Forward Foundation


Storytelling worlds collide

New ideas don’t generally happen when we sit at our desk and clock on. And, we’re all for the collision of worlds or influences to spark a change in how we do things. Hence our latest workshop…


Last week we convened our partners along with a couple of storytelling experts from the worlds of advertising, film and photography to inspire some fresh approaches to their communications. 

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” (Henry Ford, American founder of Ford motor company)

Our partners are innovating in their approach to supporting young people - we want to help them do the same in their digital storytelling. The social sector can learn a lot from professional storytellers and marketeers, as we found out…

“I’m going to give you two conflicting ideas. Don’t be generic and stick to a template”

said David, who came at storytelling from the two different worlds of advertising and film. He took us back to the basic structure of stories.

The workshop was part theory, part practical, and included a session on visual storytelling from Photographer, James Bryant who drew out opportunities that lie within a digital approach to photography. We asked everyone to sum up the morning in one word…


We’d like to share four broad insights to come out of the session:

1. Don’t be generic. 

In advertising you’re looking to catch people off guard and show them something they haven’t seen before. Develop your own style, but make sure you roll it out across all of your storytelling so it becomes synonymous with your brand and organisation. Build a strong identity. This could be your own content or content you are curating. 

2. Stick to a template. 

There is no such thing as new story, in terms of narrative structure. Broadly speaking, regardless of medium, all stories will follow the three-act structure and will contain six elements;


Though a story’s narrative should always be cohesive, the form can be mixed up. Eg-  You can give different weight to different elements. And don’t have to dwell on the weakness to build tension and make a story compelling. (Nb. The hero doesn’t have to be one person. It can be a group, a cause.)

3. Opportunity lies within curation. 

You don’t have to have your own work to have a strong brand. You can find and create stories within existing content. With the likes of instagram, Storify and Pinterest  for example - curation is a strong card. One which also allows for lots of user-generated content. 

4. Alternative approaches to photography. 

Examples given by Photographer, James of digital approaches to visual storytelling were; Juxtaposing images, layer text over images, or even just cropping an image in a certain way changes its story. As a really quick example, we played around with a couple of photos from the workshop and a post-it note (below)


A few sources of inspiration shared during the workshop:

Destroyed Moby - An example of inventive visual storytelling

This American Life  - a non fiction, journalistic radio show. (A great example of storytelling)

Dronestagram  - A different approach to photography (a conceptual news report)

The Jonny Cash Project  - Group storytelling & user generated content 

All of our partners are facing their own storytelling challenges, a few of which were thrown up during the workshop, and our next step is to help them find inventive ways of solving those. Watch this space!

Back on dry land


by Mike Butcher

Last month I wrote here about the prospect of canoeing the length of the non-tidal River Thames to raise money for Fight for Peace. For two months I cycled over the River to work and looked upon that murky water with genuine fear of what I’d signed myself up for. Well, it turns out I had good reason.

The long journey from Lechlade in Gloucester to Teddington, west London equates to 137 miles. That’s 25 miles per day for an average of nine hours a day. The average speed of a two-person canoe is between three and four miles per hour, which is about walking speed. However, to get that pace, you need to expend a lot more energy than when walking.


By day two I was seriously wondering whether we would make it. With the wind in our faces, somewhere outside Abingdon, I looked over to the riverbank to see two ramblers pulling away into the distance - a bit of a low point. Added to that, the strain that the repetitive motion puts on your neck, shoulders and upper back is something I won’t forget in a hurry.

There were a couple of hairy moments in there for good measure; we overshot our campsite near Oxford by over two miles, and pitched up for the night in a pub beer garden. We also dragged our canoes quarter of a mile in a pouring rain to get to our campsite in Wallingford, not ideal after a 26-mile stint. But of course, it’s not a real challenge until you’re at breaking point.

Now that I’ve had time to reflect on such a bizarre experience, I feel immensely proud of the team that completed the 137 miles. Not once did anybody complain or say they wish they hadn’t taken it on - no matter how often we might have been thinking it.

