Permission to Smile campaign

by Martin Graham in Birmingham, England, United Kingdom

We did it
On 21st March 2018 we successfully raised £20,131 with 70 supporters in 56 days

Less 'keeping ourselves to ourselves'; more friendliness, smiling, greeting, helping, joining together to make a difference where we live.

by Martin Graham in Birmingham, England, United Kingdom

 New stretch target

To give Permission to Smile the staff time it needs, once launched, to keep up momentum and help facilitate local residents who want to get together and do something for their local community.  Also, to help grow the campaign beyond Birmingham. 

What's the problem?

Based on our experience working (through street associations) on Birmingham's outer estates, it is clear that there's now a major barrier to local people coming together - and working together for the common good.  It's simply that  it has come to seem 'inappropriate' to greet or even smile at people you don't know.  Even people who live on the same street tend to 'keep themselves to themselves', looking down as they pass each other.   So how does anything community-based start?  Social isolation gets ever more entrenched without simple opportunities for social contact - and a sense of 'permission' to engage with others.

Meanwhile, as public services recede, there is more need than ever for people to come together to do things with and for each other - such as forming a young mums' group, youth club, street association, neighbourhood watch, seniors' fellowship, English conversation group and so on. You don't need the council to make these things happen.    You need people who are up for making a difference, a way of bringing them together (see below how our amazing new internet facility will connect you to like-minded neighbours) - and a melting of the ice!

The campaign, 'Permission to Smile', to be launched across Birmingham on 12th May 2018, will seek to address this fundamental reticence, encouraging people to smile, greet, get to know each other - and then act together.

What's going to happen?

44 second-year students at the Birmingham City University School of Media have been working with us on campaign strategies in groups of four, and three third years are helping implement the chosen strategy, which involves:

  • social networking, with willing 'ambassadors' encouraged to sign up now to support the launch.
  • 12th May launch event involving a big block of ice in the city centre (2m x 2m!) with the logo frozen inside: ‘Help melt the ice - #permissiontosmile – greet someone today’.
  • School of Media students wearing campaign T-shirts to encourage passers by to take selfies with the ice block, instantly spreading the message around their social networks.  There'll also be a 'flash mob' in the shape of a massive smile!  
  • Birmingham City council to host hundreds of banners; other partner organisations to join in getting the message out to their networks, including Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, Birmingham Voluntary Services Council, Birmingham Civic Society and major faith groups
  • There will be a schools' programme, with specially-devised assemblies and citizenship lessons
  • The Birmingham Mail is a key partner in the campaign

The website,, will from 12th May have 'how to' downloads on starting local groups of all kinds - and we'll be there to help as much as we can.  A brand new internet facility, based on Google Maps, will enable interested people to register their name and address, putting (anonymously) a pin on the map. They will then be able to see which other pins have appeared on the map in the same neighbourhood, make contact and suggest to meet up - thus enabling 'needles in the haystack' to find each other!  And, from the centre, we will be able to track where clusters are forming and help stimulate and facilitate communal action.    What we aim to achieve:   This will have high visibility impact, warming the social 'climate' in a way that makes friendliness much more normal! It will ease loneliness, stimulate friendship, encourage a helping hand and potentially lead to the creation of hundreds of local groupings of all kinds.   It will also generate more support for existing voluntary groups working across our city.    

Starting in Birmingham, this could go way beyond Birmingham (with the App easily extended to include other cities)! 

How can I help?

We need help of all kinds to create this smiling, friendly, helpful environment.  You can register on our website at now, to help us spread the word when the campaign launches.  The key need today is for the funds to enable this to fly.  £10,000 in donations will be match-funded by Birmingham City Council, so your contribution will immediately be doubled!   Please do help make this happen and perhaps send a link to this to your friends.

And smile, greeting someone today!

Who's behind Permission to Smile?

Initiated by Martin Graham, of the Street Associations initiative and in close partnership with Nick Venning of the Birmingham Civic Society, a small and informal steering group includes Indi Deol of Desi Blitz, Sam German of PocZero, Clare Beavan of DWF, Michael Butler of Aston University, with lots of support from  BCU's School of Media and from other key individuals and organisations, and with excellent backing from the Birmingham Mail and Birmingham City Council.


“Permission to Smile is a great way to encourage people to make a positive impact in their neighbourhoods through easy, friendly actions that bring people together. The beauty of this initiative is its simplicity – it proves that creating social good doesn’t have to be a complicated process, and that anyone can get involved and make a difference.” (Brian Carr, Chief Executive, Birmingham Voluntary Services Council)

"I fully support Permission to Smile and urge the business community to do the same. A more friendly, supportive and collaborative society is greatly needed and will do us all a power of good. But it won't just happen - it needs us all to help make it happen." (Paul Faulkner, Chief Executive, Birmingham Chamber of Commerce)

“Permission to Smile will help Birmingham to become a brighter, more self-confident city, with local people empowered to make a difference where they live - an excellent initiative, which deserves our backing".  (Tim Andrews, co-founder and Chairman, Love Brum)

"Permission to Smile. It shouldn’t be needed but it is. It should be straightforward and if we all play our own small part, it will be. This is a people-powered initiative for a simple but really important outcome. From small acts of connection can grow real social benefits. Support this initiative with a smile. Break the ice and watch for communities that start connecting". (Professor David Morris, director, Centre for Citizenship and Community).


This project offers rewards in return for your donation. Please select a reward below.

£50 or more

Invitation to launch event

An invitation to join us on 14th April in Birmingham to the launch event plus two window and car Permission to Smile stickers.

£100 or more

T-shirt plus!

Permission to Smile T-shirt plus an invitation to our launch event, plus two Permission to Smile car and window stickers.

£1,000 or more

A very large halo!

A very large halo and our grateful thanks!

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