More Street Wisdom from Trafalgar Square by John & Charlie

john griffithsJohn Griffiths runs his research and planning consultancy Planning Above and Beyond. He also writes as the barefoot insighter for The Marketing Society blog and kindly told his Street Wisdom story there!

He say’s ‘Street Wisdom is picking up on some established ideas. Firstly that of the flaneurs – the movement of French intellectuals who would reflect on the world in the course of a long walk – often in urban environments. In recent years this has been drawn upon by the psycho-geographers – writers and journalists like Will Self and Ian Sinclair who used walking as a way of writing about the influence of history, culture and geography upon us.

It draws on the idea of pilgrimage – a spiritual and internal journey undertaken in parallel with a physical journey often taken on foot.

It clearly evokes the away day or brainstorm but a little more strenuous and inspiring giving the uncertainties of British weather. Why pay facilitators to inspire you to think out of the box when you can get up and walk out of the box for a few hours?’


Charlie Payne is a Community Engagement Officer for Teach First. She told her story on their community blog so we have reproduced it below for everyone else to enjoy.

Thanks Charlie.

Street Wisdom: what I learned from London’s streets today

This morning I took to the streets of central London in search of wisdom.

Before you ask, no – 6 months of doing community engagement at Teach First hasn’t driven me to abandon my shoes and sanity; I was taking part in an event run by Street Wisdom. I’m part of the team planning the London region’s ‘community immersion’ experience at Summer Institute this year, and want to make it both great and meaningful, so thought it only fair to experience some ‘immersion’ of my own and learn through doing. This is my story.

Street Wisdom based on a simple idea – that the environment and people around us are full of wisdom we largely overlook or ignore. By getting us out on the streets and immersed in the environment, Street Wisdom allows you to tune into the rich stimulus around you and learn. All you have to turn up with is a question or a problem you’d like some fresh answers to. As their strapline goes, answers are everywhere, you just have to ask. Sounds a bit like community engagement to me.

So having signed up online, this morning at 10am I arrived at our ‘starting point’ of Trafalgar Square. My first challenge was to find my group leader: Jim, I was told, was rather tall and in flip-flops and standing near the National Gallery. Looking around me at throngs of early-bird tourists (not many of whom, luckily, tall or in flip flops), I braced myself and set forth into the wilds of the West End.Street Wisdom

Having located Jim, I joined a group of five others and we introduced ourselves. All from different backgrounds and jobs, we were, I felt, united by our tentative curiosity. We began in pairs, with two short walks of three minutes each. On the first walk, we discussed our favourite street and why. On the second, we talked about where we had our best ideas. No one said at a desk or in a team meeting; more likely on the loo or on the treadmill. Slowly Jim was opening us up to the potential of finding answers in a new place.

Tune in to the street

The next part of the morning was about attuning us to the streets, sensitising us to be receptive to the stimulus of the streets, really being present. We did four 10-minute walks – wherever we liked – and for each, Jim gave us a different question to consider.

fountainThe first: find what attracts you and repels you. Putting aside all thoughts of tourist traps and Union Jack tat, my feet took me off. I found myself drawn to form – symmetry, lines and stonework. I was repelled by traffic and noise. I ended up standing faintly mesmerised in front of a huge portrait of Winston Churchill in the National Portrait Gallery.

The second: slow right down. A slow descent into Trafalgar Square, listening and watching to what was going on around me. I counted drowned pennies against the blue tiles of the fountains and watched litter bob on the water. I sat on the ledge of the fountain and watched people pose for photographs. After initial unease, I could’ve done another 10 minutes, I could feel some mental clouds clearing.

statueThird: what amuses you? I found a lonely traffic cone warning of nothing and then I chased some pigeons. I may have laughed out loud.