Our team spirit was pretty impeccable. When you spend that much time in such close proximity you inevitably become good friends, and it was just as satisfying to see the expression on their faces as it was to reach the end myself. The image of us crossing the finish line in ‘W’ formation is one I’ll remember for a long time.


Of course, this wasn’t our primary motivation. As a team, we raised around £7,500 for Fight for Peace, a figure we’re still adding to.

Cycling back over the bridge now, I’ll look over the River a little differently. You’re a mean old daddy, River Thames, but I like you fine.

A big shout out goes to Guy Fisher at Henley Canoe Hire, The Kings Arms at Sandford and Phil the lock-keeper at Boveney Lock; without their help we would have been scuppered!

"We are one tribe. We are Kenyan" from Forward Foundation on Vimeo.

Meet the street youths of Eldoret and the man, Samuel, who's determined to restore some equality and give them a brighter future.

"They say there's a ladder of success in life. When i look at street youths. They haven't even seen that ladder. They haven't even approached where it's started." (Samuel, Founder of Tumaini)

Tumaini helps young people to abandon street life:

Read founder, Samuel’s Inspiring story on our website.

3 years of working with MAC-UK!

We first met MAC-UK in 2011. Founder Dr. Charlie Howard is an exceptional social entrepreneur and her team’s approach is shaking up the way mental health support is delivered.


Here are the many ways we have worked together over the last three years…

Autumn 2011 - We provided a grant for their ‘Mini MAC’ project, which took mental health promotion into Schools, Pupil Referral Units and Young Offender Institutions through lyric writing, DJing and beat making. We spoke to Mini-MAC’s Youth Motivator and Sound Engineer, Dreamer.

Winter 2012 - PR Expert, Jo Ganly provided support to Charlie and Louise supported the team with their HR set up. 

Spring 2013 - We created a new website for MAC-UK to help communicate and promote their work.

Summer 2013 - We provided a second grant to enable them cement their foundations as a social enterprise. It helped them to triple the number of young people reached in the next three years, and to achieve the bold vision of making street-based mental health work the status quo across the UK.

Autumn 2013 - MAC-UK celebrated their fifth birthday at Forward with lots of live performances!

Winter 2013 - MAC-UK’s clinical lead, Olive goes on Discovery; a one-week development programme we’ve created that enables leaders to gain new perspectives on their leadership and organisations.

Summer 2014 - MAC-UK are making bigger and bigger waves. They are currently training young people to become mental health trainers themselves. Larger organisations are also seeking their services, which, along with the foundation of a training academy, is steadily making MAC-UK a self-sustaining organisation.

The next 3 years…

We’re pleased to have been able to play a part in MAC-UK’s journey so far. They’ve come a long way, and we look forward to seeing where they are in another three years’ time.

Read our interview with founder, Dr Charlie Howard to hear how it all started for MAC-UK. 

"It’s young people that have sparked all the eureka moments" says Charlie

We first met MAC-UK founder, Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Charlie Howard in 2011. She instantly stood out. An exceptional social entrepreneur with a vision to revolutionise the way mental health support is being delivered…


We had a chat with Charlie to catch up on the last few years and find out how they’re doing now…

Forward Foundation: When you set out, you wanted to use a youth-led approach to make mental health accessible to excluded young people. Was there a specific time or a ‘eureka’ moment that you can remember that sparked your approach?

Dr. Charlie Howard: We developed our model from the ground up by working with young people, and the whole inspiration for what we do has come from a whole load of eureka moments that have come through conversations with young people and working with young people themselves. They’ve been the inspiration.

I never set out to set up an organisation but it happened because of the young people I met and the need that I saw and the ideas that they generated in me to make things better. It’s young people that have sparked all the eureka moments and continue to do so.

FF: What’s been the most significant change since we first met you in 2011?

CH: When we met you in 2011 we had eight staff, now we’ve got over 30.

The most significant change for me personally happened in May this year when I stopped being the chief executive, and I’m now the founding director. I still have a role with MAC UK, but I’m also working with things on the agenda of transforming mental health services, trying to open the door higher up at a strategic level to make way for MAC UK’s work and approaches.

MAC UK is now run day to day by the COO and the head of finance. That’s a significant organisational shift and one that I’m really proud of; the organisation is now sustaining itself without me on a day-to-day basis.

