Continuing to reflect on happiness and social capital

The Office for National Statistics have this month (May 2017) just published another edition of the research generated by The Social Capital Project.

Read more here…

The ONS research key indicators of social capital to measure our societal constructs, begin by defining social capital as ‘…the connections and collective attitudes between people that result in a well-functioning and close-knit society‘.

Social captal, the ONS argues, is a useful indicator of ‘…positively functioning well-being, economic growth and sustainability‘.

(We like the framing concept. A better composite measure of human well-being, despite its overt press for economic growth. Better still than measures of ‘human capital’. Prof. Peter Fleming of the Cass Business School has, ahead of his new book The Death of Homo Economicus, written a comdemnatory article of this latter movement in the US journal aeon. Explore it further here…).

Social Capital in the UK 2017 - image and web link
View, print or download the full ONS Report here…

This new ONS Social Capital report builds upon a 2016 version, ‘Measuring national well-being: An analysis of social capital in the UK‘ .

The original twenty five key indicators have been modified slightly in this new edition, although the report intent and key analysis remains the same.

See the full ONS report here (.pdf).

The main findings:

1. The most recent data show a largely positive picture of social capital in the UK over the longer-term with over half of the indicators showing improvement over a period of 3 years; a majority of indicators showed improvement or no overall change over the shorter-term 1 year assessment.

2. Most adults in the UK have at least one close friend, rising from 95% in 2011 to 2012 to 97% in 2014 to 2015. However, there has been a fall in the proportion of people saying they have someone to rely on a lot in case of a serious problem; this figure fell from 86% in 2010 to 2011 to 84% in 2013 to 2014.

3. Over two-thirds of UK adults (68%) report stopping and talking to their neighbours in 2014 to 2015.

4. More people are engaging in unpaid volunteering; in 2010 to 2011 the figure was 17% compared with 19% in 2014 to 2015.

What we find interesting in a time where the surface layer of community would, taking a ‘tabloidest’ view perhaps, be comprised of dissent, emnity and huge inequality – there appears to be, in the human interactions referenced, a solidarity and an acceptance of the ‘the other’ that media headlines would deny.

The data presented indicates that this local solidarity is not shaded interpretation or government spin.

The broadly rising ‘close friendship’ indicator may be that in times of community erosion or flex, then people will talk to each other more, seeking a compassionate connection in the face of adverse societal perceptions.

That we now have less people to rely on in emergencies or difficulty may be an indicator as to the qualitative depth of those interactions. We are less likely, perhaps, to seek aid and succour from those whose political opinions, or economic empowerment, we now know radically differs from our own.

The indicator on neighbourliness, whilst good in itself, is a pointer to a shallower qualitative social encounter perhaps? (Not least further affected by the ‘Brexit’ referendum perhaps?

Working in the Third Sector, as we do, the most telling headline for us is the rise in volunteering. This can be a reflection of, for example, more food banks need more people to staff them. More likely, in times of fractious community or political change, the Third Sector and an engagement with it, sees the power of voluntary group activity continuing to manifest itself.

To create your community enterprise or social support service with volunteers provides balm to a troubled community, no doubt, but also increases self confidence, active participation and engagement in communities which hugely benefit the skill set and self-esteem of the person volunteering too, we would argue.

It is heartening that this indicator, in the report, shows a consistent rise from 2010 onwards.

Section Eight of the full report contains the Trust and Co-operative Norms data, drawn from a variety of sources. Whilst 70% of survey respondents say that ‘…most people in their immediate area can be trusted’, only 35% have trust in central Government, and only 35% of respondents indicated that ‘most people can be trusted’ on an aggregate view of their nation, or beyond their local neighbourhood.

In our small way, we work creating community projects across the UK, and work to engage a wide variety of families, children and young people and Third Sector organisations. Those communities, for us, are conditioned by their similarity, not their difference.

The old maxim, that cities are in fact a collection of villages, holds true, we think. From within, all our neighbourhoods, in our experience, are populated by individuals striving for their contentment and happiness, to add to their community’s social capital, if you will.

The measure of our own social capital, and happiness, from the reading of this ONS report is perhaps to step up the fight on inequality and to resist ‘tabloidism’ and the ‘three word headline’ when thinking in community or humanitarian modes.

