something good, something useful uses creative community consultation to connect those initiating regeneration projects with those affected by them. We help strengthen relationships between local people and architects, developers, local authorities, housing associations, charities and arts organisations.
something good, something useful adopts a positive, creative approach and works as a neutral platform to collate public responses to social projects. We present the results back to our clients in beautiful, accessible, engaging and ‘ready-to-share’ packages from e-books to short films, enabling service providers to listen to and engage with their service users more effectively.
something good, something useful was founded by socially-engaged artist Eleanor Shipman as she was struck by the powerful role of art in enabling, provoking and encouraging honest dialogue on a range of subjects – from local regeneration, to the cultural identity of Londoners or what it means to be happy. i-genius spoke with Eleanor Shipman to find out more.
i-genius: Why did you start something good, something useful?
Eleanor Shipman: After working in the third sector and as a freelance artist I wanted to create a platform to creatively gather the opinions of people and connect them to decision makers. I lived with architecture students when I was studying and was struck by their lack of community engagement in the design process, and in contrast saw the huge value in the honesty and openness of people when asked for their opinion in a neutral creative context – these were the founding ideas for SGSU.
i-genius: What difficulties did you experience setting up SGSU?
Eleanor: Of course starting something from scratch is a challenge, and funding the business in its early stages is a work in progress. I am supporting the business with a part time job in gallery education and am lucky enough to have a hugely encouraging workplace and relevant job so there are always new ideas bubbling over.
i-genius: Who’s/what’s been your continued source of inspiration?
Eleanor: Working creatively with local communities is a brilliant platform to learn about people’s lives, concerns, ideas and opinions, and is a continued and infinite source of inspiration for me which is why I love what I do.
i-genius: What are the most crucial things you have done to grow SGSU?
Eleanor: Networking, networking, networking! I love meeting new people and approaching organisations as potential clients or collaborators, so I make a big effort to go to lots of networking events, join groups such as Urbanistas (a support group for women working in the public realm) and utilise social media. Just from an afternoon on Twitter following relevant people and messaging them directly I set up nearly 10 meetings – so it’s well worth it.
i-genius: What makes your consultancy unique?
Eleanor: something good, something useful is unique in that we care deeply about both sides of our projects – from the grass roots communities to the corporations and authorities. People are just people and we aim to mediate and creatively facilitate communication in a simple, accessible and engaging way for both sides – no one wants to read through a huge corporate-looking report, so we design ready-to-share infographics, creative reports and short films to explain the project quickly for everyone involved.
i-genius: Why are regeneration projects important?
Eleanor: Regeneration is an ever-evolving and unavoidable state of urban living, and often gets bad press as people feel they haven’t been consulted on the latest high rise or demolition. Sadly this is often the case, which is why SGSU aims to work with developers, local authorities and architects to make sure local voices are heard – and valued – in as much of the regeneration process as possible.
i-genius: What advice would you give to those starting up a social business/project?
Eleanor: Don’t be afraid to ask for help from those around you – skill swaps are a great way to help get things off the ground. For our launch, I designed a series of posters for the hall we held the event in instead of paying to hire it! Also, network like mad – and invest in good business cards!
Photography credit: Steve Shipman.
This interview was conducted as part of the i-genius Getting Started interview series. If you would like to learn how to get started in your social business, then why not take our ‘Getting Started – Social Business Start Up’ online course with i-genius Academy. To find out more, click here!