FF: Was there a moment where you thought ‘We’ve done it’? Are you content with where you and MAC-UK are at?

CH: So far, MAC UK has achieved everything that it wanted to achieve. That’s not to say we haven’t made mistakes, but they’ve enriched our learning. I guess our biggest ambition was to set up four projects, and to do it in absolute genuine partnership with the NHS and local councils in four areas (of London). This was massively ambitious, and we’ve achieved it; the fourth and final project starts in November.

The three that are running are going well, and are starting to get statistical research findings coming out of them which say that we’re not only meeting high-level unmet needs, but by using the ‘Integrate’ model that we created, we’re reducing that need by 30% in terms of mental health.


FF: In what way has Forward Foundation’s most recent grant affected MAC-UK?

CH: Forward Foundation’s most recent grant has funded us to do two things. One was to put in place an IT system that was fit for purpose, and it has honestly transformed the organisation. We used to have clinicians spending hours trying to fix computers and we were falling over ourselves because we didn’t have a centralised system.

The other part of the grant was to employ a start up director, because we’re founding a youth-led training school, learning from MAC UK and its partners to scale by training people across the country in the integrate approach that we’ve created.. The idea is that the training school would generate revenue and become the tool to self-sustain everything.

FF: If you were carrying out another interview with me in one year’s time, what would you be hoping to say? 

CH: I’d be hoping to say that the academy is up and running, and that it’s co-owned across a number of organisations, and that it’s rolled out training to at least 1,000 front line professionals.

FF: What’s the hardest part of your job these days?

CH: I think it’s finding out what my ongoing relationship is with MAC UK, and the fact that it runs day to day without me, but I care deeply about what happens to it. It’s knowing when to voice an opinion, and when that opinion’s useful, and then when to step back because other people need to lead.

FF: Conversely, what makes you happy about work on a Friday evening?

It’s seeing the change that our work makes. That might be like hearing an example of something that might have happened that day that was tangible to a young person from one of our therapists; that’s what makes it the most exciting of all.

The other thing that makes me excited is seeing things change at a policy level. For instance, mental health is now part of the mayor’s office for police and crime strategy, and it wasn’t six months ago. Seeing that change at both the front line and at the policy level together makes me really excited.

Take a look at the many ways we worked with MAC-UK over the last three years. 

How to raise money? Get The Pennies in.


Psst. I’ll let you in on what’s been keeping me up at night. Two weeks from now, I’ll be somewhere along the River Thames, sat in a canoe, tired, hungry and sore as hell, trying to encourage nine other people that we can make it to London.

Starting in Lechlade, Gloucestershire on August 29th, we’ll be canoeing the length of the Thames all the way back to the capital. That’s an agonising 137 miles in six days. Ah yes, I’ve never really canoed before either - unless paddling about in Pugneys, Wakefield counts.

But I’ve just realised that none of that matters, actually. In fact, it’s the thing I’ve been most looking forward to since I started working with Forward Foundation back in March, and I’m planning on raising a ton of money for an unbelievable charity in the process. Fight for Peace are an employability and mixed martial arts training charity based in Woolwich, and after working with them first hand, I couldn’t be happier to be taking this on.

What makes it even better is that because the task at hand is going to be so difficult, it’s been easy to raise awareness of Fight for Peace, and also to ask people to donate.

And how have I done that? Some of the more tried and tested methods; promoting an online giving page, contacting aunties and uncles, and selling some old rugby shirts has worked a treat. But I was always going to need a big event if I wanted to hit a big target.

Sometimes, exploiting your talents (or if you’re shy, your friends’ talents) is the best way of raising money. So on Saturday night, my band, The Pennies made the journey from West Yorkshire to make our first ever appearance in London.

We’re a soul and funk outfit, and we’ve been together, on and off, for about seven years now. In that time, we’ve had the opportunity to play some of our all-time favourite songs to our favourite people, and we’re incredibly grateful for that.

Nights like Saturday are pretty special to me, and to be able to raise money for such a great charity whilst playing to a room full of people dancing reminds me how lucky I am.

