FLAARE: Helping disadvantaged kids imagine their future

For students in pupil referral units – a place for those children who struggle with mainstream education – success in a corporate world can be difficult. Perhaps that’s because of lower engagement with studies, or something else, but the effect remains the same: these students struggle to access the world of business.

Set up by Izzie Fernandes, FLAARE was an attempt to bridge a gap. With a background in corporate early talent recruitment, Izzie was used to kids coming into the corporate world from all over the place.

After volunteering with children on a community farm in South London, Izzie realised not all students are quite ready for the world of work by the time they leave school.

After some thought, Izzie came up with the idea of FLAARE – a way to give disadvantaged kids a leg up into the business world. Today, FLAARE CIC is a community creating access to entrepreneurial opportunities for young people from challenging and at-risk backgrounds.

An original, six-week pilot allowed students from a pupil referral unit to spend time in London with independent businesses. They went to workshops, listened to talks and, with the help of these small businesses and their owners, each had the opportunity to put together their own business plan. At the end of the six weeks, FLAARE provided £50 capital and gave the young people the chance to go out and turn that into a profit in their communities.

After the pilot, lifelong best friend Annie McCosker was brought on – both of them passionate about the lives and futures of young people, the two make a formidable duo; and one that will be making a difference for years to come.

“Our skills balance each other out very well in terms of what we both like to do and what we’re good at,” explains Annie.

“One has feet on the ground, one of us has a head in the clouds,” adds Izzie, with a laugh.

Now, the two work together on FLAARE – part community effort, part passion project, FLAARE has given these kids far more than just the chance to turn a profit.

“Every single student that we interviewed said they had a real sense of achievement and that they felt proud of themselves,” says Annie. “One of them said they wanted to go on and take business as a GCSE because of her having done FLAARE, and another said they wanted to carry on their first business from the enterprise.”

While FLAARE helps kids hit educational milestones, including integrating back into mainstream school if that’s what’s right for them, they are taking a new approach to the definition of ‘success’.

“What is success?” challenges Izzie, rightfully. “And can we just assume that everyone’s definition of success has to be a corporate nine-to-five office job? When I ask these young people from pupil referral units, ‘what do you want to do with your future?’, lots of them will be like, ‘I want to have my own business, I want to be a CEO, I’m going to be really rich’. And you’re like, ‘that’s really cool. But how?’

“The reality is, they were not yet ready to be brought into a corporate talent pipeline. But that doesn’t mean that they can never be a part of that. It just means there’s more that we need to do to engage with them.”

And, at FLAARE, engaging with what young people really want, is key. They have discovered that the traditional educational pipeline doesn’t work for everyone – particularly for kids who are already struggling with mainstream education. By working with what these young people are passionate about, and where their interests already lie, Izzie and Annie are helping to build a community of people that will support these kids in figuring out who they are, and where they want to go.

“My main observation was how well the students engaged in the project and their pride in their work… I think FLAARE did a great job in boosting their self-confidence and self-esteem,” reported Mr Ferrigan, a teacher at Haringey Learning Partnership.

Passion and fire

“We’re starting out, but we have a huge amount of passion and fire and time and energy for this,” says Izzie. “It is very much just the beginning and this will fly.”

“I think community is a really important word here,” says Izzie. “Get behind our mission, support young people, and those who are from these like tough backgrounds, those who are at risk. If you’re keen to support and you have skills in fundraising and raising the profile of this as a community through social media, let us know.”

Izzie and Annie are looking for people to get involved – whether that is fundraisers, facilitators and other volunteers, or brands to collaborate with. By getting onboard, you’re helping young people on the road to success – and helping them Find their FLAARE along the way.

If you’re interested in helping Izzie and Annie at FLAARE, you can donate to their GoFundMe, or get in contact via their Linktree, or using Instagram, TikTok, Facebook and YouTube.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Reduced Inequalities.


Why volunteering is so important

It’s Volunteers Week, which is probably one of our favourite times of the year at Smiley News! We’ve got a whole host of brilliant interviews, articles, and videos coming your way in celebration – and this one is just the beginning.

Sarrah Fatima has spent a large portion of her life volunteering for various organisations – and, since settling down in her career, still regularly makes time for volunteering and giving back.

