“Meet the people, feel the issues”: this is the guiding ethos of Igniting Change, the ‘intentionally tiny charity’ working to spark positive actions within communities that are doing it tough. While many organisations focus on approaching an issue with an answer and a resolute aim to ‘solve’, Igniting Change operates on the basis of asking people or charities what they need, then figuring out how those needs can be met. Founder and director Jane Tewson CBE says that when people are vulnerable, “it’s dangerous to assume what they want”. Instead, she has guided Igniting Change to act as a “conduit for kindness and effort”, connecting people who need assistance with those who have the desire and knowledge to provide it. This approach is powerful: well-resourced people have the power to make tangible change, says Tewson, and having the ability to direct these resources to the right communities is heartening for both volunteers and beneficiaries. For Igniting Change, connecting extraordinary people in this way is at the heart of catalysing social change, and “encourages people to see the person, not the label”.
While it has always functioned with a “boots on the ground” attitude, during the pandemic Igniting Change had to adapt to a more digital world. Usually, the charity works in-person to catalyse the changes required to execute new tasks, but much of their work had to occur over the phone or online as a port of call for organisations who need help. It’s been an adjustment converting in-person meetings to Zoom calls – “it’s much harder to read the room when you’re not actually in the room”, Jane explains – but regardless, it has been rewarding to see the positive consequences of the sessions they’ve managed to run. Whether it’s delivering cots and nappies to domestic violence survivors, or facilitating support for people recently released from prison, above all it’s “the little stuff that seems so important at the moment”. Indeed, Jane notes that regular exclusion does not cease because of the pandemic, and it is more important than ever to seek out and amplify the voices of those who are struggling.
While new issues have emerged from coronavirus and its associated restrictions, its biggest impact on a community level has been the exacerbation of existing problems. Mental health issues and domestic violence both escalated during the pandemic, but Jane says that helping people with these issues has been more difficult than usual because of reallocation of funding, a widening digital divide, and lack of face-to-face connection. Despite these challenges, Igniting Change has remained “incredibly busy” and was buoyed by the overwhelming altruism that emerged within communities throughout 2020. Since food and human connection are crucial in helping people through the pandemic, lately “things have really been moving” at the charity. It is currently facilitating food deliveries by individuals to families in need, in a life-affirming convergence of connection and food. Overall, Jane feels proud to have seen “entrenched inequality” throughout the pandemic countered with a rich community spirit from people who have been generous with their time and resources.
It is no surprise that spearheading this impactful community work is a woman who has always lived in alignment with her passion for “kindness and curiosity”. As explored in the recently released book ‘The Art of Pollination: The Irrepressible Jane Tewson’, Jane relishes any opportunity to link extraordinary people with each other and enable deep human connection. The book, written by Martin Flanagan, features the courageous people with whom Jane and Igniting Change have worked since the early 1980s, from the streets of London to refugee camps in Sudan and finally to Melbourne. Jane also co-founded Comic Relief, which has become one of Britain’s most successful charities. Throughout her career, she has seen that people wish to make life easier for others who are struggling and that at the end of the day, “everybody wants to help”. Her life has been enriched by the people she connects with from all over the world – and from those living in homeless communities on the streets of London, to child soldiers and refugee camps in Sudan, “I feel so proud to work with them”.
For those whose hearts, like Jane’s, light up by connecting with others, her greatest piece of advice is to be curious, a good listener, and to engage with people you might not usually talk to. To read more about the selfless, passionate and tireless Jane Tewson CBE and her work, you can purchase ‘The Art of Pollination’ via this link. You can support Igniting Change and read more about its work via its website.
For more information on Igniting Change go to www.ignitingchange.org.au
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