The Craft Cafe: A creative to solution to the challenges of ageing

The Craft Café in Govan is a programme for people over the age of sixty and is a place where they can meet, socialise and pursue creative ideas. It is run by the charity Impact Arts and offers creative solutions to tackle the challenges of ageing. I am the Artist in Residence. I handle the daily management of the Café and run art workshops. In its eighth year, it is now well established with 40 regular members and around 20 attending each day.

I don’t measure people by their age but just see their individual personalities. But I do acknowledge that age brings with it certain issues:

  • One of the most obvious is health – it can be a battle to not let ill health control your life.
  • Loneliness- our fast-paced culture can leave older people feeling disconnected instead of appreciated.
  • Re-defining who you are and what you do post-retirement- Work gives us a social role and a purpose, and when this finishes we still need to have a structure to feel useful and stay motivated.

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The Craft Café offers a solution; it defies the pre-conceptions of growing older and celebrates creativity and people in later life. The atmosphere is infectious and the place is buzzing. The group are a vibrant and lively bunch of people with a strong sense of camaraderie and inclusiveness. All activities are free and members can choose to partake in the current project or can work independently.

I am constantly impressed by the members’ willingness to try new things – which can be a challenge at any age – but what inspires me most is the kindness and support they show each other. They are not critical or competitive but instead enthusiastic about each other’s talents. Many were new to making art when they first began at the Café. Their last significant encounter was often at school which taught ‘If you cannot draw you are not good!’ But through workshops and perseverance people have learnt skills and found new talents. One member said she is changing her old ‘I can’t do that’ attitude and thinking instead ‘I’m going to give it I try, practising in art media she never imagined she would ever use.DSC_0640

Having this creative space is invaluable as it allows older people to remain independent and express their individual selves, while still feeling part of a group. It also keeps people mentally and physically active. I speak to different members who say they have been able to cut down on their medication for depression and anxiety, and who are reducing the threat of heart disease by attending the workshops and being physical. One member, who had been very isolated for many years and who started attending the Craft Café in his early nineties, commented ‘Coming here brings a twinkle to the eye!’ I see this daily, and I am inspired by members’ willingness to be open to new experiences.

It seems obvious that improving people’s lifestyles will improve their health and general well-being. Quality of life is essential, but in our culture we need to give this idea more credibility and take more action to make it happen. I believe retirement should be playtime for adults and, as the ageing population increases, I hope the Craft Café and others like it will be a growing phenomenon.

Guest Blog: Charlotte Craig

(for more information on Charlotte’s work see here)

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Glass Ceilings and Sticky Floors: Women, Childcare and Rural Entrepreneurship

We_Can_Do_It!

Last week I attended the 15th Annual Rural Entrepreneurship Conference hosted by Newcastle University. One of the opening plenary speakers was Professor Sally Shortall from Newcastle University who presented her work on ‘Rural Entrepreneurship and Women’. Sally had spent a year interviewing women working into rural business in Scotland, and exploring the inequalities and changing statuses within particular professions, such as farming.

Women within the farming industry are typically met with barriers as the inheritance and transfer of farms is still traditionally between male members of families, and very few women are on boards and committees. However, women farmers who took part in interviews with Sally were often very highly motivated andeducated, and were making informed choices to enter the farming industry, despite of these barriers. The women did not feel restricted, and were open to take part in farming, knowing that they might never own their own farm but instead making this lifestyle choice. Within other rural sectors, women Sally interviewed tended to be more interested in starting small businesses rather than gaining high profits or status. The types of businesses that were being set up were also more likely to fill some kind of social need. But, what Sally emphasised was this was NOT because of their feelings of inequality, lack of education or fear of failure, with one of her respondents stating:-

 ‘It’s not so much a glass ceiling, but a sticky floor’  

One of those ‘sticky’ aspects highlighted was childcare, with a motivation for women to set up their own businesses in rural Scotland to provide flexible working patterns and support networks. This is something that resonated with my own project, Growth at the Edge, and the women I have spoken to in areas I have visited over the past 6 months. Spending time with remote and rural communities has shown me that job opportunities are sparse and generally low paid, and markets tend to be particularly small. Moreover, job markets, educational facilities and public services tend to be located in larger towns and cities, often a couple of hours away (or on the mainland if living on an island), further adding to the difficulties of access to economic and social opportunity. This is where women in particular have been using innovative methods to tackle such inequalities.

