  • How did we reconfigure our mission to respond to the new landscape of learning? Did we fully understand what the new landscape of learning looks like?
  • How did we respond to the, mostly negative, impacts of isolation and lockdown? The widening of the divides and inequalities..?
  • How did we facilitate new forms of learning about and through creativity and curiosity and a sense of community?
  • How did we work with different groupings?  Intergenerational?  In new places and new ways? 
  • How did we receive the influence and expressions of need and aspiration of:
    • young people
    • families
    • communities under stress
    • the even harder to reach
    • the even easier to ignore
  • And how did we respond to what we hear?
  • How did we promote progressive values about learning and education?

By the end of May

We placed our existing resources online,  including our Tots Time Science booklet for parents of infants under 3; and our Science Busking Handbook.

We promoted the City Nature Challenge – observations of wildlife across the city. 
Our original project involved 25 schools and 5 youth and community groups; instead we promoted the activity through social media and reached a wider constituency. Families recorded wildlife from their gardens and backyards.

We recorded videos about collecting bugs for a weekend online festival in Nottingham.

We invited 26 friends of Ignite! to record one essay for each letter in my A-Z of Creativity to create an audio-book (available very soon!).

By the end of June

We will have published the audio-book of the A-Z of Creativity, and I will have edited the A-Z of Curiosity for further recordings.

We will have reconfigured our schools project – Our City on Mars, so that we can make explicit the resonance of the metaphor of the isolation of astronauts on a mission to Mars, and the conditions for subsequent first settlers on the planet.

We will have developed forums for the voices of young people to be heard as they express what they believe the new landscape of learning should be like. We have a previous project, My Space, My City, My World that we will revive for this purpose.

By the end of summer

We will have commissioned four artists to work with us to define new media and forms of community engagement, notably for the Nottingham Festival of Science and Curiosity.

We will have published the audio-book of the A-Z of Curiosity, and I will be thinking about the A-Z of Community.

And our other projects, Our City on Mars, the Antarctica project, the Skate Nottingham programme, City Nature Challenge part 2, will be redesigned for participation.


Ignite! is a small charity; one of our two paid employees is currently on furlough (and supported by the UK Government), and we have received an emergency grant from the Arts Council of England as a lifeline, and to support the artists commissions above. We think we can survive.

And personally…

This has been a challenging time for me as I am in the category of 12 week isolation. My garden has never been so free of weeds; I have cuttings and seedlings in trays and even tried some hydroponics.  I have a personal Zoom account, and Teams, and WhatsApp and many other distractions.

My diary reminds me that this week I would have been at the ecsa conference in Trieste; and many other visits, engagements and appointments have been lost in the mist of contemplation and inward focus.

And that is the ultimate challenge, in solo isolation there are many distractions, and my concentration has declined markedly.

So it has been a particular pleasure to write this article.

Rick Hall

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