“I have been volunteering since I was 16,” Sarrah tells Smiley News. “This first started because of a credit requirement for my school, but I enjoyed my time working there so much and found it so interesting to meet different people, who I otherwise may not have had an opportunity to interact with.”

After that, Sarrah volunteered for a variety of organisations including Cancer Research, Guide Dogs UK, and the Samaritans, before she settled with St Andrews Healthcare.

Sarrah first volunteered as a Volunteer Assistant Psychologist. Her work helped her find employment, and she continues to donate her time to St Andrews even now.

“I was finishing my BSc in Psychology and was looking for a way to gain experience in the field,” explains Sarrah. “Psychology can be very competitive and this was a great way to enter the field and have a guided introduction to the different professions in MDT and understand how wards work.”

How can you have an impact as a volunteer?

For Sarrah, volunteering is an incredibly valuable way to learn more about her line of work, and to get a broader outlook on life.

“It’s a great way to learn more about how to interact with patients and understand how staff work together to provide efficient and effective care,” she says. “It was invaluable in allowing me the opportunity to network with staff working in job roles I aspired to be in, so gave me a great chance to pick their brain and seek advice I otherwise would not have had access to.”

What is the impact of volunteerism?

Studies have shown that, not only is volunteering useful for the charities you’re helping, it also has an amazing effect on the volunteers! It helps to decrease stress levels, as well as alleviating depression and anxiety. The act of giving back and seeing the positive effects of your actions is great for boosting your self esteem.

Plus, if you’re volunteering in a sector related to your career, it can give so many more benefits. When it comes to volunteering, the best thing to do really is to jump right in, see what you can make of it and experience what an incredible impact you can have on the world.

“You have absolutely nothing to lose [by volunteering] and everything to gain,” says Sarrah. “Not only are you able to learn how to interact with different population groups but also get exposure to different working environments, roles and procedures. This networking opportunity is invaluable.”

Charity check-in 

At Smiley Movement, we like to elevate the work of charities across the world. Here are three charities whose causes align with the themes in this article.

The Brain Charity. The Brain Charity provides free support for carers, friends and family of people with any form of neurological condition, including ADHD. Support them here.

Ripple Suicide Prevention. R;pple exists to ensure immediate mental health support is presented to individuals following a harmful online search. Learn more here.

Campaign to End Loneliness. This charity campaigns to make sure that people most at risk of loneliness are reached and supported. Support them here.

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


The Gen-Zers volunteering for refugees

One of the biggest problems facing refugees is that once they are somewhere safe it can be incredibly difficult to find work. Luckily, a huge network of volunteers is coming together to change that.

At Smiley News, we have written about organisations helping refugees find work before – social enterprises like Nemi Teas are a great example of this. For BizGees, though, things are a little different.

BizGees is a social enterprise made up of volunteer professionals, helping refugees to build – and rebuild – relevant skills. The whole charity is steam-powered by volunteers who, in their professional lives, are pros at a specific vocational skill.

“The way we [work] is … to enable people to rebuild their skills and stay relevant in the job market,” explains Zufi Deo, Co-Founder at BizGees. “Our volunteers nurture a specific vocational skill that refugees can take with them into the job market afterwards.”

This week is National Volunteers Week, organised by NCVO – a whole week dedicated to showcasing the incredible volunteers that keep organisations like these ticking over. Without volunteers, so many charitable organisations wouldn’t be able to operate, and we would be much worse off for it.

Volunteering with BizGees is aimed at Gen-Zers, primarily students and young professionals, who are eager to give back to people in need of a helping hand. Many of these volunteers are in the perfect place to teach others important, employable skills, having just recently learned themselves.

The main goal of BizGees isn’t to find fast and easy, low-paying work for refugees in need, but to equip them with the tools they need to build a better life for themselves. By giving them a few months to work with volunteers, finding what they are good at, and passionate about, and then teaching them how to market that, BizGees are helping people to create long-term solutions.

On why young people are so important to the world of volunteering, and why they are so keen to give back, Zufi answered, “I think it’s just how young people are … we’re finding that we are very engaged in volunteering. I think it’s also a sign of the times where we are much more socially engaged in other than before.”

Volunteering is such an amazing way to spend your time, not only because it helps you give back to people and charities in need, but because it helps you as a person, too. Studies have shown that people struggling with mental health problems like depression and anxiety felt symptoms alleviate when volunteering.

