Permission To Smile

The Permission to Smile campaign

Permission to Smile is a coalition of voluntary groups, faith groups, businesses and residents, started in Birmingham, who want to see a shift in our ‘keep yourself to yourself’ culture and a restoration of community spirit.

Initiated and co-ordinated by Martin Graham, of Uturn UK CIC and in close partnership with Nick Venning of the Birmingham Civic Society, a small and informal steering group, the members of which are



Clare Beavan

is Foundation Manager of DWF, the major law firm, and has worked for many years in the not-for-profit sector, with the Prince’s Trust and other well-known charities, leading on fundraising, communication and assisting charities to develop their work.


Michael Butler

is Reader in Transformational Change at Aston Business School and writes extensively about how to solve practical issues by working together to achieve the kind of transformation needed. His research has been used by major international bodies, including the OECD.


Indi Deol

is the Founding Director of DESIblitz, which is a multi award-winning Asian online magazine. He’s also Visiting Industrial Fellow of Aston Business School and was a finalist for the 2013 Ernst & Young Midlands Entrepreneur of the Year award.


Sam German

is Director of PocZero UK Ltd, which is about helping organisations and communities to manage social change. He has a passion for connecting statutory services with the voluntary sector and recently the Health Service Journal classed him as one or the top 50 innovators in the health sector.


Martin Graham

is Director of Uturn UK C.I.C., which has pioneered the Street Associations initiative since 2010, to rekindle community spirit, especially in deprived areas of the West Midlands. Previously, he was Director of On the Move International. Martin is co-ordinating the Permission to Smile campaign.


Amelia Ladbrook

is Marketing Coordinator for Birmingham at Leonard Curtis Business Solutions Group and is Chair of the Birmingham Civic Society’s Events Committee. She also volunteers for Let’s Feed Brum.


Nick Venning

is Deputy Chairman of the Birmingham Civic Society and is also Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Dudley. He was until two years ago Marketing Director of Global Industries at PricewaterhouseCoopers. He is the founder and Chairman of Thrive, Birmingham’s corporate social responsibility network.


Stephanie Bloxham

is Health Business Unit Co-ordinator at Birmingham Voluntary Service Council, managing a range of projects supporting the voluntary and community sector in Birmingham, and working in partnership with the health, public and private sectors. She also has experience managing volunteers overseas on an international development project.


Campaign support

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.

‘Permisison to Smile’ is a key new campaign to galvanise more citizen contact and shared activity to help meet the pressing needs around us. This has to be a big part of the answer to the big challenges we face in Birmingham.

- Cllr Tristan Chatfield, Cabinet Member, BCC

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.

Our sincere thanks to Birmingham Voluntary Services Council, Birmingham Mail and many other key Birmingham individuals and organisations who have helped spread the word, to all those who helped us raise £20,000 through crowd-funding, to Holywood Monster for valuable support in kind, to a wide range of senior and junior officers in all parts of Birmingham City Council, who have been hugely helpful. Special thanks to BCU’s School of Media, particularly to three third year students, Maddy McCrann-Smith, Claudia Miguel and Ellie Boon, who have given superb support in shaping the campaign (including building websites, managing social networking and creating strategy). We couldn’t have done this without them!

Our warm thanks, also, for supporting the campaign to all the many organisations listed below – with more being added to the list daily.

Thank you..

