About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

The end of each year invites a period of reflection – and these past 12 months have given us more to think about than most. While it’s important to acknowledge the pain and uncertainty of 2020, the festive season also presents an opportunity to celebrate some of the brilliant social innovations and initiatives that have emerged during the COVID-19 crisis.

For us at Nesta, this year has emphasised the vital importance of community – and in particular, the remarkable ability of communities to adapt and find creative solutions to new challenges. Across all sectors of society, the many extraordinary ways that people have found to help and support each other have offered some hope amid the gloom.

Our list of social innovations includes some pioneering organisations we've worked with in the past, as well as other initiatives that have caught our eye with their creative approach to tackling social challenges. From gifts that give back, to volunteering opportunities, to donations that don’t cost a penny, we hope this list inspires you with ways to spread much-needed festive cheer!

Donations with a difference

Choose Love Survival Bundle

Pick the Choose Love Survival Bundle

1. A truly Secret Santa
Choose Love is the world’s first online shop that sells products that go directly to refugees and displaced communities. From a hot meal to mental health support, every item on the website represents a product or service provided by one of the organisations Choose Love supports around the world. This year, take part in the Secret Santa initiative to send a gift to a displaced person. You can even write an e-card and give a present on behalf of a loved one.

2. Contribute to a festive meal
Bankuet’s app makes it easier for people to contribute to food banks across the UK, while reducing inefficiency and food waste across the process. The initiative provides a simple way of finding food banks close to you and pools the needs of various sites to provide clear lists of which areas need which items. Throughout the lockdown, Bankuet has provided a safe and simple of supporting food banks in a time of heightened need. Should you wish to donate, Bankuet uses a maximiser effect to extend each donation – through Gift Aid and bulk savings – which means that for every £1 donated, the team ensures that more than £1 of food is received by those who need it most.

Gifts that give back

Community Comfort e-cookbook cover - illustration of hands passing dishes of food over a table

Build up a new repertoire of winter dishes

3. Feast on new festive dishes
Community Comfort: Recipes from the diaspora is an e-cookbook bursting with delicious recipes written by 100 British cooks from migrant backgrounds. The collection not only provides fresh ideas for soothing food in what has been a deeply challenging year, it also raises funds for the bereaved healthcare colleagues and families of Black, Asian & Ethnic minority victims of COVID-19. From Nigerian jollof rice to Colombian empanadas, build up a new repertoire of winter favourites – or gift it to a fellow food lover – while supporting those disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

4. Spread cheer
Positive News is the magazine for good journalism about good things. The editorial team champions a new media approach centring around rigorous and relevant journalism that focuses on progress, possibility and solutions. Positive News is a co-operative and was the first media organisation in the world to offer ‘community shares’ globally through crowdfunding. Choose the Christmas gift subscription or select a past edition – physical (carbon neutral) or digital – to peruse.

5. Read a book of people’s stories that often go untold
The Book of Homelessness is the world’s first graphic novel created by people who have been affected by homelessness. Filled with stories, drawings, poems and more, the anthology provides a space for individuals to tell their stories on their own terms – and in whichever medium best captures them. All of the book’s profits are shared with its authors and the youth homelessness charity Accumulate so it can continue to provide creative workshops for people without secure housing.

6. Give the gift of an online community
Through a Black Ballad membership, you can give the gift of connection to an online community that empowers and supports Black women. A subscription gives you exclusive access to content including stories, opinions, interviews and videos, as well as discounted events and promotions that elevate the voices of Black British women.

Black Ballad, a Future News Fund grantee, was set up by Tobi Oredein with the intention of taking on the established order of the British media industry and its diversity problem – specifically the lack of representation and space for Black women. Together with co-founder Bola Awoniyi, the duo created Black Ballad as a way to share content written by and for Black women. Through crowdfunding, the site has now transitioned into a new membership platform. Sign someone up to the digital community for the perfect gift.

Creating COVID-safe connections

Zoom call and mug of tea

The new face of a coffee catch-up

7. Share a festive memory through music
Playlist for Life is an initiative that harnesses the power of music to support those affected by dementia. Developing out of the growing body of research that shows how music can alleviate some of the symptoms of dementia, this organisation helps create personal playlists that build connections between families and people living with the syndrome. Its winter campaign, #MyFestiveMemory, was developed to support people during the COVID-19 pandemic. You can join in via the Twitter hashtag; alternatively, make a donation of £5 and the team will send a personalised festive card to a loved one that includes a song that reminds you of them.

8. Spend some time
onHand is an app-based volunteering platform that matches local and vetted volunteers with those that need support. You can sign up to become a volunteer and also refer someone who may need extra help and care throughout the end-of-year period. This winter, the onHand team is focusing on the loneliness epidemic. Find out more in the December for Good report.

9. Phone a new friend
FoodCycle is an initiative that addresses loneliness while supporting good nutrition, providing an opportunity for people to have a chat over a tasty meal. The organisation has had to innovate during the pandemic as members could no longer meet in person and so the team created a new remote volunteering role that connects volunteers with people who have been isolated over the last year. Sign up to help spread festive cheer over the phone, all from the comfort of your home.

Festive activities (that don’t include charades)

Neighbours at board games night, Liverpool Cares

Neighbours at board games night, Liverpool Cares

10. Singalong for solidarity
The Sofa Singers are twice-weekly online singing sessions that bring people together from around the world, sparking joy and creating connections. Launched this year in an effort to combat pandemic-induced isolation, the team is hosting a number of singalongs. Fifty per cent of proceeds from the Christmas sessions will be donated to Mind, the mental health charity, and Shelter, an organisation campaigning to end homelessness and bad housing. Get involved or register a loved one.

11. Storytime with a twist
Looking for an activity to entertain the children? Our Alternarratives project set out to find the most exciting examples of short-form storytelling to help re-engage young people with reading. The winning project, The Reader Remix, turns the reader into the main character and tells the story of an up and coming DJ en route to a party, complete with soundtrack. Creator Gavin Inglis also plans to make the coding open source so others can add their own stories and music, expanding the experience.

12. Social clubs that care
Accelerating Ideas grantee The Cares Family helps people find connection and community in a disconnected age. During the pandemic, The Cares Family pivoted and began piloting online social clubs, offering activities from chair yoga to remote discos. The team has put together an exciting winter programme – and any donations made up until 21 December will be matched until the team meets its fundraising target, the proceeds of which will all go towards supporting the programme. You can also apply to be a volunteer or refer someone you think would benefit from joining one of the groups.