In the Seaboard Villages, on the Fearn Peninsula, local oil and gas industries are in decline, and males within families are commonly seeking work offshore and abroad, therefore women predominantly have sole responsibility for childcare. In response, women have started their own local parent & toddler groups at the Seaboard Hall social enterprise as a place to bring their children without having to travel to the nearest large town. This has allowed young females to socialise, gain childcare and health advice, and make informal supportive networks in a very sparsely populated area. Similarly, in South Uist, a social enterprise called Cothrom was set up by a group of young mothers who were interested in creating training and education opportunities to fit with their childcare needs. Such opportunities simply did not exist on their sparsely populated island. What began in 1992 as a small group of mothers running a local sewing class has grown into large community development facility offering education and training across the islands, with its very own on-site nursery.  This means that women are able to study for qualifications and even gain work experience whilst their children attend nursery in the very same building.

Of course, Sally’s work is only representative of the views of those who were interviewed who were already engaging in rural business and farming. Nevertheless, moving forward, there is a need to understand existing barriers and motivations and the potential for social enterprise activity to make the floor a little less ‘sticky’.

Danielle Kelly

Musings on Project 8: Empowerment, Health and Social Enterprise

Chicken and egg 2

 

As project 8 is well and truly underway I have collated the data we have generated over the past three years and I’m working hard with my colleagues to establish connections, similarities and differences within the findings. Reading the published papers and delving into the raw data a common theme is emerging, around what might generally be considered ‘empowerment’. With this, I am starting to explore some of the different ways that empowerment is conceptualised both in the wider literature and within our data.

It is a word that has been growing in use in some circles since it featured as a key aspect of the Christie Commission and is of course the main feature of the Community Empowerment Act.

According to the Scottish Government website:

The Community Empowerment Act will help to empower community bodies through the ownership of land and buildings, and by strengthening their voices in the decisions that matter to them.  It will also improve outcomes for communities by improving the process of community planning, ensuring that local service providers work together even more closely with communities to meet the needs of the people who use them.

Another definition of empowerment, which was central to my PhD research, was that from Kabeer who defines empowerment as:

‘the process by which those who have been denied the ability to make strategic life choices acquire the ability to do so’

In the context of the research we have carried out so far there are a range of experiences that individuals described which may be considered empowerment; improved confidence, sense of self-worth, personal pride and dignity. This is often coupled with an increased sense of purpose, meaning and motivation. While I continue to explore this data in more detail I will also consider the relationship between empowerment, health and wellbeing. Does one lead to the other? Which comes first? Or is empowerment a key component of health and wellbeing?

In their briefing on power and health NHS Health Scotland conceptualise power as one of the preconditions that are necessary to access healthcare, and exercise control over factors that determine health. In the simplest terms:

Empowerment 1

However, another option is that there may be a level of health and wellbeing that is required in order for a person to be empowered. For example, if a person is experiencing high levels of stress or physical pain they may not have the resources to enact their power. So here we have a situation in which:

Empowerment 2

This can lead to a chicken and egg situation (and finally the picture at the top of the post makes sense!) in terms of empowerment, health and wellbeing:

Empowerment 3

 

Another option in the relationship is that empowerment could be conceived of as a key component of health and wellbeing. Work has been done to capture what it means to live a ‘good life’ or ‘flourish’ and the power to make decisions is an important aspect of that. Does this mean it is a key component of health and wellbeing? Another consideration is a person’s ‘capabilities’ which reflect their freedom to lead the type of life that they want to, in which case empowerment can be seen as a key aspect of health and wellbeing and the ability to live a good life. Nussbaum developed a list of 10 capabilities which have been used to explore the impact of social enterprises working to support homeless people. My hunch at the moment is that there are aspects of empowerment which are inextricably linked to some of these capabilities and thus empowerment may be considered as a key component of health and wellbeing.

Empowerment 4

So now it’s back to the data to check out which option plays out in our data, whether it is a combination of all three, or if it is different depending on context and circumstance.

Clementine Hill O’Connor

Reflections on the Knowledge Exchange Forum

A special Knowledge Exchange Forum (KEF) was held on 18 November to celebrate the halfway mark of the CommonHealth research programme. It offered the chance to hear the findings of some projects and the catch up on the progress of others.

opening-session-kef-18-11

The day was introduced by Professor Cam Donaldson, CommonHealth Principal Investigator, followed by a presentation of related research by Michael Roy and Bobby Macaulay. Bobby talked us through his findings from Project 2, his contemporary analysis of social enterprise as a public health intervention.

