I first met Joe whilst we were both working in the same primary school in Brighton & Hove, UK – he was a TA, and I the school ICT Technician. I remember walking past an after-school classroom screening of some Studio Ghibli film, with Joe and his flock of youngsters. I forget which film it was now, but I remember our first interaction the next week “ah yeah, I like anime” or something like that.
Since then I’d say we’ve been very strong acquaintances, orbiting around each other’s lives, sometimes closer, often quite far away. But I’ve seen Joe from the side-lines, as he transitioned away from teacher training, third sector work, now with a homeless charity in Brighton – it’s obvious he has a strong passion for doing good and doesn’t shy away from new challenges. When I started seeing posts online about this project small changes, I knew I had to find out more…
This interview has been transcribed and edited… Enjoy!
Thank you very much for making the time to do a little interview, I’m very excited. So, the first question, or invitation, would be to share a little bit about yourself and what you’re working on at the moment…
I’m Joe, I’m 29, I’m living in Brighton and Hove and I’m doing a project called small changes. The project is essentially, giving people a leg up to make a small change in their life that they’ve either been meaning to do for a long time, but haven’t got around to doing, or just anything that pops into their mind – I’m finding that there’s a mixture of small changes that people want to make coming from different places, which is really interesting.
I’m struggling a bit with the messaging of it at the moment. I’ve started to refer to it sometimes as “it’s basically a free one-hour life coaching session” [laughs] but, there’s definitely more to it than that.
So yeah, the idea is that I meet with 30 people over the duration of the project – roughly – I’m not holding myself to the number too much, but I’m going to have that as a soft aim. So, to meet with 30 people, to help them talk through their small change and then encourage them to go off and try it. Essentially with no expectation of them actually having to do it or be “successful” at making that small change.
It’s a really encouraging and nurturing project, that’s really people centred, coming from the individual. The project originally started as ‘I want to make a massive, huge online platform for little small changes globally’ and, interestingly, my approach to this project has really helped me do small changes – that massive online platform, that’s a ridiculous starting place.
By talking through it with my mentor, I was able to break it down into a smaller more manageable project. That’s what I’ve done myself with small changes and that’s what I encourage other people to do. I think most people don’t necessarily notice or can think of the small changes they want to make, they just thinking of the fu***** huge ones, so, being able to sit with someone for an hour and help them break that down into something that’s much more manageable is really, really satisfying.
Let me ask you – where did the inspiration come from and what is your intention, the core intention?
Essentially, it’s like “what can I do with my energy?”. I had this energy, where I wanted to – funnily enough – encourage people to change energy supplier and move their money, their bank accounts. I get so frustrated that people continue to support these ridiculous companies that are destroying the world; energy companies through investing in fossil fuels and continuing to strip the Earth of coal etc. and then, people just being so uninvolved in where their money is – someone who works for a homeless charity having a bank account with a company that’s one of the reasons for mass inequality – is just so mind-blowing. I just don’t understand how people can be so indifferent or apathetic about that.
The point is, and you can hear it in my expression, you won’t hear it in the text but, “what can I do with this energy?” cos this is something I’ve been trying to do for a long time – encourage people to make these small changes. But, the small changes that I want to make.
So, the switch for me has been – to encourage people to make the change they want to make and then hopefully that’s going to lead on to other changes which, you know, full disclosure on my sort-of selfish intentions, that they might make some other changes that are more considerate of people, community and planet. I’ve managed to change my approach, to the project going from, me forcing changes on to other people, instead now, really, genuinely believing that the best way forward is supporting the changes that they want to make.
So, how does it work, for you and those involved in the project?
Essentially, someone who wants to make a change contacts me, then we meet for an hour in a place of their choosing, we talk through their small change, and then they go off and try it.
So far, it’s been through connections, personal relationships, friends and friends-of-friends. I’ve recently got an installation up at Bond St. Coffee, where I started to get through small change ideas, and potential small change doers, which is amazing because it’s people I don’t know – it’s really broadening the variety of people that are going to take part, which is exciting.
Typically, ‘cos I work a full-time 37 ½ hour job, I meet people either 8-9 am or I’ll meet them 5 pm onward on a weekday, sometimes at weekends, so I’m really mindful… wait, I’ll go on to that in second.
I’m limiting it to Brighton & Hove, ‘cos I want it to be a local project and also my funding is for Brighton & Hove. I think it’s good to do something for the city where I’m living, rather than opening it up too broadly and watering it down. That also links in to future plans of potential meet-ups, gatherings and going out for a meal – all these other ideas I have.