You can read more about the ONS Social Capital Project on-line here.


Coda: The psychologist Robert Waldinger, in a TedTalk of 2015, discussed the findings of the Harvard Adult Development Study. Continuously tracking the lives of 724 adult U.S. males over a sustained period of 75+ years to now..

What can be drawn from the research is the immense importance of relationships and community, in the emergence of healthy, active and content lives. Clearly the pursuit of wealth, fame and other ‘commonsense’ consumerist goals for achievement fall away in terms of objective true value.

(See more at Security of attachment to spouses in late life: Concurrent and prospective links with cognitive and emotional wellbeing – Robert J. Waldinger et al – Accessed May 2017)

It is interesting that the ONS study above should be focused on human capital as a driver for economic growth. Whereas, in the Waldinger thesis, the very opposite is true of long-lived, happy humans.

Oh that government should directly invest in equal measure, then, in the voluntary sector, with all its diversity, complexity and community affinity, as it does in trying to achieve economic micro and macro permanent ‘market’ growth?

Now that would make us happy!


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  • International Day of Happiness

    A Happy School, image
    Image: Yonjeee Lee – 12 years old, Rep. of Korea ‘A happy school is not only education, but also friendship…’

    Pursuit of happiness is on the global development agenda, but not enough is being done to address learner well-being. UNESCO’s ‘Happy Schools’ framework (pdf) addresses the disparity.

    The Global Partnership for Education has a wonderful blog referring to the UNESCO’s Happy Schools framework, whch was originally launched on March 20th 2012.

    We hear so much about achievement and attainment levels and the need for testing and assessment so it was with real joy that I read the article and found that there are others who know that happiness is key to learning.

    If a child is not happy they do not find it easy to learn!

    Some of the source comments are quoted below. They makes inspiring reading and a great encouragement for education principles which believe in the word ‘educatio‘ meaning ‘leading out‘, rather than levels and testing assesments.

    ”Happiness has captivated great minds since ancient times, with thinkers as varied as Socrates, Aristotle, the Buddha, Confucius, John Locke and Johann Pestalozzi expounding on its nature and the importance of well-being in our lives. And today messages about the importance of well-being, mindfulness, positive thinking and how to live a more meaningful life seem ubiquitous.”

    ”Happiness has also become a dominant policy concern for the global community. The United Nations designated today, March 20, the International Day of Happiness in 2012 and identified the pursuit of happiness as “a fundamental human goal” the previous year, while the concept of well-being features across many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).”

    Just last month, the World Government Summit held in Dubai included a high-level Global Dialogue for Happiness, which examined the issue of happiness from a policy perspective. Speaking at the event, UNDP Administrator Helen Clark said:

    “Paying more attention to happiness should be a component of our efforts to achieve human and sustainable development.”

    “But what role does and should happiness play in education?”

    Sue Martin: SmithMartin Partnership and Books Go Walkabout


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  • Motherhood Around the World

    Image: Mother and child in Sweden, ready for winter?

    Joanna Goddard’s U.S. on-line journal, A Cup of Jo, has been publishing a series of articles in recent years about motherhood and parenting across the world. You can find the collection here.

    There are some surprises in store. What has amazed us, reading the collection of articles, is the wide variety of rules and regulations, benefits and opportunities, as well as the universal nature of care for children, expressed in the detail of the articles. The latter not a surprise.

    The context for the articles, in our times of benefit cuts, constrained resources and political alienation, is that there exists a variety of models for parenting and parenting support. They depend on the socio-cultural norms of the country under examination. They depend on the economic ‘depth’ of the country too. They all depend on that universality of love that parents offer.

    The article we liked the most, 14 Surprising Things About Parenting in Sweden, features parents and child, originally from the USA and Brazil, declaring their experiences of life in Sweden.

    Cultural norms in Sweden are different. For example, leaving your child, heavily swaddled, out of doors in the midst of a Nordic winter takes courage. However, parents are given 480 days of paid leave, post arrival of a child, with 90 of them dedicated to the father.

    Childcare costs cannot exceed $150 a month, and we got very excited for parents reading about Vabbing – the principle of the state paying salaries when you have to stay off work to care for sick children.

