Blog September 6, 2008

Clubbing in London (and not of the disco kind)

I had two pleasant meetings in London this week – one took place at the RSA near Charing Cross on Thursday, the other at 1 Alfred Place off Tottenham Court Road yesterday. The RSA is a meeting of minds kind of place – library, lecture room, brainstorming places and lists of awfully famous and distinguished members on the walls in the public spaces. Alfred Place is more business meeting orientated with plenty of lounge space, free wifi, coffee and working space. But what both have in common is that they are private spaces where people of like minds or similar interests can come together to talk. RSA fellows also invite complete strangers into their homes to carry on the conversations in a project called Open Dinner.
The idea is simple. Fellows organise dinner parties, so called OpenDinners, in their own homes around topics close to their heart; and issue open invitations through RSA networks, voluntarily abiding by an agreed set of rules.
The simple rules include

• Dinners need to have a clear theme or purpose.
• All dinners need to be openly advertised in advance.
• There can be as many guests as the host can seat.
• No dinner must cost more than £3 in total per guest – excl. drinks.
• All dinners (guest list, recipes, photos etc) need to be documented.
• Reviews/reflections by guests are strongly encouraged.

Diners post their reviews, comments etc on the site afterwards and so the conversations continue.
Another interesting find is The School of Life which proports to be

a new cultural enterprise based in central London offering intelligent instruction on how to lead a fulfilled life.

You can sign up for courses about love, politics, family or have somebody do a makeover on your reading habits or, take a weekend trip to Heathrow Airport in the company of philosopher Alain de Botton.
The School of Life is

based in a small but spectacular shop on Marchmont Street, a thriving and bohemian part of central London. We’ve organised the shop as a chemist for the mind, a place where you can try out a variety of cultural solutions to everyday ailments. We sell books, artworks, courses, holidays and therapeutic services.

And it seems to me that there’s an interesting shift happening in the ‘real’ as distinct from virtual world these days – as though these types of spaces are a physical manifestation of the communities of interest/practice that are so common on social networking sites and now they’re working offline as well. I like this idea and I really like the Open Dinners idea – so much so that I’m tempted to launch into a version of it in Dublin. But, bearing in mind that most of the readership of this blog comes from outside of Ireland I’m wondering how I might successfully go about inviting a group of strangers to my home to talk about an interesting array of topics. I suppose half the fear is announcing a list of topics that I find interesting to discover I’m a lone ranger – what do you think?

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  • Paul Newton September 8, 2008 at 10:30 am

    An intertesting Idea, I have not been to Dubln for ages so if you decide to go ahead I’ll volunteer, as long as the conversation is more school of life than oil paintings!

  • annette September 10, 2008 at 1:26 pm

    Ok Paul – you’re on the list .. all we need now are some compelling discussion topics, so I’ll put my thinking hat on ..

  • Mike Wagner September 13, 2008 at 3:09 am

    Really like the Open Dinner model.
    What a great way to shake things up.
    I can’t get the RSA link to work, what is a RSA?
    Keep creating…the unexpected,
    Mike

  • annette September 13, 2008 at 8:52 am

    hi Mike – I just checked that link (it’s a pdf) and it appears to be working fine for me – sorry you are having trouble with it. Here’s a link to the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) they have a great website with some really good video podcasts…If you were to have an open dinner – what would you want to talk about?