And finally: find the beauty in everything. Some of it was easy: the architecture around Trafalgar Square is stunning, the green of the trees luminous. Mostly, less so: I found myself in the dirty stairwell of Charing Cross Station: discarded fag butt, screwed up receipt, dirty tiles and worn paint. Somehow I found beauty in transit – thinking of all the feet that passed here over time, of journeys started and finished. Memories, rusty but not gone. I thought about all the stories.


charing x


 Walk your own path

40 minutes of attuning and sensitising complete, we then came back as a rather more alert group and it was time to focus on our question: what did we want the streets to help us answer? (Mine was, loosely about our community, and how I can support individuals’ engagement with the limits of their time and energy).

We then had 1 hour to walk, vaguely but not strictly in the direction of Piccadilly Circus, keeping our question at the forefront of our mind. Before we left, we were handed a post-it note with a location on it – to be opened strictly 20 minutes before we were due to meet. Off we all went again, lone foot soldiers of wisdom, one step at a time.

I’ll summarise the next hour as it’s largely in the tiny details and, frankly, you had to be there. But needless to say I made it to our destination on time and in one piece. I sought to see things differently – not ‘my London’. I lost track of time and sense of location – I am normally a walking human sat-nav so this was a new one!

Highlights: meandering around Leicester Square – a place I normally avoid at the best of times. I spent a wholly misguided few minutes in the M&Ms World Store (never been) before I was nearly asphyxiated by the smell of fake chocolate. I explored the backstreets of China town and watched a van-load of Durian fruit being unloaded. I browsed around a Chinese supermarket. I sat next to a German couple drinking coffee in Golden Square. I imagined walking down Carnaby Street in the 60s. I stood and watched some builders mixing concrete in Soho and listened to their thoughts on the right consistency, and David Moyes. Air Street, Beak Street, Bridle Lane, Great Windmill Street. Imagine.

Shared experience

An hour later I arrived at our recently disclosed destination and met everyone else who had been on the Street Wisdom event that morning – about 90 of us! We found our original groups and shared back the experience. This is a vital part of the Street Wisdom process, it was explained, that our individual experiences shed light on those of others and together offer a picture of the streets that we wouldn’t see ourselves. This was true – not one of us had walked the same path; the stories we told resonated but weren’t wholly shared.

Approaches varied. Some of us had spoken to lots of people. Others, like me, remained mute. One guy in our group had a question about opening his own café business. He had spent his hour in a hectic Polish deli and a noisy Italian café and had realised that his café, when it opened, would be no more a calm oasis than either but a happy island of chaos – that was just how it would be because that’s what he liked. Another woman in our group who was struggling getting the first scene of a play she was writing down, found a quiet church, where she found an opera singer rehearsing, with an audience of tired city workers eating their Pret sandwiches. As she put it, there are so many hidden gems for people to find inspiration in the city, if you scratch the surface.

We had all looked up and noticed things that we’d not seen before. It’s funny how we say we ‘know’ an area – can we ever, really? Isn’t there always going to be something new to see, to learn?  That, and the importance of being present, being in the moment, being open to what might happen and not presupposing an outcome. All of this I can apply – and must – to working with the Teach First community, as I do. I’ve a feeling this will help me keep my shoes and sanity.

Might it work for you? Could it help you understand the community you live or work in, or even to answer a question of your own? Have a go.

This morning I took to the streets of central London in search of wisdom. I returned to the Teach First office not necessarily with all the answers to how I can support community engagement in our region, but a lot clearer about approaching this, calmer, and – I suspect – a bit more wise.

Trafalgar Square, May 23rd 2014

Our BIG Street Wisdom event to mark the climax of “Wisdom Spring” was amazing.   Huge thanks to Georgina and of course our generous, Street Wiz volunteers who guided the groups through their experience.    A crowd of new-comers showed up as well as past ‘grads’ who were returning to go deeper and further.   As usual there were some great stories to tell. We have gathered together links to a selection of the blogs and feedback here.

SW drawing of inside head May '14

Simon Heath on his blog say’s ‘I’m not someone who is easily convinced. That I came away from Street Wisdom determined to tell everyone else about my experience and to encourage others to take part is testament to the unobtrusive facilitation, intelligent inquiry and transparent passion of David Pearl and his fellow travellers. A renaissance in thinking is under way.’