I’ll let you know how our attempt to canoe the Thames goes. But I’ll tell you this now; I’m going to get a good night’s sleep on September 3rd.


On Thursday 24th July, Factory Media hosted a Photography Exhibition and Competition at their offices, raising £300 for our charity partner of the year, Fight for Peace.

Staff submitted some truly breathtaking prints, which were then sold  -during an evening of wine, cheese and sophistication - to the highest bidder. Congratulations to Ed Blomfield for his photograph, ’Portreath’, which was awarded the most votes, and the title of ‘Factory’s Favourite Photograph’.

We’d like to thank everybody who submitted their brilliant snaps, as well as those who attended the evening!

5 minutes with Balloon Kenya founder, Josh

We asked Josh a few questions about his work and himself. He co-founded Balloon Kenya (alongside Douglas Cochrane) an organisation we’re supporting that works with young entrepreneurs to create and grow innovative businesses.


We have stepped into a lift. You have about 10 seconds to tell us about Balloon Kenya. GO!

We recruit young people from across the world (we call them Enterprise Fellows) to travel to Africa to work with young entrepreneurs to create and grow innovative business that can provide jobs and improve lives. In 2013, 52 International Fellows joined us in Kenya to work with over 250 Entrepreneurs and we invested £13,250 in 72 businesses.

You (as leader and visionary of Balloon Kenya) are stranded on a desert island (indefinitely!) and you can send one message in a bottle to the new leader of your organisation – what would that message be?

Don’t spread yourself too thin. Focus on why this organisation exists and always use that to focus on the things that are most important. It’s very easy to become distracted and chase money – whether that be grants or customers.

What is the biggest challenge you face as an organisation?

Limited staff numbers and lots of work to do.

If you could say one thing to the government of Kenya?

Make it easier to register a business and reduce all the licences that a business needs. Dealing with regulation is the biggest challenge our entrepreneurs face.

Tell us three things we don’t know about young entrepreneurs in Kenya?

1. Many of them started businesses our of necessity because of the lack of job opportunities.
2. Some aspire to be employed and don’t want the stresses and worries of running a business.
3. Others have brilliant potential to grow much bigger businesses and crucially have a desire to do this. So ‘young entrepreneurs’ in Kenya aren’t a homogenous group.

Is there a story that sticks in your mind where the Balloon Kenya programme has gone well?

A recent business we invested in is providing takeaway drinks like coffee and juices from a stall in town. This group wouldn’t have gotten funding from a bank or microfinance organisation as their business is a new startup and so is “too risky” for these traditional funders. Everyday they are selling out and the business has real potential to scale, potentially through a franchise…

Is there a story you can think of where the situation hasn’t ended so well?

We once invested in an entrepreneur who was a young man making really lovely products from wood. He was already employing others and wanted to expand his workshop. We gave him a 50,000 Kenyan Shilling loan and almost immediately he fled to the coast to (presumably) have a good time and we haven’t seen him since.

What would be the best thing that could happen to Balloon Kenya in the next 3 years?

I think it’s demonstrable impact at both ends. In Kenya, some of the business that we have invested in would grow and scale and become the SMEs of tomorrow. This would show that micro-entrepreneurs have the potential to grow businesses that can provide employment to others and would validate our model of development. Back home the International Fellows that joined us would go on to get awesome jobs and set up exciting businesses of their own. This would validate the impact of the experience and show it’s true value as an investment in their future.

We continued the interview to find out more about Josh. Read the second part of the interview to find out what keeps him awake at night and what gets him out of bed in the morning!

20 intriguing questions for Balloon Kenya co-founder, Josh!

Part two of the interview with Balloon Kenya co-founder, Josh, This time the 20 questions are all about him…


Tell us something most people don’t know about you?

I dropped out of university after a term because I wasn’t having a good time (although I went back the following year and it was much better!)

What keeps you awake at night?

Worrying that we are moving too slowly.

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

The 50 emails to answer!

We have stepped into an elevator. You have 10 seconds to tell us about Josh. GO!

