My journey through the Highlands & Islands so far…..

 

The Growth at the Edge project (aka ‘the rural one’) is all about building a picture of the health and wellbeing benefits of social enterprise activity in the Highlands & Island of Scotland. As I have journeyed to some of the most remote and rural communities in Scotland in the past few months, I have been keeping a photo diary of my adventures….

I’ve met the most amazing community spirited people dealing with major transport issues, lack of services and issues that us urban folk may take for granted, such as access to fresh fruit and vegetables, or being able to reach a doctors surgery. Some rural inhabitants see themselves as the ‘forgotten people’, with ever depleting populations and a lack of vital infrastructure.

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A run down filling station in Helmsdale, the only one in the area

 

In spite of such challenges, the people of rural communities are defiant and resilient, both making the most of what they have and continually fighting for more. They are coming together and building new community centres to create meeting places and to provide activities for all ages…….

 Atlantic Centre, Isle of Luing and the Seaboard Centre, Balintore

They are encouraging people to curate their heritage, and are fiercely proud of their history….

The Mermaid of the North and Fish Sculptures, celebrating the fishing folklore of the Seaboard Villages

They are bringing education, arts and crafts to their communities, utilising and nourishing the skills that they have in their populations…

Art projects and handmade woodwork at Cantray Park, Cantray

As well as offering employment to people in the local community, including vulnerable groups and those in need……

Shetland Soap Company, Lerwick and The Elgin Youth Cafe, Elgin

They are encouraging people to ‘grow local, eat local’, with many communities investing in land for traditional crofting and market gardens and education to promote healthy living….

Blooming polytunnels at Cantray Park, Cantray and healthy living education at Elgin Youth Development Group, Elgin

And they are also investing in renewable energy and the recycling of materials to aid the sustainability of their communities for the future of their generations……

       Wind Turbines and a brand new ReStore furniture upcycle workshop at Cothrom, South Uist

I have met some very interesting service users along the way…….

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Some happy ducks and geese using the pond at the aviary at Cantray Park, Cantray (some had flown all the way from Canada just to use their service)

And I’ve literally been to the very edge of civilisation…..

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Views from sunny Lerwick, Shetland

But what is most exciting is that this is only the beginning of my project and I’m looking forward to uncovering so much more! My journey will be taking me to many more remote and rural communities, all with their own stories, of which I hope to share with you along the way!

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

Can social enterprises successfully deliver rural services? Exploring challenges and opportunities to rural social enterprise development

In this blog Artur Steiner, Lecturer in Social Entrepreneurship at the Yunus Centre for Social Business and Health shares his observations about activities of social enterprises in rural locations. Can they really deliver rural services successfully? What stops them form and, more importantly, helps them in doing so? These are some basic questions but it is important to explore them if we want to design policies and interventions supporting the development of rural social enterprises.

So far, in my academic life I had an opportunity to participate in several research projects that explored activities of both rural businesses and rural social enterprises. We all know about challenges associated with rural life. Those challenges relate, for example, to inaccessibility of goods, services and opportunities for wide social interaction. However, rurality, as a geographical context, affects not only people living there but also activities of businesses and social enterprises. As such, in relation to business development, rural locations present challenges associated with small, widely dispersed clientele, ageing population and limited human resources, physical, technical and economic barriers, and distance from service centres. Despite this (or possibly because of this!), research indicates that rural citizens are more likely to be socially orientated in their entrepreneurship than urban dwellers (Williams, 2007) and in recent years there has been a growth in community-run enterprises (see Plunkett Foundation). This might be because of strong social networks, embeddedness and social movements that are evident in rural communities (Jack and Anderson, 2002). For many years it has been argued that rural citizens draw upon such traditional rural strengths – strong mutual knowledge, sense of community and social cohesion. Moreover, social networks are denser in rural, as compared with urban settings, with resulting outcomes of high levels of trust and active civic participation. Probably because of that rural businesses are frequently closely integrated with their local community generating loyalty and stability amongst their local customer base which may help to offset some of the limitations of the rural business environment.

