How many people have you smiled at today? What would happen if we stopped keeping ourselves to ourselves? Can we combat austerity with more friendliness, smiling, greeting and helping? Can we truly make a difference to where we live?


These are the questions that drive Permission To Smile; a Birmingham based initiative looking to lift the barrier between local people and ease social isolation by encouraging individuals to work together for the common good – and it really could all start with a simple smile.


As a coalition of voluntary groups, faith groups, businesses and residents who want to restore community spirit, Permission To Smile offer an internet facility, based on Google Maps, that enables interested people to register their name and address, putting (anonymously) a pin on the map. They will then be able to see which other pins have appeared on the map in the same neighbourhood, make contact and suggest to meet up. It’s all about coming together to ease loneliness, generate friendship and encourage a helping hand.


We caught up with Martin, Founder of Permission To Smile, to find out where it all started and how crowdfunding helped to get the project off the ground. 


Where did the idea for Permission To Smile come from?


I was on a committee at Birmingham City Council called Standing Up For Birmingham, which doesn’t exist any more, but they were talking about austerity and I said the thing that we really need to do is look at austerity in a longer term concept.


We’ve had decades with an advanced tide of the public sectors doing more and more for people and a receding tide of people doing things with and for each other. But now, with austerity, we’ve got the opposite. We’ve got a receding tide of public sector activity, leaving a great big gap.


The only answer is to rekindle that part of society where people do things for each other, but there’s a problem in that we keep ourselves to ourselves. That’s what we need to crack, and that’s where Permission To Smile came from.


And how did crowdfunding come in to it?


We used crowdfunding to come into existence!


It was actually Birmingham City Council that directed us to Crowdfunder when we were looking for funding for what we’re doing. They said that they have this Community Innovation Fund in partnership with Crowdfunder, and that we could tap into it through crowdfunding.


How did you find the experience of crowdfunding?


It’s a good way to ask your friends and people you know to contribute. I really felt that crowdfunding gave me a reason to ask for support because we could say that we’re launching this thing and give people the chance to put a fiver in to help get it going… I don’t think I could have done it any other way. In fact, people were very generous and pledged £50 on average!


Crowdfunding was also really good in the sense that we doubled our money when Birmingham City Council pledged £10,000. 


We would have liked to have received more from people that we didn’t know, and I would say that 90% of the people that gave were friends or people that we already knew. However, we were starting up something new, so we didn’t have much of a following at that point.


What’s next for Permission To Smile?


I think that there’s a capacity for it to go national, but we’ve got to prove it in Birmingham first and get some evidence to show what happened as a result.


What are your top tips for anyone thinking about crowdfunding?


It has to be to line up your friends. The people that you know, that are already supporting what you are doing, are the most likely to support. We would have liked to have got more pledges from people we didn’t know, but as we were just starting out, the majority of the pledges came from people we already knew, so this task was really important to do. 


• Want to know more about Permission To Smile? Visit their Crowdfunder project page here.