Plus, volunteering with those from different walks of life than yourself is always good – it gives you the opportunity to broaden your horizons, to understand the importance of diversity.

“It was very emotionally engaging because I started volunteering with big-ish foundation and learning about homeless people,” says Zufi, of his own experience with volunteering at the start of his career. “I got the opportunity to see what they’re about, rather than the perception you have. … Just by volunteering, you learn so much more about the kinds of issues that are going on.” 

If you want to learn more about BizGees and how to volunteer with them, you can do so on their website. If you want to learn more about National Volunteers Week, you can find out more on the website, or by visiting the NCVO site.

Charity check-in 

At Smiley Movement, we like to elevate the work of charities across the world. Here are three charities whose causes align with the themes in this article.

Reach Volunteering. The leading skills-based volunteering charity in the UK, Reach connects people, skills and good causes. Find out more here.

Small Charity Week. Come together and celebrate small charities all across the UK. Support them here.

NCVO. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations – championing the remarkable role of charities and volunteers. Learn more here.

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


‘There’s power in nature’: Empowering children to engage with our planet

With knowledge comes power – and this applies to little more than it does climate action. While many people, particularly young people, are becoming concerned about the state of our planet, it can be hard to know what we can do to help.

This is where Jess and Bethia come in. Parents and neighbours with a passion for the planet, Jess and Bethia got talking and decided that, if no one else was going to step up, then they would.

Founded in 2020, their CIC – Planet & Peopleworks to positively engage schools in climate action. This is mainly done through workshops and assemblies to help them think about the environment in their every day, and help leave their children with passion, and hope, for the future of the planet.

“We knew we had found something really powerful and important, we wanted to get the message out,” explains Jess Carter, one half of Planet & People. “We felt like it wasn’t something schools were particularly able to do right now … they don’t really have the resources or have the time in their schedules to include environmental stuff.”

Before Planet & People, Jess was an environmental professional, while Beth taught Geography for 13 years – making them pretty much perfect for helping kids understand our climate.

“I have been lucky enough to experience the natural value all around us for a long time and have my eyes open to what’s here; not just in the rural environment, but everywhere,” explains Jess. “Our lives are absolutely dependent on how we look after the natural world … I think, more and more as we see the climate crisis come to light, you see that we’ve really got to do something. It’s no longer just for experts. It’s for everybody. We really need to play our part.”

In its simplest form – the mission of Planet & People is to empower people to make change for a better future. They’re doing that in the best way that they can; by teaching children, who are the custodians of our planet’s future, along with families and businesses, who have such a huge effect on our world.

Much of Planet & People involves Jess and Bethia going into schools, where they run workshops that find fun, empowering and inclusive ways to engage young people and children with the environment.

“We’ve developed a workshop series called the Planet Action workshops … and it kind of came from COP26,” says Jess.

“We did a workshop called Speak Up, which was about how to get young people to use their voices and be part of the climate change conversation. Since then, we’ve come up with loads of really positive environmental workshops, which can call people to action and inspire young people to make a difference in their own lives, whether it’s at school or at home. So that young people really can have a voice and can make a difference.”

In the last year and a half, Planet & People CIC have delivered these workshops to over 7000 children in the Devon area – making a difference in thousands of lives, and a ripple effect that will benefit the whole planet.

Bridging the gap between primary schools and climate change, the aim of Planet & People is to talk about hope and positivity. Eco-anxiety is so real, even among children, and Jess and Bethia want to do everything they can to help give these children hope that they can make a difference, as long as they are given the right information.

“Eco-anxiety is like any other type of anxiety – just break it down and realise that there’s power in nature,” says Jess. “We just need to enjoy what we’ve got.”

If you want to support Planet & People CIC, you can do so by hitting the donate button on their website

This article aligns with the UN SDG Climate Action.


‘Story slam’ event has a donation twist

Something Smiley News likes to do is tell stories with a purpose, highlighting organizations and individuals trying to do good in the world or their communities.

PWPVideo is very similar in that they try to tell stories that have a purpose.  

“At PWPvideo we tell stories for a living,” they write. “We’re ‘Video with a Mission’ and we specialize in telling the stories of people on a mission to make the world a better place. It is part of our DNA to give back to the community in which we live and work.”