Two break-out sessions split the remaining projects, with one presenting case studies exploring in detail the links between the work of social and community enterprise and health/wellbeing (Projects 3, 4 and 5), while the other discussed testing ways of measuring the impact of social or community enterprise on health and well-being (Project 6 and 7).

After lunch, the day was reflected upon in three provocations which left us with more food for thought. Dr Oliver Escobar, Co-Director of What Works Scotland, University of Edinburgh, asked us to consider not only social good, but also democratic goods, such as empowerment and its impact on confidence & agency, and the benefits of civic participation.

Professor Carol Tannahill, Director of Glasgow Centre for Population Health and Chief Social Policy Adviser for the Scottish Government, explained that the Scottish policy context is favourable and that the Scottish Government is committed to reducing inequality and increasing inclusion. Professor Tannahill suggested the future success of public health, and indeed the public and third sector more widely, might be increased by pooling resources and coming together as funding becomes strained across all sectors. For those of us working on CommonHealth projects, what was particularly reassuring was Professor Tannahill’s comment that we are providing valuable evidence which will be welcomed by policymakers, and her encouragement that we should keep working on generating a cohesive body of evidence to help discussions currently ongoing within government.

Leona McDermid, Executive Director of Aberdeen Foyer, summed up the experiences of many social enterprises, noting that not only are those working to support and sustain the organisation exhausted, they also have no time to reflect at length on their impact and outcome. She welcomed her organisation’s participation in the CommonHealth programme as an opportunity to tell the stories they are producing through their work.

The CommonHealth research programme team will continue to find ways to tell the stories of all we work with, and thanks to the input of participants of this (and previous) KEFs, we feel reassured that people want to listen.

fiona Fiona Henderson  clemmie Clementine Hill OConnor

Thanks to @dialectographer aka Mitch Miller for the fantastic visuals he produced on the day that we have used in this post

Introducing ‘Project 8’

Submitting my PhD this week marked the official end of the ‘Passage from India’ project and so I have started to turn my attention to the question of ‘what next?’ Gill and I will be working on ‘Project 8’ over the next two years and sat down to talk about the specifics of work. It has has always seemed like the far off project in the distance, answers to many questions over the past couple of years have been; ‘Well that’s for project 8 to address’ and now it’s time to grapple with some of those questions…

The research conducted throughout the CommonHealth programme is designed to explore some of the concepts included in the following model (based on a paper you can find here):

conceptual model

This looks complex, but in its simplest form shows the variety of mechanisms through which a social enterprise might improve health and wellbeing. Although this is based on a variety of  existing theories and concepts, there are very few studies that relate specifically to social enterprises. As CommonHealth researchers our job is to contributeevidence to refine, develop some of the assumptions behind this model. This will be an important aspect of project 8 as we look at some of the emerging themes from projects 1, 2 and 4 and ask how these might relate to various aspects within the model.

One such theme relates to the value of work which has been an important consideration of all the projects thus far. In project 1 Gill noted that Scottish community businesses were often concerned with ‘recruiting people who had been unemployed for many years due to the economic crisis of the 1970s and dramatic changes in the infrastructure of the Scottish economy’. In his work on project 2 Bobby undertook a case study of a work integration social enterprise and interviewed people who placed a huge amount of importance on on their work, knowing that they may not find employment elsewhere. Often their answers related to a sense of purpose and belonging. In my own work on ‘Passage from India’ I have been considering the value of work and whether it lies in the monetary reward or if there are other aspects of work that make it good for health and wellbeing? Perhaps this is one of the key mechanisms by which social enterprises can impact on health and wellbeing?

Watch this space as we start to address this and other important questions about health, wellbeing and social enterprises.

Clementine Hill O’Connor

Still Living and Practicing Social Enterprise (part two)

On Friday 17th June Yunus Centre hosted a workshop ‘Still Living and Practicing Social Enterprise’ here at GCU. It was the second in what we hope will be an annual event that considers the potential for ethnography to explore questions emerging from the field of social enterprise research.We heard from: Anna Kopec, University of Northamption; Richard Hull, Goldsmiths; Aurelie Soetens, Univeristy of Liege; Iain Cairns, Glasgow Caledonian University and Juli Qermezi Huang, London School of Economics.

Thanks to all the presenters and the engaged audience that made for an interesting and inspiring day.In this blog Danielle and Clementine from the CommonHealth team reflect on a second key theme from the day that resonates with our own work which also uses ethnography.

