Cram a load of geeks in a building...

Corbet Place in the Truman Brewery, East London is heaving with geeks and city workers, drawn by the lure of an open bar. At one end of the space people are swapping stories over a beer, while at the other handful of earnest looking men are hovering around a raised stage, with some kind of presentation projected onto the wall behind. One picks up a mike, and starts trying to draw the attention of a crowd; "Okay everybody, lets all do this together. One, two, three.... ssshhhhHHHHHhhhhhhh.." A good half of the bar joins in shushing, and the compere, Christian Alhert, introduces Minibar.

Minibar is a monthly event for designers, programmers and geeks of all kind with big ideas, to meet people with the means to turn their ideas into actual sustainable enterprises, with funding and support, and this month the line up was all about social Innovation.

From Social Innovation Camp we had the two winning teams presenting the fruits of their labours; and continuing the theme, part of the team at torchbox who worked on the Carbon Account were in appearance, along with Dan McQuillan from Make Your Mark.

First up was the team behind 'Prison Visits', working to shine a light on the conditions for people visiting loved ones in prison, by letting visitors write about their experiences, and direct that feedback to people who can make improve conditions. Improving the conditions of family visits in prison is proven to improve prisoner behaviour, increase family cohesion, reduce reoffending rates, and crucially lessen the impact that having a parent behind bars has on an inmate's children. There's also been some progress on the business model too since we last looked at it; there's talk of adapting a similar approach to that of Patient Opinion. Patient Opinion is a website that performs a similar function to the prison visits site with NHS Trust hospitals, and stays afloat financially by licensing the data feeds of patient feedback in a format the trusts can use, so the right feedback goes to the right people, and it's early days, but the team are hopeful about finding a way to make the prison visits website sustainable.

Following on came the team who worked on Enabled by Design, a site set out to use design to make lives for people with disabilities better, by offering novel solutions to mundane but necessary problems, or by giving a voice to the people who have to use the mobility aids on the market at present. Users affected by debilitating diseases like multiple sclerosis or motor neurone disease have to make to do with equipment that looks and feels like it was designed 60 years ago, and by creating a shared space for the users of the tools to converse with the designers and manufacturers, Enabled by Design hope to see better designed tools that stop making user's homes look like hospitals.

The 'cram a load of geeks and designers in a building and give them 48 hrs to make the world better' model piloted by Social Innovation Camp so far has delivered some interesting projects, and while it's hardly going to replace the current government's current love of massive big budget IT projects tomorrow, the fact that some of the funding came directly from the cabinet office suggests we may see more of these kinds of events in future.

Which by and large, can only be a good thing.

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It’s obvious why Thais can’t resist our English footballers. But they want our schools, too

The only explanation is . . . our footer must be great and exciting to watch.

At Bangkok airport, sitting in the Club lounge, as I am a toff, I spotted a copy of Thailand Tatler, a publication I did not know existed. Flicking through, I came across a whole page advert announcing that RUGBY SCHOOL IS COMING TO THAILAND.

In September, Rugby will open a prep and pre-prep department, and then, in 2018, full boarding for ages up to 17. How exciting – yet another English public school sets up a satellite in Thailand.

But I was confused. Just as I was confused all week by the Thai passion for our football.

How has it happened that English public schools and English football have become so popular in Thailand? There is no colonial or historical connection between the UK and Thailand. English is not the Thais’ first language, unlike in other parts of the world such as India and Hong Kong. Usually that explains the continuation of British traditions, culture and games long after independence.

When I go to foreign parts, I always take a large wodge of Beatles and football postcards. I find deprived persons all over the world are jolly grateful for these modern versions of shiny beads – and it saves tipping the hotel staff. No young Thai locals were interested in my Beatles bits, but boy, my footer rubbish had them frothing.

I took a stash of seven-year-old postcards of Andy Carroll in his Newcastle strip, part of a set given away free in Barclays banks when they sponsored the Premier League. I assumed no one in Thailand would know who the hell Andy Carroll was, but blow me, every hotel waiter and taxi driver recognised him, knew about his various clubs and endless injuries. And they all seemed to watch every Premiership game live.

I have long been cynical about the boasts that our Prem League is the most watched, the most popular in the world, with 200 countries taking our TV coverage every week. I was once in Turkey and went into the hotel lounge to watch the live footer. It was chocka with Turks watching a local game, shouting and screaming. When it finished, the lounge emptied: yet the next game was our FA Cup live. So I watched it on my own. Ever since, I’ve suspected that while Sky might sell rights everywhere, it doesn’t mean many other folk are watching.

But in Thailand I could see their passion, though most of them have no experience of England. So the only explanation is . . . our footer must be great and exciting to watch. Hurrah for us.

Explaining the passion for English public schools is a bit harder. At present in Thailand, there are about 14 boarding schools based on the English public-school system.

Rugby is only the latest arrival. Harrow has had a sister school there since 1998. So do Shrewsbury, Bromsgrove and Dulwich College (recently renamed British International School, Phuket).

But then I met Anthony Lark, the general manager of the beautiful resort where I was staying in the north of the island. He’s Australian, been out there for thirty years, married to a Thai. All three of his sons went to the Phuket school when it was still Dulwich International College.

His explanations for the popularity of all these British-style schools included the fact that Thailand is the gateway to Asia, easy to get to from India and China; that it’s relatively safe; economically prosperous, with lots of rich people; and, of course, it’s stunningly beautiful, with lovely weather.

There are 200,000 British expats in Thailand but they are in the minority in most of these British-style public schools – only about 20 per cent of the intake. Most pupils are the children of Thais, or from the surrounding nations.

Many of the teachers, though, are from English-speaking nations. Anthony estimated there must be about five thousand of them, so the schools must provide a lot of work. And presumably a lot of income. And, of course, pride.

Well, I found my little chest swelling at the thought that two of our oldest national institutions should be so awfully popular, so awfully far away from home . . . 

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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