    We also liked the Law of Jante, another cultural principle really, that insists ‘…that one individual is not more special than any other, and you’re not to behave as if you are‘. A great pre-cursor for enhancing social equality? Although we recognise that in some acquisitive cultures this lack of focus on success and ‘high performance’ might jar with some parents.

    pippi longstocking cover image
    Review or pruchase this book from Amazon.co.uk…

    As booksellers we were truly delighted to read that Pipi Longstocking and Alfie Atkins are as popular as ever with Swedish children. Who could guess?

    Dipping into the article series on the ‘motherhood’ pages of A Cup of Jo is an uplifting experience, particularly in the midst of a grey English winter. It also shows that with all the pressures of parenthood you are not alone and that there is always a different, even better way, to do things too.

    Motherhood Around The World – we recommend it.

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  • Spare a Thought for…

    Portabella RdWe awoke as a nation on Friday 25th June 2016 to the incredible announcement that Britain has voted to leave the European Union.

    How and why ever did that happen? As The Economist in the article, A Tragic Split, mentions…” How quickly the unthinkable has become the irreversible”. Economist 24.6.16.

    On Saturday morning I was walking in a small town in East Anglia, similar to many small towns with different communities, who bring lots of benefits to local towns. As I walked on the streets I could see many Lithuanian and Latvian young families doing their shopping, they were stopping and talking with each other. How do they feel on this Saturday morning? How will their children feel at school on Monday?

    And so as a passionate European, my small lament as a consequence of this reckless decision…

    Spare a Thought for all those who now live with us from Spain, Portugal, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania and other countries…

    For the nurses in our hospitals who every day look after us when we are sick and ill.

    For the carers of our elderly parents and older generation, who every day care for and act with compassion and tenderness to our families.

    For the people who work on the land, who every day battle with the cold and wet weather to provide us with cheap food.

    For the plumbers, carpenters, electricians in the building industry, who every day build our houses and places of work.

    They have come to be with us to make a better life for themselves and for our country, they are trying to make things better. How did they feel on Friday June 25th?

    Now we have to live with this decision taken on a vote fuelled by prejudice and fantasy. We will make individual decisions in a different way than before the vote.

    It seems inevitable that decisions will be made that will close the door to friends in the EU. As a partnership, we will try more than ever, to ensure that we work and strive to maintain the compassion, care, inclusiveness, diversity, fairness and support for everyone who is and who wants to be in the UK.

    Sue Martin

    SmithMartin Partnership LLP


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  • Tailor Made: How do community groups improve society?

     

    Image 2
    Supporting community, supporting society…

    Research from the Community Development Foundation shows that vital contributions from small community groups are making huge benefits nationally to society.

    Today sees the launch of a research project ‘Tailor Made: how community groups improve people’s lives’; from The Community Development Foundation.

    The CDF have developed a specific micro-site, where the range of research into community group impact can be found. See more detail here.

    ‘Nearly all of the groups identified as being under the radar, are providing tailored services to their community with an income of less than £2,000 a year. With increasing pressure on public funding, we are using this research that demonstrates the important contribution that community groups make to society as a call to action to secure their future.

    The research found that community groups are able to develop ‘tailor-made’ support for people in their communities. They complement statutory services because they have the flexibility to meet specific needs with groups of people or whole communities – providing bespoke support.

    The types of outcomes of the work being carried out by these groups include:

    • building safer communities: They prevent crime, support victims of crime and support ex-offenders in rebuilding their lives
    • improving the physical environment: They maintain and improve the physical environment including parks, allotments and buildings
    • improving health and well-being: They tackle the wider causes of poor health and wellbeing such as poverty, housing, employment, crime, pollution and isolation
    • improving local economies:They provide training and support to help people into work. They also contribute to economic growth by supporting people to start small businesses and helping people to manage their money better so there is more to spend locally.’
    Posted on cdf blog 29.10.2014

    The community groups provide ‘lived experience’ of the issues they are working with which provides a unique insight to support other forms of knowledge. The trust gained by these groups makes people in communities more likely to come forward for help and support.

    The research project can be viewed on Community Development Foundation website, as a downloadable document or as a series of chapters on the Tailor-Made research page.

    It was jointly funded by The Community Development Foundation, Asda Foundation and Trust for London.

