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Jools' Journey to Helping Refugees at Prosper

Since several of my erstwhile colleagues have already introduced themselves so eloquently on this blog, I thought it high time I stepped up to the plate too.

I'm Jools Stone, a freelance writer and marketing consultant, based in Brighton. I generally write about the fun, if rather frivolous, side of life: travel, arts, music etc. All things which certainly make life more worthwhile, but are not exactly matters of life and death.

Increasingly in recent years, and as I slide further into middle age I notice, I've felt a growing urge to do something more meaningful, to use my skills to benefit people. While I still have some creative drive, as I get older I'm less concerned with 'making my mark', gratifying my ego on some level, and more with leaving the world a slightly better place than I found it, if that doesn't sound too high and mighty.

Despite training as a radio news journalist back in the nineties, my career took a different turn towards features and what you might call 'lifestyle content.' I'm not the sort of person who forms political opinions readily or considers themselves deeply enmeshed in current affairs, I shy away from voicing my views on the news topics of the day, for fear of exposing my ignorance and saying 'the wrong thing.'

In fact my younger self might well be slightly surprised to find me involved with this project at all, but the horrific events unfolding over the past few years seem to have galvanised certain views and finally prompted me into some form of action.

How the Refugee Crisis Story Unfolded in the Press

Like many people I felt a growing sense of unease about countless news reports in the first half of 2015 dehumanising people fleeing war-torn regions by referring to 'hordes' and 'swarms' of 'migrants' desperately jumping on lorries and Eurostar trains trying to reach the UK. Then came the shocking picture of 3 year old Alan Kurdi washed up dead on a Turkish beach after his boat had capsized enroute to the Greek island of Kos.

This seemed to be the point when the tide of public opinion truly turned in Britain. The point where many people realised they could no longer bury their heads in the sand and, as Natasha put it so effectively in her recent post, hope that someone else has had the situation covered and under control.

If nothing else this demonstrates the incredible power that the media has to influence public sentiment on an issue, and there are few bigger, more pressing issues just now than this crisis.

To those devoting their lives to helping those affected by the crisis, rolling your sleeves up probably seems like a no-brainer. But just as the news media can be a powerful force for change, so can it also feel counterproductive.

The Paralyzing Power of News

It's all too easy to feel overwhelmed by the relentless pressure of horrendous news – natural disasters, terror attacks, war, human trafficking – the list of atrocities is never-ending. It weighs on our public conscience. It can easily make you feel like a tiny, powerless spec at the mercy of colossal forces you can’t hope to ever contain or control, and inevitably and regrettably, compassion fatigue sets in…

Some commentators even go so far as to claim that you would be better off going on a strict news diet. That the mental energy devoted to following the (generally terrible) news as it unfolds would be more constructively spent reading books and learning about the world in your own way.

But to do so would just be exercising your first world privilege and those fleeing their homes in a desperate search for sanctuary certainly don’t have that luxury. And who knows when me or you could be pitched in their shoes? I don’t know about you, but I don’t fancy my chances of piloting an over-capacity dinghy across the Mediterranean.

My Parents, the War Babies

Still the fact is that many of us have some personal connection with a refugee crisis somewhere, if you go back a generation or two. Both of my parents were war babies. They owe their very existence to the displacement caused by war.

My mother's father was a US airman from Detroit who met my grandmother on service over here. My father is an Italian born during WWII who moved to London in the care of his English stepfather soon after the war ended. Hence my English family name. (I would be known as Jools Pilloni otherwise, if indeed I existed at all.)

The hostile atmosphere he met here as an 'enemy incomer' meant that he Anglicised himself pretty swiftly, in a bid to blend in and 'integrate', which is often a very loaded word. You'd struggle to hear much of an Italian accent in his speech today. But that was nearly 70 years ago, and Britain was a far less diverse country then. Let's not repeat such blinkered and bigoted behaviours.

I will probably be roughly the 12,017th person to say that migration, no matter the cause, is ultimately a good thing. It enriches societies, bolsters economies and generally makes everywhere more interesting places to live. It also makes people living in countries that attract migrants more rounded, interesting, tolerant people to know.

The fact that we're accepting only 3000 refugees, compared to Germany taking in 17,000 as part of the EU allocation scheme, is a huge embarrassment, as is having a Prime Minister who still talks in terms of 'a bunch of migrants.'

But my government doesn’t speak on my behalf, and we can still make a difference, no matter how small. That's what Prosper aims to do – to tackle specific problems arising from the refugee crisis, one project at a time, using smart, committed people and equally smart new technology, ideas and design.

When Jools met John

So when I saw John's call-out on Wired Sussex for 'digital Workers in Brighton to work together and help solve the refugee crisis' it instantly struck a chord with me. Finally here was a structured, coordinated effort to work with like-minded people locally on something worthwhile, to apply my skills, summon my 'inner journalist' and to hopefully learn some new skills into the bargain. I volunteered for a few weeks before starting a 3 month contract in January. It's a great honour to be working alongside such talented, passionate people.

My role is to help Prosper get its message out, through this blog, through social media, PR and other types of online marketing, and to build awareness, and bring people together, primarily among local networks.

What's Coming Up?

This is a key moment in our story too. Soon we'll be rolling out our first solution, Refugee Projects which will collate all the many initiatives, making it easier for people to pick a project to volunteer for, donate to or otherwise support.

We hope to have an updated version of this ready in just a few weeks which could soon list as many as 1000 projects. It's heartening to see the sheer scale and range of projects out there and it's a useful reminder that we're far from alone in tackling this colossal crisis. We hope you'll join us in helping refugees prosper.

Jools Stone

Jools is a freelance writer and communications professional based in Brighton. He writes for the Guardian, the Scotsman, Electronic Sound Magazine and many more. His work covers arts, music & travel.

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