Rebuilding lives and neighborhoods through blooms

The last place you’d think to see blooming flowers in small farm plots would be the metropolitan cities across the US, but the Chicago Eco House is changing that while also promoting sustainability to help alleviate inner city poverty.

Chicago Eco House started out of the Southside of Chicago in 2014 as the brainchild of Quilen Blackwell. He took opportunities granted to him by his family and ran with them, first starting in the Peace Corps and later in ministry school which is what brought him to Chicago,

It was then, in Chicago, he realized what he wanted to do.

“I started tutoring at a high school here and getting to know these kids and their families and their stories,” Quilen tells Smiley News. “Just through that process, I really just felt like I had a choice, either I could continue to live my life the way I did, which was largely for me, and the people I cared about, or I could dedicate my life to serving a higher purpose.”

He went with the latter and the Chicago Eco House was born. Quilen wanted to find a way to help communities be more self-sustaining with better opportunities. 


“One of the things we quickly recognized is that there really isn’t an anchor industry in the hood,” Quilen says. “You think about a place like Silicon Valley, the anchor industry is tech, right? You think about Napa Valley, the anchor industry is wine, grapes, and the vineyard. When you think about places like Englewood on the Southside of Chicago, there isn’t that industry that people can really lean on.”

Quilen wanted to help make an anchor industry for inner city neighborhoods and landed on planting and selling flowers. But he wanted to do so in a way that was good for the planet.

“Once we started growing flowers we really wanted to do it in a way that would be sustainable because many people don’t realize the flower industry is one of the most environmentally degrading industries in the world,” he says. 

“Our farms are all solar-powered, we use rainwater catchment systems to irrigate our flowers. We don’t use any pesticides or synthetic fertilizers or anything like that.”

Once they started growing their flowers, they then needed to figure out a place to sell them and that’s where their storefront, Southside Blooms came in. Southside Blooms opened in 2020 and since then they’ve worked as a direct-to-consumer flower-selling business. The business they generate helps provide work and support for at-risk teens in the community.

A big part of the expansion of the Chicago Eco House is making use of the empty lots that populate Chicago, with many being nearly unusable due to chemical pollution in the ground. Chicago Eco House is giving those pieces of land a second life. 

“We’ll come to clean all the trash when we set up,” Quilen says. “We’ll put compost, we’ll build our flower beds, we’ll set up our range or rainwater catchment tanks, build shed solar, kind of the whole nine yards.

“And then it basically helps to bring that space back to not just economic life because now we’re producing a cash crop and flowers, but it’s also helping to bring it back to life from an environmental standpoint.”

In general, Quilen just wants to make a difference in his community and eventually expand out Chicago Eco House to other metropolitan areas like Detroit to help the inner city.

“Our ultimate vision is to basically bring the floral industry to every major inner city in the United States,” Quilen says, “and really curtail a lot of violence and urban blight and drugs and the poverty that the inner city, unfortunately, has come to be known for.”

Find out more about Chicago Eco House and what you can do to support.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Partners of the Goals.


Lifeboat charity saves lives every day

The RNLI has announced that they saved 506 lives in 2022.

Amazing! Tell me more.

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) is a charity designed to save the lives of people in danger in UK waters. In 2022, they were able to save 506 lives – that’s more than one life saved every day of the year!

Plus, in 2022 the RNLI lifeboats launched 9,312 times– an increase of 5% on 2021. Because of this, the RNLI is calling for people to take part in their Mayday Mile fundraiser.

What is the Mayday Mile?

The charity is putting out its own ‘Mayday’ call, urging the public to take part in the Mayday Mile fundraiser – taking on the challenge of covering a mile a day for the month of May. All money raised will help to provide the vital training and equipment that is needed to keep its lifesavers safe, while they risk their own lives to save others.

So walk it, run it, skate it – even skip it if you’d rather! But sign up for the Mayday Mile Fundraiser, and raise funds for the RNLI to help keep people safe on our coast.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Partnership for the Goals.


11-year-old wins RSPCA award with this amazing pic

An 11-year-old photographer has been announced the winner of the RSPCA’s Young Photographer of the Year.

Tell me more!

This nature-loving 11-year-old from Kearsley in Bolton has just been crowned People’s Choice in the RSPCA’s Young Photographer of the Year.

Ellie-Grace Braidwood had been walking on a local farm with her parents when she spotted the inquisitive sheep that became her winning picture.

Titled ‘Ewe looking at me?’ the winning picture was taken on Samsung Galaxy S10,

What does winning mean?

