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Battling For Kindness

By Craigie_B Last edited 101 months ago
Battling For Kindness
tomrobbins.jpg

Londonist likes a good campaign as much as anyone else, which is why we backed the efforts of Team Nice to make London a nicer place to be, putting out 1,000 'nice' tokens into circulation to acknowledge good deeds.

Channel 4's new 'Battlefront' programme aims to get teenagers involved in today's big issues, using video and TV to "challenge them to generate as much interest and buzz about their chosen campaign over a nine-month period".

Yup, the 20 teenagers are each "out to change the world". Sound awful? One youngster from this that has, however, caught our eye (he's 20, so he's not a teenager (Naughty Channel 4!)) is one Tom Robbins. He's even been spotted by the odd Government Minister too. While his peers all go on earnestly about things that we're already all talking about - knife crime; climate change; yada yada - Tom chose to focus on undertaking 'Random Acts Of Kindness', and trying to get more of us to do the same. (See how well this fits well with the Team Nice thing?)

He's already setting up shop in public places across the capital to help people out with all sorts of things, and then posting the results on the lovely Vimeo. We think it works. Which is why we spoke to him inbetween random acts to find out what's he's up to, what random act he'd do for Batman, and whether all this is really going to change the 'head-down, leave-me-alone' culture that pervades London life:

So, the idea for these Random Acts Of Kindness. Where did it come from? We delved on Facebook and saw there are lots of RAOK groups on Facebook from the US, Australia and, er, Norway...

The original idea came from an art project I did last year. I wanted what I was doing to be more directly beneficial to others so I recorded myself walking around London asking if anyone needed help. I emailed the idea to Channel 4's Battlefront Project which encourages young campaigners to campaign for something they feel passionately about. They really loved it and so the campaign for Random Acts of Kindness began! Yes I hear there is a big following of RAOK groups in the US. I would love to create that kind of response in the UK with The Do-Gooder Army!

How many RAOKs do you think you've done so far? What's the reaction from people when you approach them to help? Do they assume you want money or want to pull them?

I've done quite a few, including wallpaper stripping, helping clean the streets, carrying large boxes for people, filing minutes for Friends of Finsbury Park, putting up a curtain rail and bizarrely doing a cartwheel for someone (that helped by making them laugh!). Some good deeds are pre-arranged because they already need something and so it's welcomed, but when I ask people on the street some people wonder what the catch is, and think think they are being stitched up. I have to explain that there is no catch, we just want to do good deeds.

This isn't a religious nutty thing, is it? Do we all have to sign up to pray for people's souls?

This is not religious. I have nothing against religion, but I also don't understand why people have to associate things like this with being religious. It's almost as if people who are not religious can't be nice, and I don't think that should the case. Kindness and goodwill should be universal and shouldn't be associated with a small percentage of our population. We should all do our best to help each other. After all, we are in it together!

We hear you went to Haringey and to the City of London last week to perform your random acts. The first has some serious poverty-stricken areas, and at the second, scores of previously well-off bankers are being fired and carrying their desks home in cardboard boxes. You don't make things easy for yourself do you?! What were they both like?

I went to Harringay (the town), which is the nice bit of Haringey (the borough) around Finsbury Park. I used Harringay Online to advertise what I was doing and then turned up to perform good-deeds requested. I just went out and did it.

The 'Do-Gooder Army's Good Deed Desk' in Spitalfields was very different. It was trying to spread the word of the campaign with the general public, albeit business people working in the city. I was pleasantly surprised by the positive responses I got despite the current economic doom and gloom. I think the stressed businessmen and women passing-by were relieved by something like this going on and couldn't say no to some free biscuits or a lollipop.

One businessman walked past in a rush as we offered him a biscuit. He refused and replied "no thank you, maybe I'll catch you on the way back". I immediately thought; "oh yeah, that's what they all say" and thought no more of it. But a couple of minutes later, whilst I was giving someone else a hug, the man returned and handed me a cup of tea that he had just bought and said 'keep up the good work!' whilst rushing back to work. I was so shocked, I didn't know whether to accept it. But that, after all, is the type of gesture I want to encourage through my campaign. I felt good for knowing that there really were some kind people out there, and I'm sure he would've felt good inside for doing it!

Does it help being all fresh-faced and innocent? Perhaps you should do Soho next ;-)

Maybe it does help being young and naive. I feel like I am approaching things freshly and not so much suppressed by existing social norms as maybe other people would be. I am not denying that there are some amazingly kind and caring people in this world, but it does sometimes seem like you have to stand out of line to help a stranger or someone in need and I believe this needs to change.

What's your most bizarre Random Act you've done so far? And what's the oddest request you've had to turn down?

Having to do a cartwheel for someone was quite bizarre, especially as it was the first good-deed of the day. All my friends around me were quite shocked that I actually did it, and with perfect execution (quite a surprise to everyone, including me). I also got to have a go on one of those machines people use to wash and clean the streets. I got to learn all the levers and controls, steering it was good fun, even though I was a bit hopeless.

You also get the odd person being cheeky and asking for money. If it was someone who really needed it I would probably scrape something together, but I have to say no in most cases. After all, I am only a student! I haven't got any money myself!

In one of your video diary pieces, you ask for someone to make a superhero costume for you. Who's your favourite superhero? What random act would you do for him/her?

My favourite superhero is Batman. I would try and make him smile and tell him to put his feet up. He does good work. Good luck to him.

OK, our turn - we'll do a random act of kindness. What do you want us to do? And does it involve rudeness and kitchen utensils?

Can do. Maybe bake a cake for the other Londonistas. But I also think things like this shouldn't be forced, it should be like second nature to us, or at least that's what I have set out to achieve.

Have you ever been sick on the tube?

No. Although one of my friends was sick on a bus. She threw up over the person sitting next to her, creating a river of sick running down the middle of the bus. It was disgusting and very embarrassing. We left at the next stop.

Nice. Maybe not kind the random act of kindness the passenger or driver were expecting. We'd better head off to make a cake for the Londonist crew. The last attempt at cooking was so bad it got me on the Environmental Health register. So:

Join the Do-Gooder Army Facebook group here.

Get the low-down on Battlefront here.

See Tom's videos up here.

Tell us in the comments whether you can make a superhero costume and we'll forward to Tom. And tell us if you do a random act too. Because in a way we can claim it as one of ours.

Image from Tom's Vimeostream

Last Updated 31 October 2008