Kindness is just love with its work boots on

Bethany, Year 6, Hampton Primary School

Below is the story of how People United started from Tom Andrews, Founder and Associate of People United

Since working overseas with Tibetan refugees as a teenager I’ve always been involved in voluntary work or setting up different initiatives; I’ve felt an urgency to do something that makes a difference. The most significant of these was the music charity Music for Change that I founded in 1997. From its beginnings in my attic bedroom with my mum as our first volunteer, the organisation developed into one of the largest providers of inter-cultural music workshops in the South East, working with over 60,000 people every year. After seven years I stepped down as Chief Executive to develop new ideas and to allow the organisation to grow sustainably without me at the helm.

In 2004 I became a fellow on the first year of the prestigious Clore Leadership Programme and it was during this period, out of the ongoing pressures of work, that I had a rare opportunity to reflect and to develop the beginnings of People United. I dug deep down into what had driven me over the years and the issues I saw in the world. I kept coming back to the simple thought that at the heart of things, and what seemed most important, was something about people caring for one another. To put it succinctly: kindness.

As part of this reflection, I decided that for me exploring kindness (or as academics call it altruism and pro-social behaviour) shouldn’t be about telling, preaching or training; it had to be about curiosity, ideas, imagination, space and creativity.  As well as taking place with and alongside people, it had to have the ability to amaze, provoke, challenge and inspire.

I did research, spoke to a range of critical friends and gradually put together what an organisation focusing on creativity and kindness could look like. So People United was born. I was clear from the onset that although the organisation’s vision of growing kindness is ambitious and some might say idealistic, it would only succeed if the work was well-researched, professionally evaluated, and could demonstrate practical value.

So I blagged a cupboard-sized office, a second-hand computer and started again. And as we’ve grown, reached out and hopefully inspired a few people, we’ve tried to keep why we do what we do at the centre. To focus on not just on needs, problems and the things that go wrong; but supporting, enabling and magnifying the times when people do something good. With the belief that if we can nurture the conditions that grow kindness, then maybe we can slowly build a more caring and equitable society.