  • Anthony Collins Solicitors
  • Ark Community Church
  • Asda, Small Heath
  • Asda, Cape Hill
  • Aylesbury Surgery
  • Balsall Heath Church Centre
  • Be Happy Hub
  • Billesley Primary School
  • Birmingham Association of Youth Clubs
  • Birmingham Chamber of Commerce
  • Birmingham Cathedral
  • Birmingham Voluntary Services Council
  • Birmingham Civic Society
  • Birmingham Central Mosque
  • Birmingham City Council
  • Birmingham City University School of Media
  • Birmingham Jewish Community Care
  • Birmingham Mail
  • Blakemore Foundation
  • Boldmere Junior School
  • Boldmere Infant & Nursery School
  • Brewin Dolphin
  • Broadmeadow Junior School
  • Brokfields Primary School
  • Business in the Community
  • Business Professional Services Birmingham
  • California Christian Centre
  • Chaplaincy Plus
  • Christchurch Selly Oak
  • Colmore Business District
  • Court Farm Primary School
  • Dame Ellen Pinsent School
  • Diocese of Birmingham
  • Entrepreneurship Acadamy
  • Eddington Elim Pentecostal Church
  • Folio, Sutton Coldfield
  • Gateley plc
  • George Henry Collins Charity
  • Gowling WLG
  • Grafton Road Surgery
  • Groundwork Trust
  • Harborne Medical Practice
  • Hawthorne Surgery
  • Hay Mills Community Church
  • Heart Care
  • Hollywood Monster Ltd
  • Holy Cross Church, Billesley
  • Hopkins Sayer Trust
  • Kath’s Cafe, Maypole
  • Kingsdale Surgery
  • King Edward VI Hansworth School
  • King’s Norton Girls School
  • Kings Norton Surgery
  • Life Community Church, Hockley
  • Longhurst Group
  • Love Brum
  • Manor House Lane Surgery
  • Mary Kinross Charitable Trust
  • Mary Stevens Hospice
  • Midland Heart
  • Midland Metro Alliance
  • Nechells Pod
  • New Hope Birmingham
  • NHS Birmingham and Solihull Clinical Commissioning Group
  • Nishkam Cenre
  • Nishkam High School
  • Nonsuch Primary School
  • North Birmingham Vineyard
  • Oasis Community Hub, Hobmoor
  • On the Edge Fusion Youth Orchestra
  • Perry Barr Methodist Church
  • Pioneer Group
  • Quilter Cheviot Investment Management
  • Quinton Church Primary School
  • RC Archdiocese of Birmingham
  • Rednall Hill Junior School
  • Rowheath Pavillion Church
  • Salvation Army Citadel
  • Selly Park Baptist Church
  • Shenley Academy
  • Soho Road Business Improvement District
  • Southgate Family Church
  • South Yardley Methodist Church
  • St Albans Catholic Primary School
  • St Chad’s Cathedral
  • St Germain’s Church, Edgbaston
  • St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School
  • St Leonard’s Church, Marston Green
  • St Martin’s in the Bull Ring
  • St Mary & St Ambrose church, Edgbaston
  • St Michael’s Church, Hall Green
  • St John and St Martin RC Church
  • St John’s Church, Harborne
  • St Michael’s Primary School, Quinton
  • Street Associations initiative
  • Tesco, Aston Lane
  • The Hub, Hazelwell
  • The Peace Hub
  • Trident Group
  • Turves Green Girls School
  • Uturn UK CIC
  • Veolia Environmental Services (UK) plc
  • VWV Solicitors
  • WED Charitable Trust
  • Weoley Hill URC Church
  • Wesley Vale Millenium Green Trust
  • West Heath Community Centre
  • West Midlands Trains
  • Yardley Wood Health Centre
  • Yenton Primary School
  • YMCA Birmingham
  • YMCA Indian Student Hostel

Why ‘permission?’

There has grown up a culture of insularity.  Walking down my own street, it no longer feels ‘appropriate’ to smile at or greet, someone I don’t know.  Will my attempt at contact be welcome?  Will it be ‘invading their private space’?  Will they wonder: “What does he want?  What is his agenda?”  It’s all too difficult, and so I draw back.

So the first step to contact typically doesn’t happen, which means that the second or third steps can’t happen either – steps such as getting together to put on a street party, form a young mum’s group, organise something for the elderly, or look after vulnerable neighbours.  Or even just to ‘be a community’ in a genuine way, with the sense belonging and comfort it brings.

Three things result from this.  First, how can an isolated person break out of their isolation if it’s not appropriate to greet others – or for others to greet them?  Second, there’s a downward spiral in social confidence as people are decreasingly used to social engagement, making it harder still to engage.  Third, the public sector gets landed with a host of problems that used to be solved in the community.

But the problem there is that the public sector simply can’t cope.  Over decades, there was an advancing tide of the public sector doing more and more for people; and a receding tide of people doing things with and for each other.  But now, due to enforced austerity, there’s a receding tide of public sector activity.  For example, local councils have had to close most of their youth groups.  So a great big gap has opened up and much that needs to be done is simply not being done.  And, at the same time, the public sector is creaking under the strain that’s being put on it.  Something’s got to give!

The only positive answer is to re-stimulate that part of society which is about people doing things with and for each other.

How can we begin to re-stimulate that?  Firstly, we need to combat this highly corrosive ‘keep yourself to yourself’ ethos.  And a big part of that is encouraging people that it really is appropriate to smile and greet.  Interestingly, walk with a dog or a baby, and people readily stop to chat – showing that many actually like to smile and greet, but feel they need an excuse.   Mostly, one doesn’t have one.

So we’re saying: wherever, whenever, we have permission to smile.  Let’s really do it!  That will achieve the ‘social warming’ we want and need.

The idea of this campaign is to have a very public and sustained encouragement – with the message: ‘permission to smile; greet someone today’, prominently, everywhere, re-establishing the idea in people’s mind that it is absolutely appropriate to smile, say hello, stop and chat and recognise other people, rather than blanking them.

If sustained, this will encourage a fundamental culture shift.  Coupled with the campaign’s legs (our ‘How-to’ downloads and our innovative online ‘Meeting Point’), and with enough support, we really will boost community activity across the city.

Sound like a good idea?  Would you help?  Promote the campaign through social networking? Put up a window or car sticker?

For starters, if you’re in Birmingham, why not register on Meeting Point and see what comes of it?  It could light a fire where you live.  Go on – give it a try!