Embracing Messiness

We’ve been mulling over one of the comments from the audience at our Ethnography and Social Enterprise event on 17th June 2016. We were encouraged to think about what is ‘unuttered’ within organisations, to observe surprises and spontaneity and to embrace that this would be an inevitably messy process. In the specific context of social enterprises it is important that researchers consider: complexities of relationships; emotional responses; policy; practice; rhetoric and reality within a whole range of different actors. The question then becomes, how do we present our findings so that they are convincing and useful?

The fieldnotes of ethnographers include typed, written and scribbled notes, photos, diagrams or physical artefacts. It can be messy and daunting for the researcher! We must then step away from the field in order to begin to explore ways to understand what we have seen and identify the best way for us to structure this for an audience.

The style of ethnographic writing allows for some of this ‘messiness’ to continue as we weave a narrative throughout our presentations, papers, articles or thesis. This was shown to great effect in a number of the presentations that relied on powerful descriptive vignettes that gave some structure to the messy data that is generated. The vignettes used highlighted the tensions and contradictions within the field, raised questions and peaked interest before delving into the significance of the events described and putting them in a wider theoretical and empirical context.

Ethnography allows us to consider the messiness of the world around us, forces us to recognise that which goes unsaid and can generate descriptive and detailed accounts of people, places, events or organisation. This is important in the field of social enterprise to allow for nuanced analysis and space for a critique. It also addresses the need to recognise the importance of a smile! Though subtle, this is an important impact, as defined by one of the social enterprises present at the recent Knowledge Exchange Forum (see here), and so we should find ways to capture and present this type of impact. Ethnography, in all its wonderful messiness, might be one such way we hope to do that!

Clementine Hill OConnor and Danielle Kelly

Still Living and Practicing Social Enterprise

On Friday 17th June Yunus Centre hosted a workshop ‘Still Living and Practicing Social Enterprise’ here at GCU. It was the second in what we hope will be an annual event that considers the potential for ethnography to explore questions emerging from the field of social enterprise research.We heard from: Anna Kopec, University of Northamption; Richard Hull, Goldsmiths; Aurelie Soetens, Univeristy of Liege; Iain Cairns, Glasgow Caledonian University and Juli Qermezi Huang, London School of Economics.

Thanks to all the presenters and the engaged audience that made for an interesting and inspiring day.

In this blog Danielle and Clementine from the CommonHealth team reflect on one of the themes from the day that resonate with our own work which also uses ethnography.

For some reflections on the event last year click HERE

The Nature of Participation

The workshop gave us a chance to hear how individuals are engaging with social enterprises in different and interesting ways. Yet what was cross cutting was that research in this field can often require the researcher to take a central role within organisations to gain a rich understanding of cultural and relational dynamics.

The nature of social enterprise means that organisations can often rely on the goodwill of volunteers and community members to provide a workforce, skills and entrepreneurial ideas in order to survive. Social enterprises can be stretched for time, funding and staff whilst balancing social aspirations with income based activity. For that reason, we must take careful consideration of how we are engaging with organisations without becoming extra ‘baggage’.

As academic researchers we often take part in extractive research where we pitch up, collect data and then leave without a trace. Yet, ethnography can require a level of participation in groups and communities to gain a deeper understanding of their culture. Therefore the natural inclination with social enterprises may be to volunteer our services as a staff member, get involved with the day to day running, or even become a board member. In this way we are not just extracting from the social enterprise but also giving back.

Nevertheless, research presented at the workshop raised a multitude of questions for ethnography. For example, if we are busy working at the social enterprise are we missing out on other aspects of the organisation, such as service users? The answer may be that we plan to divide our time amongst different social actors, however is this something that must be negotiated? Similarly, how much of ourselves should we give to the social enterprise? It could be the case that a financial contribution is most appropriate, or that we are able to share our skills and knowledge. Yet, it must be questioned if our presence is then interfering with or influencing the cultural transactions that already exist amongst natives.

As academics we may be viewed as superior and ‘clever’ and therefore able to provide answers to business problems. Similarly, people may behave unnaturally around us, being on their best behaviour or becoming more reserved and quiet.  Yet on the other hand, we may be viewed as an inconvenience if we interrupt the daily flow of activities, or are unable to commit to working hours. What if we contribute too much? Does this mean that when we leave the field we are leaving social enterprises in uncertainty, or understaffed?

Ultimately, all of these questions will be dependent on each case and our ability to participate, yet within ethnographies of social enterprise this is an important conversation that must be continued. However what I will take away from this event is that we must always consider the effects that we may have on others, and the lasting legacy of our contribution or non-contribution.

Danielle Kelly and Clementine Hill O’Connor