Putting Awesome into words

Last night, walking back from another ‘Awesome’ evening at Leaf on Bold Street, I started writing a tweet:

“Love being part of @awesomelpl @awesomefound – tonight was crazy, hectic, gruelling, but so SO worth it—”

And then I realised what I wanted to say couldn’t possibly fit into a tweet. So here’s what I really wanted to say, and why you should get involved with Awesome, wherever you are.

Awesome began in 2009 when a guy called Tim Hwang clubbed together with a few of his mates to micro-fund cool little projects in their hometown of Boston, Massachusetts. They each paid a hundred dollars into a pot, and local artists, entrepreneurs, and crazy people applied to receive the whole lot, to fund their own pet projects. The first winner? A team building the world’s largest portable hammock.

That was almost exactly 5 years ago. Since then, 71 more chapters of the Awesome Foundation have sprung up around the world – literally from A (Australia) to Z (Zambia).

In January 2013, I met three friends—Francis, Ross, and Simon—for breakfast. Ross and Francis had heard about this thing called the “Awesome Foundation” with chapters all over America, and we thought – well, Liverpool’s awesome – why don’t we have one?

So we set one up. Awesome Liverpool.

By February we were searching for six more trustees, willing to pay £50 a month, to join Simon, Francis, Ross, and me. I gave a talk at Ignite Liverpool about what we were planning, while the others raided their contact lists for potential partners. By May 2013, we had 10 trustees on board, and on 1st June 2013, we held our first gift night, awarding our opening £500 to an awesome grass-roots bed-and-breakfast initiative in the Liverpool suburb of Anfield.

Since then we’ve awarded no-strings-attached £500 prizes to 16 local projects. We’ve funded ukulele summerschools for kids, a festival about beards, coats for homeless dogs, and a chap hand-building Yurts in his back garden.

We generally call our £500 prizes gifts, because that’s what they are. The word “gift” has lovely connotations about it – gifts are precious, and personal; you look after them, treasure them; and they often bestow the donor with as much joy they do the recipient.

And that’s what Awesome is about. I don’t think any of the trustees are here just to donate £50 to a good cause. Awesome is way more involved than that. Some of us love reading the (sometimes genius, sometimes completely bonkers) applications people send in. Others enjoy voting and debating. Our gift nights are always great fun, and even once they’ve finished, the connections we make between ourselves as trustees, between the other applicants, and our wealth of contacts around the city, is priceless.

All the best gifts are priceless. Saying we give away £500 or £1000 is a good way to get people hooked, but Awesome is really about giving away joy. The awesome thing about joy is, the more you give it away, the more you get.

That’s what I was trying to get to with my tweet, last night, on the way back from our first £1000 gift night. We had seven truly awesome finalists, crammed into a hectic, two hour pitching slot. We even had some of our earliest winners come back to play their ukuleles and fill us in on what happened with the money we gave them last August. There were props and videos and cakes and monstrous welded frankenstein bikes…

It was an awesome night. In the end, after some hard deliberation, we awarded the £1000 to a local photographer who wants to start a community dark room in Liverpool and lower the barrier to traditional, touchy-feely photography.

What’s more, as well as the money, our winners also get access to the trustees’ contacts and experience. And, as a contact point they can always depend on, we also assign them a mentor – usually one of the trustees who has an interest, or experience, that’ll come in handy for the winner.

And in last night’s case, that was me! I can’t wait to start working with Emma to promote her Dark Room, and maybe make Liverpool a little bit more awesome along the way.

If you’re based in Liverpool and you have an awesome idea that just needs a little help to get off the ground, apply for our next gift night! This month in particular we’re trying something different, and encouraging entries to do with food. Whether that’s growing it, cooking it, or eating it – if you’ve got an idea to do with food that’ll improve people’s lives in the Merseyside area, apply now!

Even if you’re not in Liverpool, you can still make your own corner of the world a little more awesome, by finding your local Awesome chapter, or even starting your own.

Being an Awesome trustee is truly one of the best things I’ve done in my life – not only did it introduce me to a whole heap of incredible people who I’d probably never have met otherwise, but I also owe my ukulele habit to Awesome (it was our August 2013 winners that got me hooked!) as well as dozens of hilarious organiser breakfasts and gift nights.

I also owe a big thanks to my Awesome Liverpool co-founders: Francis, Ross, and Simon – as well as our whole roster of later trustees: Leon, Bridget, David, Dave, Wayne, Lee, Kate, Graham, Charles, Nicola, Oli and David, and our two newest trustees, who I look forward to getting to know, Jim and Nathan.

Awesome Liverpool: 14 months in, and still Awesome. Can’t wait to see what the next year brings!

Join us for the ride, at @awesomelpl.