Ellie-Grace will receive £100 worth of vouchers from, an RSPCA Young Photographer Awards 2022 trophy and a certificate. 

The competition is supported by Nature’s Images, Camtraptions and

Entries for the main RSPCA Young Photographer Awards 2023 will open on Thursday 4th May 2023.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Partnership for the Goals.


What a night! The 6th Charity Film Awards

Studded with stars and incredible films, the Smiley Charity Film Awards 2023 was a night to remember. 

Hosted by comedian Tom Allen, we had the likes of Arlene Phillips and Jason Watkins, as well as TV presenters AJ and Curtis Pritchard, who were ecstatic to come and celebrate these wonderful charities.

At the beginning of the night, our CEO Nicolas Loufrani addressed the audience, giving them an introduction to Smiley Movement and all the things we are doing to spotlight charities – from our Smiley News articles to our videos highlighting charity work.

And then, it was straight into the winners’ ceremony. What a night it was!

There were so many truly incredible awards given out. Some of the highlights include our overall Charity Film of the Year 2023, won by the Welsh Refugee Council for their film Wales is a Nation of Sanctuary, as well as our People’s Choice Film of the Year 2023, which went to Brooke and their film Unbreakable Bonds.

It was an absolute pleasure to be able to watch all the winning films at the ODEON Luxe, Leicester Square, surrounded by charities whose hard work deserves all the celebration it can get. We know how hard these charities work every single day of the year, so each part of the evening was designed to make them feel like the stars they are.

From goody bags to photo ops, to our yellow carpet walk, there was so much going on. One thing’s for sure, our minds were opened even more to the causes these charities support, and just how important each organisation is for the work they do.

To everyone who was up for an award last night, and even those who were watching along at home – thank you so much, and we hope you had a blast!

The winners of the Charity Film Awards 2023:

Charity Film of the Year 2023

Welsh Refugee CouncilWales is a Nation of Sanctuary

People’s Choice Film of the Year 2023

BrookeUnbreakable Bonds

Bicester Collection International Impact 

Winner: World Connect Inc.The women fish farmers of Ndombo Sandjiry, Senegal

Silver: L’ENVOL – ‘Vanessa facing her children’s illness’

Bronze: Barretstown – ‘Alex’s Story – Press Play with Barretstown’

Corporate Cause

Winner: AsdaThe Real Self-Checkout

Silver: Industrial Metal Services – ‘Giving Back’

Bronze: Samsung Global Goals – ‘We Are The Future’


Winner: Barnardo’s – The Big If

Silver: Save The Children UK – ‘A Celebration of Girls’ Rights’

Bronze: Guide Dogs – ‘One Second Every Day | Making memories with Nell, a six year old with sight loss’

People’s Choice: Canal & River Trust – ‘Our Story’

Silver: RSPCA (England & Wales) – ‘The gift’

Bronze: RNLI – ‘A bedtime story’


Winner: NacroCell Street Repeat at Christmas

Silver: Jewish Care – ‘We Are Open’

Bronze: Shelter – ‘The Drive’

People’s Choice: Anthony NolanOne Little Boy’s Lifesaving Legacy

Silver: Mind – ‘The Fight for Mental Health’

Bronze: Nacro – ‘Cell Street Repeat at Christmas’


WRAP Recycle NowLet’s Get Real About Recycling

Silver: Breast Cancer Now – ‘Real Talk’

Bronze: Groundwork UK – ‘Taking control of rising energy costs with Green Doctor: John’s Story’ 

People’s Choice: Prior’s CourtAutism, the performing arts and Jamie

Silver: Samaritans – ‘Break the silence’

Bronze: Barts Charity – ‘Barts 900’


Martlets HospiceMarc’s Story

Silver: Dementia UK – ‘I live with dementia’

Bronze: Children With Cancer UK – ‘When I Grow Up – Eve’s story’

People’s Choice: The Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad (SPANA)International Working Animal Day 2022

Silver: Havens Hospices – ‘Dying Matters at Havens Hospices – 2022’

Bronze: Dementia UK – ‘I live with dementia’


Charity: WaterWalk for Water

Silver: Child Bereavement UK – ‘Puddle Jumping’ 

Bronze: Justice and Care – ‘Car wash’

People’s Choice: Animals AsiaNo Bear Left Behind

Silver: Great Western Ambulance Charity – ‘Stay with us’

Bronze: Kinship – ‘#ValueOurLove’


Young Westminster FoundationThe Hand That Helps

Silver: Children and Families Across Borders – ‘Finding Home’

Bronze: Care4Calais – ‘Care4Calais – Safe Passage’

People’s Choice: UK Sepsis TrustRaising Awareness in the Farming Community

Silver: The Listening Place – ‘The Listening Place – Volunteers’

Bronze: Waverley Hoppa Community Transport – ‘Waverley Hoppa Community Transport promotional video’


My Life My ChoiceMLMC Travel Buddies Franchise

Silver: Solving Kids’ Cancer UK – ‘Luke’s Legacy’

Bronze: Kidscape with Giants Live – ‘What does STRONG mean to you?’