It’s a for-profit corporation, working as a certified B Corp, but its main focus is on organizations doing good, non-profit or otherwise.

“Our primary focus has, for many years, been nonprofits but as we entered the B Corp world, we also started to focus on other sustainable organizations,” PWP Founder, Michael Schweisheimer tells Smiley News. “And we create all video-based communication pieces for organizations like that, but depending on what they need they tend to range from educational videos to PSAs.”

PWPVideo also works to give back to the community helping tell their stories. One of the biggest ways they do that is with their event, Mission Story Slam.

Mission Story Slam – what is it?

Mission Story Slam is an event they host an event where they invite people to come and tell their stories. Storytellers compete by telling a 5-minute true story on a theme. A panel of 3 judges selects the best story to win a $250 donation to their favorite nonprofit. The audience also votes for the crowd favorite story to win a $100 donation.

Storytelling events became very popular in the area around PWPVideo in Philadelphia through organizations like First Person Arts and they wanted to use the popularity and bring people together.

“So we just combined the two things and we go out to a bar that has really good beer and tell stories with friends,” PWPVideo producer and Mission Story Slam co-founder, Dave Winston, tells Smiley News.

“As human beings, we have done that around the campfire since we crawled down out of the trees, so that was kind of like combining the commerce of what we do with the desire to really build community among people we share values with.”

They hold the event twice a year and they view it as a bonding event for community members and people that are part of a non-profit to come together. They also record the stories that people tell and post them online for them to share hopefully bringing some spotlight to the causes they’re trying to cover. 

“Sometimes we need to take a break and, and share in our successes or maybe even talk a little bit about our challenges and failures sometimes and it’s really energizing,” Michael says. “It’s a very energizing night.”

They’ve since expanded their offerings to something like a Mission Story Salon, inspired by Jeffersonian Dinners where people get together and discuss a specific guest of honor or topic. 

They also have a podcast where they try to cover people who have been through the Story Slam.

“That was something where we were looking for more shareable content,” Dave says. “To give everybody who comes out an opportunity to tell their story, taking a five-minute story you’re telling and here’s a half an hour to go deeper into it.”

Michael is happy to be where he’s at today.

“At PWP we’re very lucky that well, we also create our own luck, we do good work, I’m very proud of the work that we do and the team that we’ve put together in our 20 years,” he says.

Check out First Person Arts and Mission Story Slam more if you’re interested and maybe look to start a storytelling night in your community.

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


Savimbo helps small farmers get paid for conservation

Conservation isn’t always available to people in developing countries from a mix of financial needs, and a reliance on the land to survive. And while there are conservationists in those places they are often underpaid if paid at all for their work. 

That’s something that Savimbo hopes to put an end to while empowering subsistence farmers and conservationists. 

The founder, Drea Burbank, was inspired to start Savimbo after speaking with some people during a trip to Colombia.

“I met five medicine doctors here and they asked me how to stop the deforestation on their lands,” Drea tells Smiley News. “We did a pro-social, but then when we looked at the economics, you’re like, wow, we can actually do something here.

“So we started to Savimbo on their behalf.”

The way that it works is that Savimbo helps direct funds, or monthly ‘micropayments’ to farmers in developing areas for doing conservation work – like looking out for carbon and cutting back on detrimental techniques and pollution. 

“We work specifically with small farmers, and almost nobody in the market does,” Drea says. “They’re not considered a viable economy. But our philosophy is that you can’t control logging only at the corporate level. You have to control it on the level of the locals and to do that they have to be economically incentivized.”

Logging in general is incredibly damaging in developing nations, particularly in regions of the world like the Amazon.

Between 2010 and 2020, South America lost an average of 2.6 million hectares of forest per year, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. In other words, the continent lost an area of forest the size of Ecuador in the space of a decade.

“The data shows that when you control industrial logging if you don’t also account for a small farmer logging, they make up the difference,” Drea says.

Essentially, what this means is that even if industrial logging is moderated and controlled, if the illegal loggers don’t have the incentive to stop they’ll actually make up for any positive impact otherwise. 

“So the illegal logging then takes over so like in Brazil, the illegal logging or small farmer logging was like 30%,” Drea says. “And then when [the government] controlled corporate logging, they went up to 60%.”