    Sue Martin – SmithMartin Partnership LLP, Cambridge- building better communities


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  • A Quiet Revolution

    Image 1What happens in communities when funding for projects is cut back? When plans and development for new centres no longer happens and the traditional means of support is withdrawn, what is the real impact?

    Image of Granard Children’s Centre with Maggie Darling, Daycare Trust event at Speaker’s House, London.

    Many community based projects started to improve people’s lives and increase opportunities, especially in areas of need, have seen major cut backs in the last two years.

    Many projects are still continuing, even without the support that was originally in place. People are people, and in England the spirit of togetherness and helping each other still exists, plans are still taking place.

    Quiet revolutions have happened before, a film from Soka Gakkai International shows that even one person’s actions can make a dramatic difference. Narrated by UN Sec. General Kofi Annan and narrated by Meryl Streep, this prize winning film is worth a look.

    Image 2

    …feeling powerless to affect the crisis facing humanity, many do nothing.

    But a growing number of ordinary people are carrying out a quiet revolution.”

    Our partnership, SmithMartin Partnership LLP, works directly with people in communities, we are committed to providing support and enabling achievement and aspirations.

    There is a real sense of a quiet revolution, which continues the deliver the good work, to support families and young people, a revolution to bring people together but in a quiet and non demonstrative way.

    From experience people do feel ‘let down’ by authorities that had been so supportive and now have changed directions. But a sense of community togetherness has been engendered and working together to support each other has been enhanced.

    The Sure Start Children’s Centre initiative is a good example and recent news in ‘Children and Young People Now’ indicates there is a reduction of over 400 since the coalition government was formed.
    But of those 400, only 25 have actually closed and London has been the worst hit. Many centres have been combined and formed into clusters with one leader and reduced staff across the cluster, but the work, the contact and the initiative still continues.

    Centres in London that we work with have seen major reductions in staffing which has inevitably led to some activities and services being reduced. But the centres are still vibrant and diverse communities, offering provision that is most needed by their families.

    Looking ahead with a wider perspective…. there are opportunities to apply for funding for community projects and with the right organisation and structures in place chances exist to support projects, to encourage attainment and aspiration to help people’s lives.

    A future through this quiet revolution is possible and will happen through people just like you and me.

    Sue Martin

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  • Emotional creativity – imaginative landscapes…

    shekhurkapurPic

     

    Shekhar Kapur and A R Rahman have created a new Bangalore based social network for creative expression – QYUKI.

    Using the internet and a web connection to set your mind and your imagination free.

     

     

    The aims of QYUKI are that…

    …the platform aims to discover the vast untapped talent of India and the Indian diaspora; mentor and transform them into brands of the future
    Qyuki’s dynamic young team lives off one common dream – to empower people’s self-expression and help build their creative identity.

    As a tool for social connectivity we liked the system of casting ’emo votes’ for submission to the network. Casting a vote on an emotional basis for what you have just read or seen.

    Shekhar Kapur was a chartered accountant in an oil company, before changing his life to become an Oscar nominated actor, director and producer of films.

    A visit to the home page of QYUKI offers the viewer a short presentation by Kapur and co-founder A R Rahman – the talk by Shekhar Kapur we found particularly inspiring. He talks about the stifling of creativity and the potential to realise ambitions for young people and how letting go with that imagination and engaging across the world with others for creativity is a great way to change your expectations and those of others. His own life course illustrated.

    A philosophy that chimes with our partnership approach to international and UK projects and how to use the internet for community gain and individual expression within a framework of ethical action.

    We are currently supporting Marham Voices, a Heritage Lottery funded community project which aims to deliver a oral history and heritage publication for a rural community.

    Part of the process is to create an oral archive and free publication for the community and we have built an Open Source and free software ‘tool-kit’ which will enable volunteers to create digital and print outputs for the project – at no cost for users or the project. (The hardware and physical technology generously supported by The Heritage Lottery Fund).

    In our own small way we hope that by deploying our technology as a community resource we can help to create an emotionally coherent and better understood landscape for a small corner of the UK…with a lot of fun doing it along the way!

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  • Volunteering in Children’s Centres

    Children’s Centres and Volunteering is just the start…

    Helping each other manage a life(Image courtesy of Pleasent Valley Children’s Centre)

    What better way is there for parents to get involved in their local Children’s Centre than through volunteering programmes?