People’s Choice: Action for Stammering ChildrenMe & My Stammer

Silver: Wheels For All – ‘We Ride Together’

Bronze: Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide – ‘The Ripple Effect’


Harry Kane Foundation Harry Kane: Resilience

Silver: Carney’s Community – ‘Carney’s Community Film’

Bronze: Mankind Initiative – ‘Men, You Are Not Alone’

People’s Choice: Pregnant Then ScrewedBirth during lockdown

Silver: Brighton Table Tennis Club – ‘Bly’s Story’

Bronze: Their Future Today – ‘My Life in Foster Care – An Animated film, based on the true story of Richard Farleigh’

Under £100k

We Care CampaignThe Ones Who Care

Silver: MindFood CIO – ‘BUD’ 

Bronze: Book Clubs in Schools – ‘Books are not just about reading’

People’s Choice: Friends Of Kirkby Fleetham CE Primary School – Watch Us Grow

Silver: T-21 Charity – ‘Birch Tree Cafe – What we are about’

Bronze: Save A Kill Shelter Dog – ‘Benjamin and Eira’s Story’

Longform £20m+

Action Aid International Perfect Storm

Silver: Alzheimer’s Research UK – ‘Ray & Mariel’

Bronze: Parkinson’s UK – ‘Parkinson’s, DBS and Me – Decision Day’

People’s Choice: Parkinson’sDBS and Me – Episode 8: Decision Day

Silver: Alzheimer’s Research UK –‘Ray & Mariel’

Bronze: Action Aid International – Perfect Storm

Longform £5m-£20m

Teenage Cancer TrustFrancesca’s story – Royal Albert Hall 2022

Silver: Royal Trinity Hospice – ‘Royal Trinity Hospice: Every Moment Matters’

Bronze: Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust – ‘Chimney Meadows wetland restoration project’

People’s Choice: Khalsa Aid InternationalFeeding Humanity One Meal At A Time

Silver: Cash For Kids – ‘The Block’

Bronze: Mountbatten Isle of Wight – ‘Anyone. Anywhere. Anytime’

Longform £350k-£5m

The Wave Project Victory of Determination

Silver: Niemann-Pick UK (NPUK) – ‘Invisible Manners’

Bronze: AfriKids – ‘How to Make a Difference in Africa’

People’s Choice:

Grief EncounterOut of Darkness

Silver: YGAM – ‘Do It For Her’

Bronze: Epilepsy Scotland – ‘Phil’s epilepsy story’

Longform Under £350k

Boys In Mind Will’s Story

Silver: Power for the People – ‘Remba Island: Creating Transformational Change with Handshakes not Handouts’

Bronze: Big Love Charity – ‘Resourcing Hope’

People’s Choice: Streets2HomesHelping Those Who Are Homeless

Silver: Phoenix Heroes CIC – ‘Tackling PTSD Carp Fishing’

Bronze: Withington Walls – ‘Make yourself at home’


Meet the Blind Braille artist making art accessible

When thinking of art, the first thing that might come to mind is large galleries, roped-off paintings and sculptures… but one man is setting out to change that.

Clarke Reynolds, known as the ‘Blind Braille artist’, has recently launched his first solo exhibition in London. Born partially sighted in his right eye, Clarke became an artist when the deteriorating eyesight in his other eye forced him to give up his career.

Today, he retains around 5% sight, meaning he’s registered as severely sighted and uses a white cane. Still, Clarke is an artist, and he has adapted to express himself through his art – and to make it accessible for everyone.

“I’ve lived two lives one with sight and one without,” Clarke tells Smiley News. “As an artist, and when I start losing my sight, I realised how inaccessible it [was] to go into a gallery. It feels like I don’t belong. Sometimes you may get a touch tool, but then you have to wear gloves, or you get a bit of audio description. But it’s quite patronising.”