Some of the people that helped Drea start Savimbo in Colombia have been working on conservationism for years with little to no financial incentive until she brought in the economic side of things. Neither of them speaks English, nearly shutting them out from the global stage.

“One of the big problems with the current market is small farmers can’t participate because the science is too complicated and it’s all in English,” Drea says. “And so we basically brought in the science part to help them scale and then we pay them on a micropayment, and then we sell carbon credits internationally. So it’s like Fairtrade coffee.”

And going back to the start of it, through Savimbo, Drea just wants to empower and shine a light on people that don’t get a lot of press on the global stage.

“I want people to see small farmers in the tropical forests as being a powerful independent nation-state with naturalist intelligence,” Drea says. “I want them to see a powerful equal group. And I don’t want them to see small farmers as weak or poor or anything because they’re not they are some of the most pragmatic, honest, hardworking people I know, and highly intelligent.

“And if we can’t learn to value them, we don’t value what they value.”
If you want to learn more definitely check out some of their social media like their TikTok which just shows people going about their day.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Climate Action .


The US public figures defending LGBTQ+ rights

States around the US are introducing anti-LGBTQ+ bills at an alarming and unprecedented rate. In response, public figures are stepping up to defend the principle of equality across all sexes, genders and sexual orientations.

According to the ACLU, there are over 480 active anti-LGBTQ+ bills in progress across the country. The new legislation is levelled at drag performances, gender-affirming care, bathroom accessibility for trans people, and more. 

The onslaught came to a head in Montana, where the House of Representatives made headlines weeks ago for banning trans representative Zooey Zephyr from attending or speaking during floor sessions. The decision came after she spoke out against the anti-trans Senate Bill 99 that the House was trying to pass.

The representative has since spoken out about other laws targeting the queer community, arguing that Republicans have created an LGBTQ+ “boogeyman” to hide legislative injustices in other parts of society, including the housing crisis, the cost of living crisis other and systemic injustices. 

“There is such a deep, deep housing crisis in our state that needs serious solutions across the gamut,” Zephyr told PinkNews. “What we saw throughout the session is that Republicans were not interested in the breadth of legislation necessary to address the crisis. You saw deregulation, you saw development encouragement for market rate and higher developments. 

“Not a lot done for renters, not a lot done for homebuyers. I think when they bring those anti-LGBTQ+ bills, they’re doing it because when you turn to the issues impacting Montanans in their day-to-day life, you don’t have answers.”

Zooey has been actively standing up for LGBTQ+ rights in her state and others, even working out of the House’s hallway when she was no longer allowed in the chamber.

Speaking up across the States

Elsewhere, other representatives are also stepping up. They include Nebraskan Senator Machaela Cavanaugh, who for a period, before being superseded by other members, obstructed every bill that came before the legislature if they included anti-trans laws. 

“If this legislature collectively decides that legislating hate against children is our priority, then I am going to make it painful — painful — for everyone,” she said.

On a wider scale, the Biden administration has pushed to make a change to Title IX which bans sex-based discrimination in education that would make broad bans against trans students partaking in sports aligning with their gender identity illegal. 

“Every student should be able to have the full experience of attending school in America, including participating in athletics, free from discrimination,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “Being on a sports team is an important part of the school experience for students of all ages.”

Even though things are a little tenuous right now there are people all over the US fighting for LGBTQ+ rights. 

Charity check-in

At Smiley Movement, we like to elevate the work of charities across the world. Here are three charities whose causes align with the themes in this article.

American Civil Liberties Union. This is one of the largest civil liberty defense organizations in the US. Find out more and support them here

Human Rights Campaign. This is one of the largest equality-focused organizations in the US. Find out more
The Trevor Project. They focus on suicide prevention and mental health support for queer youth. Support them here.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Reduced Inequalities.


Upcycling dog toys for pups in need

Dogs are known as man’s best friend, but they aren’t always treated that way. According to the ASPCA, over 3 million dogs enter the shelter system each year. That doesn’t account for dogs that are mistreated in the home, families that struggle to afford their pets, and homeless dogs. 