He was also good enough to draw the inner workings of his mind…

David D’Souza calls it  ‘ the best development event I have ever attended‘.   Again well worth a read.

Ian Sanders writes ‘I kept an open mind and saw how my surroundings gave me signals. Yes, ‘the street’ gave me a fresh direction on my work challenge; by looking around and being more mindful of my surroundings I was able to see things from a new perspective.’

He has kindly shot a Q&A with David as well.

Kate Griffiths-Lambeth writes ‘I found my time with Street Wisdom a powerful and positive experience, so much so that I spontaneously created a mini Street Wisdom session on Friday for two employees at work, whom I do not know well. I was aware that they both were struggling with different issues in their lives. I felt that they might benefit from time to give themselves space to think things out. It worked brilliantly, all three of us were glowing when we returned to the office and I was delighted to have been able to facilitate the experience for them.’

We had some lovely sketches to illustrate the experience.

SW drawing flower May '14

SW drawing invisible woman May '14

Then there is the post from Nick Hammond published here previously and  Natalie Marsland tells her full story below;

‘We all met in Trafalgar Square. I never really hang out in that area, I must say. But that’s where we would meet our group’s facilitator, Sarah Sansom. With a twinkle in her eye she sent us off on our various tasks, a 40 minute “warm up”, attuning with the environment, London’s streets.  We had been asked to prepare a question, not to find a yes/no kind of response, but an open question…I shall share mine with you.

I asked, “How can I stop fear blocking me from right action?”

A broad stroke but I meant to apply this question across life, love, career, and so I took to the streets once more to see what came back at me.  Using the techniques we had used in our “warm up”, I applied this to my quest. At first it felt a bit overwhelming, but I slowed myself down, kept an open approach to the whole thing and began to see Soho in a different light; the people, the patterns. Where were the answers going to spring from? I did not know…

I decided to take a seat in a church courtyard on Wardour. I went inside the gate and sat. I sat and I just stopped. My question was rolling around in my head, on a loop. It was really beautiful. I’d never been in here before; walked past it hundreds of times. There is so much greenery in London and I let myself be drawn to it.   So there I was sitting in the courtyard, and my gaze fell upon the open gate, which lead on to the street.

“The gates are open. You need to step through.” Um…ok.

That’s what came to me; I have no idea why. Anyway, I continued cruising into Soho and passed the comic bookshop on the corner of Berwick and something. Two books popped out at me, “Adventure Time” and “Beautiful Darkness”. Hmmm; noted.

Next I walked further up Berwick and just sat on a bench for a bit, waiting to feel drawn in a particular direction. I looked across the street and saw a new store was about to launch. It was totally covered in posters saying “Find Me My Mojo”.

My question began to refine itself…”How can I embrace fear and stop blocking right action?”

Again the question rolled around in my head.   By now I had found myself at the top of Carnaby. I was walking past some café chain and in the window two stickers, in succession, read –

YES to adventure; YES to what’s next.

From here I began to practically skip along to the final destination where we would all gather once more.  My last little gem was discovering Soho Radio…did you know this place existed? It’s a tiny coffee joint in front, radio station out back…neon signs, posters, rough around the edges. What a find!

Street Wisdom reaffirmed for me how I get the most out of life, how I access this toolbox. It’s funny because I actually practise what I would call Street Wisdom when I go travelling, yet back in London, the pace can take its toll.   But words, words, words on a page will never replace an actual experience.

All I can say is get involved. Answers are everywhere.’

Jim with his Street Wisdom crew

Nick Hammond, May23rd London

The Question I wanted an answer to –

‘How do I find the courage to do what I love, all of the time?‘

(or..increase the time I spend running Creative Thinking workshops, so that this becomes the thing that I do)


As we began, we saw the start of the Walking for Homeless People – Annual Pilgrimage, on the steps of St Martin in the Field. A pretty inspirational start to the day !!