I also invite people to be part of a future zine and maybe a podcast to get them involved in something. I want there to be a souvenir of this project, to see that they were a part of something bigger and as a way to celebrate the changes that we’ve made. So, running through it is this idea that our small changes come together to be something much greater than the sum of the parts and create a bigger social change.
You were about to go off on another thread, which was “I’m mindful of…” – I think it
was something to do with your time, or…
Yeah, yeah. So basically, a key component of what I do with small changes, is looking after myself. I do that through boundaries and I do that by being really honest and transparent. I will make it clear that “I might not be able to meet you for two months” or something like that, or “in the meantime, please go on and try your change” [laughs] but realistically “I’m not able to meet you in this time period because that will put too much pressure on myself” which means that the project will be at threat of failing, because I’ll burn out, or knowing myself I’ll start to not care about it. I really have to be protective of my time and the time I invest into the project, to make sure that I’m feeling balanced and that I’ve got good energy to bring to it.
I wrote a blog post recently, which you could very kindly link to, about creating our own well-being packages. So, I’m quite strict with that myself – I go to counselling twice a month, I go for a very therapeutic Ayurvedic healing massage once a month, and I do stretching and meditation classes twice a month as well. So little things like that are really, really crucial to my survival and the project.
I try to run that through small changes meetings as well. How are they going to look after themselves? How are they going to manage their expectations so they are realistic? It’s not about being pessimistic and saying “yeah, you’re never going to be able to do that” but if you have this high expectation of yourself that you’re going to go running every single morning, and you’re going to be at the allotment every single evening and you’re going to write a short story by the end of July, you know, you’re at risk of burning out. So, really supporting people to be mindful of their time and their energy.
Yeah, it sounds very, very wise Joe, I’m glad you’re looking after yourself.
Do you have any stories to share? Either about a small change or related to small changes?
I can give a couple of examples…
So, one guy that’s done a change with me, is a school teacher, and he has been facilitating and encouraging the most incredible creative writing in his classes – I used to work with him for years – and yeah, he’s neglected to do writing himself. Through meeting with me, he’s already produced the first page of his short story, which is amazing, in terms of the years that he hasn’t written. Then within our meeting and our conversation he’s then gone off and produced something, which he’s also recorded the audio for and shared online through the small changes Instagram and the blog. Yeah, it’s amazing.
One thing that was particularly great about out meet, was that we decided to meet in a pub and have a pint. There are few main threads around small changes, another one of them is hospitality. A big part of my budget goes on food and drinks, so I was able to buy him a pint, I have a half-pint and he gets a pie, or something like that, so he felt really comfortable during our meet.
A big part of our conversation was “Where are you going to do your writing? Are you going to write at home, on your desk, which is full of your paperwork from your job, and the distractions of Facebook and video games and all this stuff, or is there another place you can do it?” You know what, I don’t actually know where he went off to do it in the end, but, the note that we left on was that he would go to a pub, with just his journal and a pen, have a beer and just start writing. I like to hope that’s what happened, but I don’t know…
That’s a really key part. Lots of people are really capable of making small changes, however they’re just doing it in the wrong location, or the wrong time of day. When I say ‘wrong’, I mean the time or the place that’s not working for them. They just keep trying and trying and failing and feeling worse, and just cementing their negative feelings of “I’m never going to be able to do this”. It’s a real shame. That’s why the projects good, ‘cos we can talk through those things and come up with the best individual tailored attempt at making the change.
Another one – a guy came to me with issues about his weight and his identity around his weight and his issues with food. That was really challenging for me, ‘cos I was thinking “sh**, I am so not qualified for this… why am I doing this project? I don’t know anything about weight and nutrition and that kind of stuff” and it made me think “what else is going to come up in this project that I just really feel totally unqualified for?”
But, we went on and talked and his initial change idea was to eat three square meals a day. We managed to talk that through and realise together that wasn’t a small change, that was a big change. So, we broke that down to him essentially deciding that he would eat porridge every morning around 11 o’clock, and that’s really helped him with his life, it’s changed stuff quite a lot. You know, I think he’s got a lot more work to do, but it was a really good first step. That’s another example of someone coming to the project with a huge change that they want to make that’s a little bit unrealistic, and having that kind of, much safer leg up to a more achievable change. It’s really helpful, beneficial to the people taking part…
I feel so arrogant talking about this.