At Clarke’s exhibition ‘The Power of Touch’ at Quantus Gallery in Shoreditch, he was determined to make it accessible to everyone – as well as give sighted people a chance to experience what it is like to live with limited sight.

“For me, because I work in braille to tell stories through my art, the idea of touching art, even for the sighted community … it kind of brings something different,” explains Clarke. “[My art] was made to be touched and to have conversations.”

Clarke’s art is made up of braille, made out of enlarged, colourful dots that are designed to be touched and experienced as much as they are seen. Unlike traditional braille, Clarke created a colour-coded system so that a sighted person could learn braille. This is meant to be touched and felt by everyone, with no restrictions.

By combining the two, Clarke has created something new, and incredible.

To make the exhibition even more incredible, specially made glasses were donated by the charity The Vision Foundation, so that sighted visitors can see and experience the world the way Clarke does, with only 5% vision.

“It’s really hard to explain how we see so they’re … not perfect,” explains Clark. “For me, I describe how I see like looking underwater. Every day is a new day … and these glasses represent that. It’s really interesting to hear conversations with people with the glasses on because I don’t physically see my artwork. I only see my art [through the] engagement it has so that’s why I love talking to strangers at my exhibition because that’s how I see me – and for them to understand how I kind of see is really interesting.”

Clarke has also been going into schools around his local area to teach them more about his experience as the blind braille artist, and about how he experiences the world. Here, he teaches braille, talks about sight loss, and helps to break down barriers by discussing the stigma that is attached to sight loss with a new generation of people.

“If you teach those kids at the start about how to appreciate art through touch and get close to it, then you don’t have to have barriers up,” he explains. “My art was selling for thousands of pounds in this exhibition … and yet people were touching it.

“They were scared to touch at the start because they saw the label and ‘Oh my god this art’s worth a fortune’ – I said no. The idea is to touch the art. People are buying it because there’s a story behind touching the art – it’s an experience.”

As for the legacy Clarke hopes to create through his art? It can all be boiled down to one word.

“It’s about empathy. I mean, empathy is a key word,” Clarke says. “[People] come to my exhibition, and they’ve looked at the art and engaged with the art and they realise that sight loss is more than just black and white.

“They learn empathy towards what sight loss is and then go home and discuss it with their grandchildren, kids, nieces, nephews – talk about it.”

If you’re interested in supporting people who experience blindness on a daily basis, you can donat emoney or volunteer with The Vision Foundation. If you’re interested in supporting Clarke and his work, you can do so through his website

Image credit goes to the Quantus Gallery.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Reduced Inequalities.


The ‘singing solicitor’ raising funds for local charity

A charity single is raising thousands, thanks to the ‘Singing Solicitor’.

Tell me more.

Spearheaded by Northampton’s ‘Singing Solicitor’ Kevin Rogers, the cover version of Snow Patrol’s ‘Chasing Cars’ raised £1,600 for charity within the first 24 hours.

With the help of broadcaster John Griff, plus some talented school pupils, NHS staff and local musicians and businesspeople, the touching music video and song are raising funds for local charity, The Lewis Foundation.

Who are The Lewis Foundation?

The Lewis Foundation provides free weekly gifts and support packs to adult cancer patients in the hospital. The packs usually include items they might find difficult to buy themselves or simply cannot afford.

The charity was founded in 2016 by Lorraine and Lee, after they lived through four-plus years of hospital visits when Lee’s mum had cancer treatment.

The music video does a brilliant job of telling a heartwarming story of how The Lewis Foundation provides free gifts and care packs to adult cancer patients in 17 hospitals across the Midlands.

They have raised nearly £3,000 for charity and the donations are still pouring in.

If you want to watch the music video and listen to the song, you can do so on YouTube. You can donate to The Lewis Foundation through their JustGiving page, or via SMS by texting ‘Lewis’ to 70450.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Partnership for the Goals.


93-year-old knits replica of Buckingham Palace

A nonagenarian knitter has knitted a replica of Buckingham Palace.

Amazing! Tell me more.

Margaret Seaman, aged 93, has knitted an 8ft (2.4m) x 5ft (1.5m) replica of Buckingham Palace.

The brilliant knitter from Caister-on-Sea, near Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, has used her crafts to raise nearly £100,000 for charity.

That’s brilliant!

In December, Margaret was presented with a British Empire Medal for her contributions to charity – a fitting tribute to her work, as she has decided to hang up her knitting needles for now.

If you want to see Margaret’s work in person, it is currently on display at the Norfolk Makers’ Festival at The Forum, Norwich.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Partnership for the Goals.