There are people out there that want to help these dogs find some sense of comfort. One place is Glad Dogs Nation

Glad Dogs Nation is an upcycling dog toy brand that runs a non-profit in the US to help dogs in need and provide volunteer opportunities. It was founded by Marianne Ahern, who, along with her husband fostered dogs regularly – about 150 in total.

Through the fostering system, she became aware of the things dogs were going through and how much need was out there… so she got to work on making a potential solution.

“I just was mad at the world and finally decided I had to come up with some kind of positive way to address this,” Marianne tells Smiley News. “I really saw the problem as lack of spaying and neutering, a lack of awareness, a lack of desire, and so I wanted to do something that could raise money to get that message out there.”

One thing they did was find discount toys through yard sales – since they couldn’t afford brand-new toys for every foster dog at their house – and that’s where the baseline idea for Glad Dogs Nation was born.

“I started thinking maybe there’s a way I could make those secondhand toys safe, because I knew that I had to watch my dogs carefully when I gave them to them,” she says.

Eventually, she started selling the upcycled dog toys to other people to fund her wider goals. “I sell them to people who love their pets and I can use all of the proceeds to go to spaying and neutering so I can tackle this problem – I can approach it from a position of love and make a difference,” she says.

Marianne quickly pivoted to more tangible goals, so they started offering volunteer opportunities, education, and more.

“We are still focused on spaying and neutering,” she says. “We help people or organizations that are running, spay and neuter programs and we’ll incentivize them so they get more participation.

“But we also provide free food to shelters and rescues, we provide free toys that we upcycle to shelters and rescues, and we provide dog houses to dogs that are forced to live outside.”

Over the years, Glad Dog Nation has donated thousands of toys to pups in need.

“Last year we helped 120 different organizations, either through toys or supplies or funds. This year already we’ve shipped boxes of donated toys to 34 organizations,” Marianne says.

If you want to help support Glad Dogs Nation more check out their stitch kits which send out the tools for others to make dog toys.

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


This woman wants to combine conservationism and social change

Working to improve the environment can be incredibly complicated. In developing countries around the world, many rely on things that may be otherwise considered environmentally irresponsible – like clearing out a forest or using coal for power.

To get around this, conservationists have been working to improve the living conditions of the people in these regions, along with the needs of the flora and fauna. 

This is overwhelmingly true for Brazil, home to the Amazon Rainforest, has some of the most biodiversity on the entire planet – with over 3 million separate species in the rainforest.

But the Amazon is also under threat and nearly 20 percent of the forest has been cleared over the last 50 years. One person working on helping avoid that, while also educating people about socio-environmental connections, is Nayara Castiglioni.

Nayara has worked on a handful of grassroots campaigns, centering around youth voices and helping people learn about connecting conservation with social causes and needs. 

For Nayara, getting involved in this type of work was relatively simple. 

“I’m simply doing things for myself and my surroundings, but also connecting and really helping people, acknowledging that, yes, we do have the power within ourselves,” she tells Smiley News.

“And if we know the right tools, and if we get involved in the right places, we definitely can create change.”

That drive led her to work with a youth-led NGO focused on empowering the youth in Brazil.

“They raise awareness for young people all over Brazil on, not just environmental, but also political tools and ways to get involved and participate in decision making,” Nayara says. “And it’s raising this awareness that we can create the change we want to stay within our lives, within their communities, and within our world.”

Now she works as a Program Associate on Global Fund for Children’s Americas team, supporting the Partnership to Educate All Kids (PEAK) initiative in Brazil and Colombia.

PEAK helps local organizations sustain or expand their work, ensuring children are able to access education and return to classrooms. It also provides financial support and capacity development to 66 community-based organizations, reaching 100,000 children around the world.

This is the first time Nayara has worked with kids, but it has brought a fresh perspective on all the other work she’s been doing, she says.

“It’s been really amazing to connect with these community leaders in the front line of those amazing organizations that are creating a lot of change,” Nayara says. “And enabling the kids not just on fun activities and play, but also learning and understanding their roots, their ancestry, and how all of those help into making you a better human.”

All this to say that Nayara wants to bring conservation and the social sector into one to help improve both sides and ideally, expand potential impact.

“I think about acknowledging our power, and I felt like I was this person who was thinking about the things that I could do,” Nayara says. “And it was just, it was very small-scale.”

