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Say Yes More

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The New Year is traditionally when we take stock of our lives, perhaps resolving to take control of our life styles – to eat healthier, exercise more, work less hard – but the first flush of enthusiasm is often lost to the realities of our modern existence – the daily commute, gloomy global news. More often than not we settle back into our usual routine without really noticing that we’ve done so, leaving our good intentions to gather dust – along with that new gym membership.

Now there is help for those who might need a little support to embark upon a healthier less stressed lifestyle. Volunteer-run social enterprise SayYesMore has launched a crowd funding campaign to establish a community hub, using the unlikely shape of a London bus, the YesBus, in a West Sussex countryside idyll as a healthy alternative to city/urban living.

“Small lifestyle changes make a big difference”

In 2012, founder Dave Cornthwaite, started sharing a personal motto. To him, SayYesMore was a life-affirming message, “… a reminder that small lifestyle changes can make a big difference and a gentle kick up the butt in those times where everything feels hopeless.” Research has shown that spending time in nature can improve cognitive functioning, short-term memory and creativity and Dave explains how he came up with the project:

“Having lived in London for several years, I have first-hand experience of the frenetic pace of life and the impact it can have on mental health. Around one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year which is significant number – so I was motivated to establish a space where people can get away from city living, get closer to nature, and make space for new ideas.

“Whether you’ve had a hard week and could do with some downtime in the country, run an innovative young company which sees the value in bonding their team in a countryside setting, or you’re a teacher wanting to give your students a special classroom for a day, we’ve developed multiple programmes to foster and incubate forward-thinking and the benefits that come from saying ‘you know what, I CAN do that’.” “It is,” Dave believes, “easy to get into a habit whereby your default response is automatically “no,” with the result that “you end up hiding away, not challenging yourself and growing stale.” Saying Yes More means people become more interesting, creating memories and learning new skills. What Dave describes as, “A call for action from anyone wanting to make life count.”

Dave’s first step was to launch a Facebook page that quickly gathered followers. In 2015, following an urge to see if he could turn his Facebook friends into “real people,” Dave decided to invite his online friends to a one night camp out. Nineteen followers turned up at Liverpool Street station for the camp-out, and Dave discovered that they were not only real but also “nice.”

Since this first campout, SayYesMore has held hundreds of events, from weekly free wild campouts under the stars – motivating, the group say, nights of inspiration and adventurous tales called YesStories – to regular gatherings of all kinds including barbecues and river paddles, that encourage people to believe in their power of choice. This includes an annual micro-festival called – what else – “Yestival” and an ever-growing global community with over 10,000 members. Nicknamed the YesTribe – which Dave Cornthwaite confesses sounds a bit like a cult but, as he says, “if so we’re just a very nice one” – the community is free to anyone who is looking to make life less restricted, more enjoyable, more interesting and more memorable. The aim: “… to make a culture of happy, kind, yes-people normal. To help foster dreams of living and working based around passions and hobbies, and to make sure members use their time as well as possible.”

Dave’s idea was to establish a countryside hub for the YesTribe, and set about converting the YesBus. Once work on the bus was underway the search began for suitable land on which to site the finished bus/hub, resulting in SayYesMore entering into a partnership with Brinsbury Campus of Chichester College (just north of Pulborough) with a home for the bus on one of the college’s green fields. A place that would entice people away from the city into the countryside – a relaxing, safe space, overlooking stunning Sussex countryside, that would be the perfect setting for an escape.

The aim for the bus was a multi-use space both to help nurture a community spirit amongst independent, creative humans and to provide a countryside escape which would fuse the calming power of nature with the need to keep on top of work. The bus would have co-working desks, a base for inner-city kids exploring the countryside for the first time and be a “digital detox retreat” designed to improve the mental health of adults struggling with the pressures of modern society, and a memorable site for team building days.

Accessibility to the countryside

The group also wants to open up accessibility to the countryside, especially for city children who have never walked in woodland or down a muddy country track. From a creative hub enabling a vibrant, progressive tribe of adventurers, to a meeting space and an outdoor playground, the YesBus is an example of exactly what SayYesMore wants to inspire – what they describe as “… a beauty in bringing an audacious idea to reality.”

The Crowdfunding campaign continues, £48,000 is needed to cover the material costs of converting the bus. But the YesBus is not the only string to SayYesMore’s bow. The group’s own “micro-festival for positive change,” has been held annually, each autumn, since that first one in 2015. Set in rolling green countryside at Brinsbury Agricultural Centre Yestival offers: “a weekend full of workshops, talks, walks, discussions and games during the day, then comedy, inspirational lectures and chilled out music at night… a festival with an emphasis on discovery, inspiration and discussion, rather than drinking and partying.”

SayYesMore now has more than 6,000 plus followers on its main Facebook page and a further 2,000 members in regional tribes around the UK, and the message is spreading worldwide with YesTribes popping up in Germany, Australia, Bali, Canada, USA and Belgium. In the last year, the YesTribe has raised over £750,000 for good causes, and has “ … travelled well over 100,000 miles on human-powered journeys – including setting up charities, businesses and social enterprises.” And, SayYesMore runs workshops and retreats that aim to help anyone going through a tough but ultimately rewarding lifestyle transition.

Make positivity normal

The group’s ethos are straightforward – to make positivity normal; to support change by reducing hurdles and building a supportive network; to ensure that they have regular organised meet-ups, gatherings, camp-outs and events and to do more than just hang out, by sharing skills and create businesses together.

So, if you feel it’s time that you stopped doing a job that isn’t for you and began something that you’re more passionate about, want to surround yourself with positivity and like-minded people, want to take up new hobbies and learn new skills or head off on life-changing adventures – you could do a lot worse than saying yes more. www.sayyesmore.com

By Lynn Smith