No, no, no, you’re not at all. More of a logistical question, because I’m curious – how did you receive funding for this?
The project is funded by Upstream Ideas, which funds and supports community projects in Brighton & Hove. Essentially, I wrote a proposal, outlined what the project would be, putting a heavy emphasis on my own well-being and how I was going to make it work – the fact that it’s such a limited project.
That’s something I’d like to stress in this interview somehow, that I’ve not just set out to start a charity, or a company, or a well-being service, this is a really focused project and for me, that takes so much weight off my mind. I’m enjoying it and it’s flowing and it’s organic. I might think “I’m going to start doing stuff like this” and then, change direction. I’m just going with it and it’s brilliant.
I started with a thing called ‘small changes week’ in my head, but now it’s kind of turned into ‘small changes month’ and that’s OK, it’s flowing. I think having the freedom of knowing that I’m not making this into a thing yet where it’s like “oh, I need to get funding for next year” is really allowing the project to be the best that it can be, recognising that I work a full-time job.
Yeah, again, you’re applying the same thought process I guess, with taking things in smaller chunks…
So, coming up to the last question and maybe a bonus question – what’s in store for the future?
The project, I’m going to hopefully finish it by the end of the year, I will then take time to look back on it and think “What have I learnt with small changes? What did I like most about it?” and maybe “Which people or group did I like working with the most?” and then I’ll come up with an idea with something to come back to in the future.
I think it’s a really good project and I think that it could turn into, you know, my own coaching business, it could be a men’s mental healthy charity, it could become anything really – so, I’m definitely going to plan in time to do proper reflections and have that to come back to in the future. Yeah, so I’m aiming to finish small changes by the end of the year, at least my involvement in the project, then I’m going to come back to something related to it, later on after a break.
One of the people involved in the project, he’s already excited about the idea of being kind of alumni, or part of the network of people involved in small changes, who then go on to be the outreach team or the next people that go on to encourage others to do small changes – which I think is amazing. I’ve been wondering how that will happen. To a certain extent it will happen organically, whether or not I want to support that through more focused, intentional structure or support, or even funding – I think there’s a potential for it to continue through other people, the people who are involved.
Bonus question Joe, then we’ll wrap this up – let’s see if this fits, anyway – what is your wish for the world? It’s a nice big broad question.
My wish for the world is that people have more honest conversations with each other, and don’t say that “I’m OK, I’m alright” when you’re not alright – this bothers me so much. I don’t know how related that is to small changes but, I’m fed up with people not willing to talk about their struggles with each other and that’s probably at the heart of everything that I do it, encouraging people to be honest and vulnerable with each other – not in a mopey, miserable, horrible, you know, self-indulgent, narcissistic way, but in a supportive, self-supportive way.
My wish is that people talk about the sh** that’s going down in an honest way, because then we can start to deal with some of it, you know, make things easier for each other. Enough small talk guys, let’s have some proper conversations.
I think things that you’re involved with Jim, and Marcus [a mutual friend], and me here in Brighton – the projects that we’re involved in are, like you’ve mentioned, about holding and opening up space for people to actually do this. We need to keep doing that and keep spreading it. I think when people actually get it, it becomes infectious, they want to spread it with other people. The more we can encourage this kindness, the better.
I think that’s an achievable goal as well – but we’ve got to start small, in our local areas, and try to spread it out naturally, organically….
That was almost a really good answer [laughs]. It makes you realise how bullsh** lots of interviews are doesn’t it? That somehow, they are able to say the perfect thing. Or, if you ask me that same question again next week I’ll be able to come up with the perfect answer.
Ah, but it’s all in the moment here isn’t it. You wrap it up very nicely with small changes. Well done there Joe.
Also, I’m really inspired by this myself. I really relate – I’ve seen this with things in my life, thinking of big changes that I want to make for myself, then being really caught up and not actually getting anywhere at all. It also relates to what I’m doing here with this little blog, and I say ‘little blog’ because part of my intention is to not make it ‘a thing’. It happened really organically and that’s how I want it to continue.
I’m very grateful to be able to sit here and ask you these questions. You know, I might give you a phone call and ask about the project, but not get such an in-depth explanation, story and background. It gives me a lot of energy. And this is the purpose of why I’m doing this, to share this energy with other people.
Thank you Joe!
All the links!