Educated in North London at an all boys school, lived at home for too long, loves sport and travelling, degrees in history and politics, a bit stubborn and opinionated, loves arguing, have had long hair since I was 18. 

If you were given a superpower for a day, would you fly or be invisible? (and why?)

Fly – because I could explore all the hidden corners of the world. 

How did you end up doing what you are doing today? 

It really came about through my studies. I was always interested in African history through my degree and in particular conflict. I then went to Canada to do a Master’s in Politics and had the chance to travel to Kenya to investigate the post-election violence there. And during my time there it became obvious that unemployment and poverty was at the heart of the conflict. And this was set within a country with a thriving entrepreneurial culture. So the idea came about for Balloon Kenya as a form of peace building. I then interned and met Doug who liked the idea and we started from there. 

Was there a time in your life where you might have followed a different path?

When I was interning I was waiting for a work visa to come through for Canada. So I very nearly moved to Toronto.

What makes you makes happiest about what you do?

Creating something from scratch and seeing it come to fruition. 

If you could change one thing about this world?

I think wealth should be heavily redistributed. I think most of the problems in the world come down to inequality. 

Who inspires you?

A woman called Wangar Maatha who was a Kenyan environmentalist turned political activist. She was the first African woman to receive a nobel peace prize and for me she showed that very small actions can have a massive impact. 

What keeps you going when you are having a bad day?! 

That tomorrow it will probably we better. Creating a business is a massive emotional roller coaster full of highs and lows. So personally I try and contain my excitement during the highs and similarly not let it get me down during the lows. 

Your most important value.

Treat others with respect and politeness.

Three favourite past times/hobbies?

Watching Arsenal.
Reading about Arsenal. 
Talking about Arsenal.

Favourite breakfast cereal?

Alpen Nut Crunch

Sweet or savoury person?


Would you rather have a heavy head or gravity defying arms?

Gravity defying arms. A heavy head would get very tiring and I’d always be looking at the floor.

Three Desert island discs?

Neil Young – After The Goldrush
Sam Cooke – Ain’t That Goodnews
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis – The Heist

Tell us about a childhood memory.
Putting my foot in a shoe and there being a wasp in it. Always check your shoes!

Favourite animal? (and why!)
Cats. Because they think the world revolves around them. I like their confidence. 

Thanks Josh!

Read part one of the interview where Josh talks about his work as co-founder of Balloon Kenya. 

Build, Measure, Learn

This month, the Forward Foundation’s Head of Digital, Suraj continues our series of blogs about failure.


As Head of Digital for Forward Foundation I’m tasked with designing and building technology to solve some of the big challenges faced by organisations supporting young people. My job involves a lot testing. Everything from testing ideas, to testing code; and nine times out of ten, testing means failing.

However with each failure you get closer to that gem of a great idea or perfect design. Our approach to solving big problems is to develop and test an idea thoroughly building an initial micro product and learning as we go. In order to make this happen we invest mine and my team’s time, by the end of which we hope other organisations will be convinced enough to support our idea.

Failing is painful

Most recently I’ve been working on the problem of securing and giving funds between charities and grant-makers. The Forward Foundation had been conceiving an idea around this issue for the past couple of years, and a grant opportunity came up to scale the development.

We failed to secure the support.

Besides being disappointing, the real pain was the feeling of wasted effort. Nevertheless; we learn.

In fact, the very experience of applying for and being unsuccessful for a grant has given valuable insights, which will enable us to design and develop the best possible solution. So watch this space…

Design to remedy pain

As I think back on the failure I can recall the sinking feeling in my stomach. This feeling is priceless! It’s one of the best guides I have for designing the most useful tech solution; as this direct experience enables me to empathise with the users and customers we’re building products for.

I wonder how might this translate to your work?

What makes an amazing project?

 by Anna

We’re fortunate to visit East Africa several times each year, to work with our partners in Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia and to find new partners to support. To make the most of our visits we pack a lot in, so over a two-week period we might visit over 20 organisations, all doing different but amazing work.  This exposes us to an incredible array of projects and approaches to supporting young people. 

Working out in Africa and away from daily life in London can also make you quite reflective.  So during our last trip to Uganda, after being blown away by a visit to one organisation, I started thinking about what it is that makes a really amazing project.  