Street Libraries are bringing communities together

You can’t overstate the importance of books, especially to kids learning about how the world works. But not every kid has a love for reading or access to them.

Sure, there are libraries but they aren’t always close enough for kids to make use of them. So in different places around the world, people have been starting small community ‘street libraries.’

In the US these street libraries come from Little Free Library, and way across the sea in Australia, they’re called Street Library Australia. They are weatherproof boxes set up outside a house or in a public space, filled with books that community members can take from or donate to.

The founder of Street Library Australia was inspired by the ones in the US and decided to bring the idea back to his home country. In the beginning, he planned on having about 30 libraries in 2015, and there are now about 4,500 registered Street Libraries in Australia. 

Beyond the focus of free access to books a large part of these libraries is the idea of bringing the community together. Both organizations let individuals petition to bring a street library to their community and Little Free Library even hosts building events. 

On top of that, the idea that anyone can give and take books at their leisure incentivizes helping your community while they help you back.

“Our vision is a Little Free Library in every community and a book for every reader,” Little Free Library says on its website. “We believe all people are empowered when the opportunity to discover a personally relevant book to read is not limited by time, space, or privilege.”

And over in Australia, it’s much of the same.

“When people take a book and leave a book, they create a cycle of generosity that allows them to share what they love with those around them,” they write on their website. “By participating in the Street Library movement, you too can help encourage reading, encourage sharing, and encourage community.”

This article aligns with the UN SDG Partners of the Goals.


Camping outside with mannequins for charity

A Sleaford resident and Royal Navy Veteran spent two nights sleeping outside to raise money for charity.

Tell me more.

Jason Roffey spent the nights of Friday 10th March and Saturday 11th March sleeping outside Mannakin Hall, Fulbeck in Grantham. This was part of a fundraising campaign to raise crucial funds for homeless veterans affected by the cost of living crisis.

Mannakin Hall is home to around 15,000 shop mannequins and operates from what was RAF Fulbeck as a mannequin hire business and film location.

Image courtesy of George Parish.

Where did the money go?

The money donated by people who heard about his fundraiser went directly to the Royal British Legion Industries, to help them provide military veterans with a home, welfare and employment support.

Though the thought of spending the night outside with mannequins might give some of us the chills, Jason just thought it added a little something extra, saying, “I had heard about Mannakin Hall through friends and thought the place looked perfect to add another dimension to a couple of nights under the stars – and when asked, the awesome Roz did not hesitate to give me permission to camp out there and support myself and the charity as well.”

If you’re interested in donating to Jason’s fundraiser you can do so on his Facebook Page. If you want to give directly to the RBLI, you can do so on their website.

Image courtesy of Jason Roffey.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Partnership for the Goals.


The company making nights safer for women and girls

From raising money for charity to helping the environment, these three businesses are making a difference in the world they live in in a number of unique ways.


Embridge Consulting is a digital consultancy that has supported various charities over the years. Currently, they are supporting Young Epilepsy with their 26 Miles in 26 Days challenge.

Embridge Consulting is aiming to raise £15,000 for Young Epilepsy for Purple Day which is on 26th March. Their whole team are aiming to walk, run, roll, or push 26 miles over the course of 26 days with the help of their family and friends, all to raise funds for Young Epilepsy.

So far, Embridge Consulting has raised over £12,000 for Young Epilepsy – and if you want to help out, you can donate on their JustGiving page.


Bunji Printing is a printing company which has recently become FSC accredited. This is quite rare – but FSC accreditation confirms that forests are being managed in a way that preserves biological diversity and benefits the lives of local people and workers while ensuring it sustains economic viability.

Only 5% of the world’s forests are protected by FSC certification – but companies that work with these forests and receive an FSC accreditation can be managed to ensure that their use of our earth’s precious resources is sustainable. 

Bunji is now encouraging other printing companies to make the move to receive their accreditation – to make the printing business more sustainable, and better for our planet.


Set up by Lisa Baskott, 2nd Line of Defence is the UK’s first female-focused recruitment agency for the private security sector. The goal of 2nd Line of Defence is to recruit more women into front-line security roles to make nighttime life safer for girls and women living in the UK. 

Currently, only 10% of door staff security are women – the aim of 2nd Line of Defence is to make women more visible on the doors of venues and ultimately change the perception of what it takes to be a door supervisor. Plus, they are really keen to get more women to sign up – so if you’re interested, take a look at their website.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Partnership for the Goals.