But it doesn’t matter how small-scale the changes you make are, she realized. “I discovered that yes, even small actions can create a lot of change and how we, as a collective with individual actions, promote positive change.”

This article aligns with the UN SDG Climate Action.


Guerilla Gardening: planting without permission – but with purpose

Guerrilla gardening is direct action where people plant in public places – with purpose, usually without permission.”

Guerrilla gardening is a phenomenon that has been around since the 1600s, but has rapidly grown in popularity

For Ellen Miles, guerrilla gardening is an innately positive thing – about reclaiming public land and making a difference to the world we are living in. That’s why she set up Dream Green.

Ellen began Dream Green during lockdown as a way to get out into nature, but also to transform her concrete London Borough into something green. Dream Green is all about encouraging and enabling people to get involved with the guerilla gardening movement, to make our world a little greener.

“I have lived in Hackney my entire life, you know, born and raised, I live there now,” says Ellen. “I never really felt like I truly belonged, until I started doing this. I felt like a bit of a ghost floating through my neighbourhood – and like nobody else actually interacts with it or impacts it.”

It’s been well-documented that nature is good for your mental health – as is community. Dream Green is a movement that brings those things together, to help you bond with those in your world, and in your community.

“Guerilla gardening is a way of people being able to be active citizens,” explains Ellen. “What that really means is having a sense of ownership – which translates into a sense of belonging.”

One of the big questions Ellen often hears is – isn’t this illegal? While it may sound dodgy initially, the truth is that guerilla gardening exists in a sort of liminal space in law. It isn’t against the law, but it’s worth being careful if it’s something you decide to practice.

For those who are keen to start practising guerrilla gardening but are concerned about pitfalls such as these, Ellen’s new book Get Guerrilla Gardening is available for pre-order now! The definitive guide to guerrilla gardening, this book will teach you to dream green – and give back while you’re at it.

“A lot of people kind of defines guerilla gardening as being like, mischievous or naughty,” explains Ellen. “Actually, it’s not [just] cool because it’s breaking the rules. It’s cool because it’s creating its own rules, it’s trying to end the rules that say, ‘we can’t do this’.

“It’s cool because it’s doing something meaningful and purposeful. It’s not just about like, trying to feel rebellious as like an individual.”

On the Dream Green website, there are plenty of guides that can help you get started with guerilla gardening, helping to guide you through the pitfalls that can plague you when starting a new hobby (if you get imposter syndrome when you’re starting a hobby, you’re not alone!). 

There’s even a brilliantly handy guide on how to make ‘seed bombs’ (disclaimer: no actual explosives are involved). These are small contraptions mostly made of soil and seeds, that you can toss onto the ground where plants can grow, before sitting back and watching mother nature do all the work.

Through Dream Green, Ellen is encouraging people to get involved with their community, and their planet – to get their hands dirty and, for their own mental health as much as anything else, give back. You can guerilla garden alone, or you can do it together, with friends, families, or complete strangers that are just as passionate about the climate as you are. 

Whoever you choose to embark on this journey with, it is purposeful, and intentional, and is making a difference – and in what can be a stressful and confusing world, what is better than that?

“Things like climate change can feel very intangible and insurmountable and way too abstract and complex and big for us to tackle,” Ellen admits. “And the only stuff we can do in the face of it seems just like not doing stuff. Like, not taking a flight, not eating meat. I just feel like it’s limiting.”

“With guerilla gardening, it’s like a positive action you can take; you can see it, you can do it. And you immediately see the positive impact you’ve [made] with your actions, your own two hands.”

If you want to learn more about Ellen and Dream Green, you can do so on the Dream Green website. If you want to buy Ellen’s new book Get Guerrilla Gardening: A Handbook To Planting in Public Places, you can pre-order it on the DK website!

Charity check-in 

At Smiley Movement, we like to elevate the work of charities across the world. Here are three charities whose causes align with the themes in this article.

Every Can Counts. This is a not-for-profit recycling programme, encouraging people to recycle more often, to protect our planet. Support them here.

Trees For Cities. They are working to plant more trees within large metropolitan areas, for the betterment of people and planet. Support them here.

Climate Reframe.  Climate Reframe is committed to supporting the climate and environment movement in its transformation towards greater justice, equity, diversity and inclusion (JEDI). Find out more.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Climate Action.