A Bonfire of Ideas

5th November 2021

The time is now. We’ve reached the point where we all have to find wider perspectives and new ideas. Arguably, human civilisation started around a bonfire. The changes that take root over the next 10 years will decide if it ends in one.

Helping make change happen – that’s a job we can all embrace. We make a start by listening to others’ hopes and dreams. We can reflect on those, and our own. And with the help of the people around us, we can put some of it into action.

We’ve begun that process by asking ourselves what old, tired ideas would we throw on the bonfire and – importantly – what would take their place.


"If I could throw anything in a bonfire, light it up, throw it away and grow something out of its ashes. I would throw away the words: Speak fucking English ."

Haneen Ali

I would let those flames burn the arrogance in those words, and when there’s nothing left but ashes, and they’re abandoned by the flames, I would plant the words “ooo, nice!”. I would let the appreciation of other languages grow. Let the petals of admiration flow. From that horrible stinging flame, I one day wish something, anything would bloom out of it…

–  Haneen

"I’d like to start a ‘Bonfire with Soul’ (thanks Duke Stump for your inspiration). It would be a bonfire of hope that eventually sparks new life from its ashes, not a bonfire of despair that devastates and destroys."

Mark Waite

My bonfire would be fuelled by optimism and serve as a beacon for a brighter, fairer, and more purposeful future.

On it I’d throw the notion of Big Business. There’s a school of thought that big equals better. That growth, especially fast growth, is the be all and end all. And to become a ‘unicorn’ is the holy grail. Why? No doubt an overly capitalist system has a lot to do with it but, surely, the valuation of a business should reflect how well it serves its customers, its people and ultimately the planet – not just its shareholders? Do those things well and the bottom line will look after itself. It’s not about big, it’s about better.

So, out of the burnt embers of Big Business I’d like to cultivate the idea of Better Business. Let’s celebrate mindful nurture. Let’s build decelerators not accelerators. Let’s focus more on zebras than unicorns. Success takes time. We only need to look at nature to see this in action. Take bamboo for instance, ultimately one of the fastest growing plants in the world, and one of the most sustainable too. It takes five years of dedicated nurturing to create the conditions for growth, as the plant slowly send its roots deep. But once it breaks the surface it can grow a staggering 90 feet in just 5 weeks!!

Small businesses are a lot like bamboo. They can take a while to establish but when they do they can be truly amazing! They are the bedrock of the economy, create good jobs for good people, and are embedded in local communities. Sole traders trade with their soul. They don’t think of  fulfilment as the act of completing a transaction, they see it as the emotional outcome for  customers and people. The compound effect of small can have a huge societal and economic impact, so let’s rejoice in them, not castigate them as being ‘lifestyle’ businesses. After all, what’s the alternative…a ‘deathstyle’ business?


"Oh, I’d chuck that drink culture right in the centre of my bonfire and I would step back from the alcoholic fumes."

Niya Dobreva

I am a university student. And what do university students do? They drink. They party. They go out on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. Sometimes Thursday if Walkabout is having good deals. And the rest of the week is a haze… You wake up in your bed (or someone else’s for that matter, whose name you probably won’t remember), your mouth is dry and your hands are a bit shaky. You want food but everything seems repulsing and your stomach is strangely flat and empty. You are hungover. 

This is the drink culture. The lad university culture and the i-am-a-big-girl university culture. It is how you are supposed to make friends in uni – you drink until you don’t remember who you came with and everyone is a friend (supposedly?). 

Oh, I’d chuck that drink culture right in the centre of my bonfire and I would step back from the alcoholic fumes. I will chuck the idea that Saturday night is for a party – that’s when everyone goes out. Friday night – it’s Juice at the SU! Can’t skip that?? And Wednesday… YOLO!! You only live once, right? So party every week! And Monday… Quids in – all the cheap deals for all the poor students and their already empty bank accounts. 

And I’d give you, my fellow students, the warm feeling of staying in with actual good friends and watching old animation movies. I’d give you board games night which are just as fun and you can still sip nice cocktails! And I’d give you, all, the feeling that you don’t have to drink to be a university student. That you are not wasting away the best years of your life if you chose to stay in on a Saturday night!