    There is a wealth of activities and services for young children and families from Stay and Play sessions to visits to local outside spaces.

    Children’s Centres are an excellent place for families and parents to make that first step in involvement. They have well defined systems for volunteering and training programmes to enable parents to know they are doing the right thing!

    Many centres are now very encouraging to parents to join their team of volunteers and become active in the life of the centre.

    The real beauty of the system is that in all communities, whether a highly populated inner city area or rural countryside, there is a Children’s Centre for all young families.

    Involvement does develop even further and all Children’s Centres are enabling a Parent’s Forum to be in place, many are extending this to parental involvement on the partnership board. It is in fact a requirement from government and empowers the parents to have a voice in the direction of their Children’s Centre.

    Sure Start Children’s Centres have been in place since 2006 and although some have experienced some changes in organisation and governance, for the most part they are still a supportive presence for local communities.

    Their work is undoubtedly recognised and desperately needed, they have become a real zone for support in a friendly and positive role. Their work with outreach and families prevents many problems from developing to more serious issues. The partnership with health teams and Early Years teams gives children a much better chance in life.

    SmithMartin Partnership LLP is working on a pilot project with a national campaigning organisation on how volunteering can be extended and the positive role that it portrays to all parents.

    The Dept. for Education has recently published a paper;

    Increasing Parental and Community Involvement in Sure Start Children’s Centres.

    This can be downloaded here…(pdf file).

    It discusses ways that parents can achieve even more in the development of the Children’s Centre. It describes ways in which volunteering, parent’s forum and partnership board involvement, can be extended into parents becoming even more involved in the organisational structure of the centre.

    Much to be considered and interesting to chart the next stages of Children’s Centre development.

    Sue Martin

    SmithMartin Partnership – Broadening horizons in communities

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  • Daycare Trust Conference
    November 2011

    dtChildcare policy and the wider role of the community was the focus of the Daycare Trust annual conference in London on 22 November.

    A subject one would expect to have been well and truly embedded in the structure of our society. All the evidence clearly indicates the benefit of excellent early years environments and good foundations for young children. The effect on raising aspirations and morale of parents, enabling all to enjoy this crucial time in their lives is such a bonus.

    Kate Groucutt, Policy Director provided information about the numbers of Children’s Centres that are facing major changes or have closed, in the light of budget cuts. The removal of ring fenced budgets means that local authorities are, in some cases having to make major cuts.

    Harriet Harman reflected that a child- centred’ view is what many parents want and that it should be part of the infra structure. It is a universal requirement and not just for those parents in most need.

    Other speakers included; Professor John Mohan  from Southampton University, Lynn Chesterman from the Grandparents Association, representatives from Children’s Centres and local authorities,Professor Pat Thane, social historian, from King’s College and Sarah Teather, Minister of State for Children and Families.

    Daycare Trust, still in the driving seat campaigning for childcare and the provider of research, training and consultancy.

    Sue Martin

    SmithMartin Partnership LLP – bringing life to communities – centres and enterprise


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  • Charities, Community Groups
    and where to from here…

    dancrs

     

    Charities face closures as local authorities slash funding, making the delivery of community projects somewhere between hard and impossible.

    Acevo (the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations) had already shown that the sector will lose £750 million this year if central and local government passed on cuts proportionately.’ Guardian Tuesday 2nd August 2011.

    Research from False Economy shows that more than 2000 charities face cuts. Zoe Williams in the Guardian, Thurs 4th August 2011 says that ‘…philanthrocapitalism often looks a lot more like capitalism than it does philanthropy.’

    Our partnership work is very much at the ground level; working with people in communities, the centres, the staff, the volunteers and children and families. There’s a lot of resilience and a feeling that although funding and support from the last few good years is coming to an end it doesn’t have to signify a finality to all the good work and the spirit of the community.

    The problems have not gone away, they are now papered over or simply removed from the political agenda.

    But community development is more than just provision of economic funding; social wealth, creative wealth and spirit of support remain.

    There are ways through hard times, social enterprise being one, allowing you to be in charge of your own destiny and economic sustainability is a very powerful opportunity for good.

    (Image courtesy of Ridgeway Park Children Centre )

    SmithMartin Partnership LLP

    Bringing communities together


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