This particular organisation, the Breakdance Project Uganda (BPU), uses hip hop and dance as a tool to engage and empower disadvantaged youth in Kampala.  We went to  meet the leader Abramz one evening, at one of the sessions.  What I expected was to sit in a room and watch a dance lesson led by a teacher with a small group of young people, and then to have a chat with some of them afterwards.  What I didn’t expect was to see a sea of people of all ages dancing outside as we approached one of the community centres where they work.  The music, energy and sheer mass of people was overwhelming and you could immediately feel that this was something special.  It was more than a project – it felt like a movement.  At BPU, everyone is a teacher and everyone is a leaner.  Kids were teaching teenagers, teenagers were teaching kids, 30 year olds were learning from both of them – everyone is valued and appreciated for who they are and what they can offer, no matter how big or small.  What was also clear was how much everyone loved what they were doing.  The sessions start at 5pm and go on for hours, and more people keep joining and performing as the evening goes on.  It was clear that for many of these people this was their home and the people there were their family, and it was a privilege to be there and be part of it for the evening.


Pictured: Breakdancers at Breakdance Project Uganda

Afterwards, I tried to capture what it is that makes BPU, and so many of our partners’ work, so powerful.  Of course, organisations are unique and you can’t distil them down into a winning formula that equals a successful project.  However, there are often three common threads between organisations that stand out for me, and when you get a combination of all three like you do with BPU, this can result in something pretty special.

1. The Hook

At the risk of stating the obvious, organisations who engage young people in something they enjoy, tend to have a greater impact on them. If the activity is something that they would choose to do in their spare time, or that they would love to have the opportunity to try if they could, then half the battle is won.  When young people continue taking part in a project because they want to rather than because they are told it will be good for them, they are engaged in a meaningful way and therefore benefit from it more.  This is demonstrated by Fight for Peace, one of our partners who uses boxing, martial arts and fitness to engage some of the hardest to reach young people.  Where other interventions have failed, Fight for Peace is incredibly successful at engaging these young people because the want to be there, learn how to box and get fit. Once they’ve built up a relationship, they can then start to support them further through educational training and mentoring.


Pictured: A Muay Thai training session at Fight for Peace

2. Peer-to-peer Learning

Most of us have seen or experienced school assemblies where an ‘inspiring’ speaker has been brought in to talk to the students.  Perhaps it’s about careers.  The audience is made up of 200 year 12 and 13 students.  The speaker is a 50 year old man who’s career in The City has spanned over three decades.  He’s got a lot of wisdom to impart but people aren’t listening.  Why?  Possibly because they can’t relate to him. Bring on a speaker who’s been to their school, just left last year and is talking about what their first job is like, and it’s a different story.

What we often see is where organisations encourage young people to support other young people, the engagement is so much stronger.  A couple of our partners who are a testament to this are Franklin Scholars, where Year 10 students tutor Year 7 students, and Balloon Kenya, where young entrepreneurs who have been through the Balloon Kenya programme and are now successfully running their own businesses train other young entrepreneurs on the programme.


Pictured: Young entrepreneurs from Balloon Kenya

3.The End Product

Sometimes it can be hard to measure the impact of a programme on a young person, particularly if the focus is around building character traits or soft skills – things that aren’t necessarily as tangible as getting a job or gaining a qualification.  But with some of our partners we’ve found that when their project culminates in an event or an end product which captures how far the young people have come, the impact is palpable.

Perhaps no organisation demonstrates this more than our partner The Big House, which works with young people who have been through the care system, providing them with a platform for them to participate in the making of theatre and to have their voices heard.  Towards the end of the programme, they perform a play that has been devised from their stories to a public audience.  Aside from this being an amazing way to showcase how they have developed, built confidence and skills and bonded incredibly as a team, this is a way for them to have this recognised and appreciated by people in a way that they can really see and feel.  


Pictured: A scene from ‘Babylon’ from The Big House

Of course there’s not just one way to run a great project and you can have an amazing project without these, but from our experience these are things that have often led to incredible impact on young people and have left us feeling truly inspired.

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