–  Niya

"There are so many things that I’d chuck on the bonfire of bad ideas that it could quickly burn out of control. Brexit could go..."

Sharon Tanton

Brexit – a terrible idea with predictably negative consequences. I’d replace it with staying in the EU. Not a perfect solution, but still better in every way from the mess we’re in now. I’d like to chuck public schools onto the fire, on the grounds that they turn out emotionally illiterate and inadequate individuals who believe they were born to lead. They’re outdated scaffolding for preserving a divided society, and I’d replace them with the idea that all children are educated together. Now the fire is really burning hot so I’m going to chuck on the patriarchy, and stand well back. This could take a while, as it’s massive, deep rooted, toxic and highly flammable. And finally, I’m going to chuck the word ‘mumpreneur’ into the blaze, just because it really annoys me. It doesn’t need a replacement. If you’re running a business, it really doesn’t matter what gender you are.

–  Sharon

"I’d like to throw the ‘Divine Rights of Drivers’ on the bonfire: that megalomaniac mindset that motorists somehow wield more authority and enjoy more privilege than all other road and street users."

Andy Williams

Divine Rights, as in God given. In lockdown when roads were narrowed to create space for people to get outside and exercise, and temporary cycle lanes created so folks could bike for fun or to avoid public transport, many motorists reacted with resentment, and sometimes anger. Bollards and barriers were knocked over. Pedestrians and cyclists became a fair game for verbal attacks and worse. From the sidelines, it looked like some kind of collective madness.

Now to be clear, my goal isn’t to ‘other’ drivers: I’m targeting the Divine Right itself. It’s a deeply rooted bias in our society, and something we absorb from that milieu. I know I’ve been guilty of the same kind of thinking, many times. And like all biases it limits our choices, dulls our creativity and capacity for change, and does nothing to boost our contentment – not for individuals, not for society at large. 

I’m calling it out because, once you see it, it’s hard not to notice how irrational it is. And to keep noticing.

What I’m advocating instead is simple equality. We’ve all got places to go, and things to do, and sometimes those are one and the same thing. My choice of how I journey might be slower or quicker than yours. It might create a bit less carbon, or a bit more. It might be adventuresome or rote. No matter, simple equality means that my choice is no worse or better than yours. It has no higher priority, and carries the same validity in the eyes of all travellers, town and road planners, policing and policymakers.

I think equality would have profound and very helpful consequences. If we believe that all travellers are equal then we have to fairly apportion space and resources to all modes and choices. And if walking, running, scootering, skateboarding and cycling were made more accessible, enjoyable – and much safer – we’d take vehicles off the road. 

And that’s an important goal all by itself. Think about this: if in the next 10 years we swapped every combustion engined car for an electric one, 1 for 1, that would still mean 33 million cars on the roads of our small island. And I would say that is a pretty shallow victory for people and the planet.

–  Andy

"What would I throw on the bonfire? Imposter syndrome. "

Jemma Lowman

It creeps up and roots itself in your mind, wrapping around everything that you used to be so confident in with black, sticky goo that you can’t quite shake. I’d toss that into the fire to watch it burn alongside any doubts and fears. 

The freedom you would feel after getting rid of that dark cloud would be immediate and uplifting. I could only hope that one day, this could be a reality.

–  Jemma

"I’d throw Covid - all those face masks - on the bonfire."

Hector Taylor

Not that I am a Covid denier, far from it. It’s real and we have to do what’s necessary to keep people safe. I haven’t had it, neither has my family. My business has been affected but it will survive. I’ve been really ‘lucky’ in my experience of Covid, so this could well be a selfish whine. 

But in September everything seemed so normal: the schools were back, kid’s clubs were on, parties were happening, people were getting together…

But right now the Covid net seems to be tightening. Four people I know have it – and they are all double jabbed. Turns out the vaccine doesn’t stop you getting Covid, or even stop you feeling pretty ill with it. It just stops most people getting really ill and going to hospital. 

As the dark nights and rain draw in, the thought of more restrictions and lockdowns is very depressing. I realise that I have to accept that things are the way they are, and count my blessings. Maybe it’s my fault for getting my hopes up that things were looking normal again. 

But I can’t wait until we can see everyone’s smile again, until we can hug our friends and relatives, until everyone can socialise without fear. 


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