Inspiring Innovation through the International Spark Programme

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Nina Emett, Founder and Director of Brighton based arts education social enterprise FotoDocument, is participating in the inaugural, year-long European Innovation Programme and shared her experience of the Safari that took place across the Coast to Capital area earlier this month.

The Spark programme launched on 12th June 2017 in Chichester and it was wonderful to embark on this journey with British, Dutch and Belgian social entrepreneurs – long may this cross-European collaborative spirit last! The week long ‘safari’ comprised of peer learning sessions, workshops and a tour of social enterprises around the south-east of England.


One of our visits was to ‘Frame of Mind’, a social enterprise that offers a picture framing service and employs individuals living with mental health issues or learning difficulties. I was inspired by the impact they make and, being in the photography business myself, made a real business connection with them. I will now be using their services to frame an exhibition which FotoDocument are curating in London for International Women’s in March 2018. This is just one example of a connection I made that week that has supported my enterprises development. Amazing how the ricochet of good in the world can be amplified.

The week culminated in the excellent Spark Innovation Conference which took place on Thursday 15th June in Brighton. The day-long event consisted of inspiring talks, breakout workshops, panel debates around innovation and clinics. I had a very productive one-to-one session about procurement with a business advisor that I pre-scheduled through the Spark programme.


The conference was brimming with ideas exchange, meaningful chatter, creative modelling, mini social enterprise pitches and delicious food provided by catering social enterprise, The Big Fig. I was pleased to learn that the supply chain for the conference was ethical including the use of our photography agency, FotoAgency. It was a seamlessly organised and very professional affair. Being based at The Platform I was privy to the immense amount of hard work and thoughtful decision-making that led up to it, full respect.

The highlight of the conference for me was the key note speech by the rabble-rousing John Bird, founder of The Big Issue. I found myself guffawing loudly in response to his edgy tales and anecdotes and nodding furiously as he expressed his irrepressible anger at the shocking levels of poverty and inequality in the UK. I should of course refer to him as Lord Bird given his relatively new entry into the House of Lords, but I think (and hope) he is too badly behaved to want to necessarily stick to such conventions. In fact, he is perfectly placed now to disrupt the status quo as much as possible from within the Westminster bubble and I hope he is successful. I feel aligned with his views in so many ways.


In my opinion, it’s a harder job running a social enterprise than just running a for-profit business because of the triple bottom line, so we do need additional support, but isn’t it worth it for the difference we can make? I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the Spark Innovation Accelerator as well as being based at The Platform offices as their social enterprise incubee.

A Huge Thank You!

The Platform would like to extend a huge thank you to all of the contributors that help to make the conference. From the understated awesomeness of Ivo Gormley sharing his GoodGym story to the rustle of tissues dabbing moist eyes, to about 130 delegates working together to solve societal issues, to the rock and roll status of rule-breaking Big Issue founder, Lord John Bird which, in the words of a delegate ‘really made the conference unforgettable.’

With many breakout sessions with standing room only, a fly on the wall would’ve seen delegates exploring the world through virtual reality, sitting on floors to masking tape innovation onto the carpet, fashioning seagulls from plastic milk bottles or prototypes of their innovations out of recycled junk, enlarging their ears as they learn how to listen better in order to influence, chewing the fat of growth and commercialisation with the great and the good, absorbing the citrusy hue of case studies with a (The Big Lemon Bus), gleaning the Belgian perspective on communicating impact, finding out how to find the right social investor and working out if their innovation will truly flourish…

Phew, what an exhilarating experience!


Thanks to everyone that contributed:

Dr Caroline Bucklow – Senior Knowledge Exchange Officer, Research Services, University of Oxford

Charlie Peverett – Brand, Culture and Communication Partner, In Essence

Craig Carey – Director of Business, Bubble Chamber

Dave Wolff – Director, Community University Partnership Programme (CUPP), University of Brighton

Emma Whelan – Brand, Culture and Communication Partner, In Essence

Fiona Anderson – Entrepreneur Development Manager, Natwest

Fiona Ras – Business Development Director, The Platform

George Tsekouras – Principal Research Fellow, University of Brighton

Iris Verhoeyen – Director and Knowledge Manager, Sociale Innovatie Fabriek

Ivo Gormely – Founder, GoodGym

Jim Byford – Founder, Adventure and Wisdom Institute

Jo Cutler – Doctoral Researcher, The Social Decision Lab, University of Sussex

John Montague – Managing Director, Big Issue Invest

Baron John Bird – Founder, Big Issue

Kaat Peeters – Director and Knowledge Manager, Sociale Innovatie Fabriek

Kerry Kyriacou

Lisa Westbury – Co-Founder, Generate

Lorraine Bell – Business Support Manaer, Green Growth Platform, University of Brighton

Mark Corbett – Co-founder, UniHack

Nickala Torkington – Director, Flourish CIC

Pieter Werrebrouck – Advisor, de punt.

Simon Hutchins – Manager of the Aldingbourne Country Centre, The Aldingbourne Trust

Temujen Gunawardena – Graphic Recording and Facilitation, TemJam

Tom Druitt – Founder, The Big Lemon CIC

Umesh Kumar – Co-founder, UniHack


The Spark Social Enterprise Project has received funding from the Interreg 2 Seas Programme 2014-2020 co-funded by the European Regional Development Fund under subsidy contract No 2S01-043Interreg 2 Seas Logo

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