I spoke with Pascal, busking in Trafalgar Square

I spoke to him because he looked like he had the conviction to follow his dreams.
He was inspirational – he talked about the positive power you create for yourself (and for other people) when you follow your dream


St James Park

I paused in St James’s Square

Despite having worked in London for 26 years , I was last in this garden 24 years ago

I saw that some parts of the garden were carefully tended and others left to grow wild. This meant to me that some plans need to considered carefully and other times, you just have ‘to go for it’


White Van

Inspiration from the White Van Man

Working on their own and without a company structure to support them. They just get on and do , what they do.



Inspired by Napoleon III

Who lived off St James’s Square prior to the 1848 Revolution and his return to Paris in that year. I imagine he must have felt a fair bit of excitement, energy (and some trepidation) in this house !!




Look down

Looking down, instead of Looking up

I have always sought a fresh perspective by ‘looking up’ in cities (this thought inspired my website – but this time I looked down. I found it helped focus my thoughts really well





different senses

Using Different Senses

Instead of looking and listening, I tried touching things. Perhaps the most under used Sense? This made me more sensitive to, and more aware of, my surroundings and my thoughts


Stephen Wiltshire MBE

Stephen Wiltshire MBE

Walking in a quiet arcade off Piccadilly, I found the gallery of Stephen Wiltshire. He paints marvellous, detailed pictures after seeing a location for a brief period of time only

On the video running in the window was the wonderful quote –

‘Find what you are best at… and do it all the time’

Stephen Wiltshire MBE 2








Art from Afganistan

First World Problems

Passing an art gallery focusing on Art from Afghanistan, I was reminded of wider problems in the world and how lucky we are – to express ourselves and pursue our dreams






Finding Space

Finding Space in the City

I learnt I could do this on a busy street or in an open place – It’s all about finding  space in one’s mind

Nick Hammond

Finding Time in the City

It is possible to take time out of the hurly burly , get some peace and be creative. Street Wisdom only lasted 2 hours but I felt I had been away for ages



What else did I learn?

(some of these from the fab post session in Grace Bar on Great Windmill St)

Grace Bar

  • Cities are not about buildings, but about the people who move between them
  • Everyone is on the move in cities. By standing still, even for a short while, you notice so much more
  • I started by looking at the buildings but ended up looking at the people – they are so much more interesting !!
  • Back streets are much more interesting than main streets
  • The initial simple ‘street sensitisation’ excercises really worked. By the time we addressed our individual questions, I felt relaxed and confident about asking the Street for answers.
  • I can really see how the process boosts sensitivity, awareness and our ability to solve problems

Go on a Street Wisdom session!!

I really can’t recommend it enough.

Something pretty special happened to me out there.

Nick Hammond @digital_filter ;

Street Wisdom coming to London, 23rd May

‘When can I go away again?’

For many of us, that’s the first question we ask as soon as we arrive home from vacation. Holidays are important to us. So important our national investment in holidays continued virtually unchanged right through the recent financial crisis. So in case you are just back from a lovely Easter away and are wondering about the next gap in the work, it’s May Bank holiday weekend.


But before you get our the diary and chequebook, as yourself two questions. Do you have to go away to get away? And does it have to cost money? At Street Wisdom we say a resounding no to both questions. We think there’s a refreshing and inspiring break waiting for you just outside your door. With a tiny shift of mindset and a bit of slowing down, the street you normally hurry through can become as fascinating as any exotic, distant location. And this particular trip costs absolutely nothing. At Street Wisdom you don’t pay fees you pay attention. To prove the point we are organising the largest Street Wisdom ever on Friday May 23rd. It starts at 1000 in and around Trafalgar Square and ends three hours later, when you share what you learned.

It’s a chance to start the weekend early and everyone’s invited; individuals, groups of friends, working teams, whole companies. It could be huge. Some people are calling it the Great British Bunk Off. For us, it’s a chance to take a deep breath before the May-hem begins, get new insights and really think about some of those questions we always hope we’ll get round to on holiday, but rarely do.

To attend this free event you must register here.