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In relation to rural social enterprise research, emerging patterns across my study results indicate that the key challenges and threats to rural social enterprise development include:

  • Rurality and the challenges of the geographical context (as highlighted earlier)
  • Mismatch between national and regional level-policies promoting social enterprise and lack of rural social enterprise policies
  • Rural social enterprise risk-aversion and change resistance
  • The complex nature of funding for social enterprise development and difficulties in accessing appropriate funding by rural social enterprises
  • Persistent grant-dependence and a lack of financial sustainability of rural social enterprises
  • Lack of entrepreneurial skills across rural social enterprises
  • The challenges of complex social enterprise ownership structures
  • Difficulties in defining and measuring the contribution of social enterprises to local development
  • Perceived pressure to replace voluntary organisations with social enterprises.

On the other hand, key opportunities for rural social enterprise development are:

  • Co-production of public services addressing gaps in rural service delivery
  • Turning existing rural needs into opportunities and taking advantage of emerging rural markets
  • Using advantages of the rural context (as highlighted before)
  • Creation of locally tailored solution to rural challenges
  • Benefits of ethical markets and growing recognition of social enterprises
  • Existing support structure
  • Growing awareness of the importance of being more business-like
  • Enhanced rural collaboration and networking
  • Developing self-support and a proactive approach.

So far, presented information tells us two things; first, rurality affects not only the culture, attitudes, the way how people think and support each other but also activities of social enterprises. Second, there are advantages and disadvantages associated with developing and running a social enterprise in a rural location. As such, it seems quite obvious that rural context matters. However, is this sufficiently recognised in currently policies and support structures for social enterprises?

In general, current UK policies suggest that citizens will take greater responsibility for organising services traditionally delivered by the state with communities, neighbourhood groups and community organisations doing  things ‘for themselves’ (this includes the Conservative Party, 2010 and the plans for the Community Empowerment Act that date back to 2009). Simultaneously, the UK governments have supported social enterprise through direct funding, business support and, increasingly, through procuring goods and services from social enterprises. But is this support and funding tailored well enough to address needs of rural social enterprises? Interestingly, recent Social Enterprise Census (2015) indicated that 32% of Scottish social enterprises are located in rural areas. This is substantial considering that rural Scotland is home to only 18% of Scotland’s population (Scottish Government, 2011). This would suggest that policies are efficient in supporting rural social enterprises and that social enterprises have found a fertile ground to grow. So, can social enterprises successfully deliver rural services?

My rural social enterprise research across different locations indicated that despite many potential challenges associated with the rural context, provided they have the right level of entrepreneurship, social enterprises are well placed to sustainably address local social, economic and environmental issues delivering services to local communities. Growth potential for small-scale social enterprises exists in a range of communities across rural regions. Social enterprises are well positioned to best utilise available local resources and to tackle rural challenges. Still, my research observations indicate that in order to help rural social enterprises to grow, social enterprises need tailored support that differs from the support offered in urban centres. This can include, for example, funding available at the local level aiming to build capacity and enhance the sustainability of community social enterprises, specialised practical business support that acknowledges the rural context and local characteristics, and knowledge dissemination about successful local and rural social enterprises.

Finally, in order for social enterprise to successfully deliver rural services, rural challenges and needs should be transformed into opportunities for social enterprise development. For instance, social enterprises should capitalise on the increase in consumers and businesses willing to support businesses that are ethical and socially sustainable. They should build a recognised and trusted brand, and enhance collaboration with public service markets and private businesses. Moreover, the ageing population could act as a promoter for developing the ‘silver economy’ and an incentive to set up and run social enterprises in health and care service provision. Rural social enterprises could, for example, take advantage of rural settings and become involved in food production initiatives or renewable energy projects. These aspects are especially relevant to Age Unlimited and Growth at the Edge Common Health projects that explore impacts of (rural) social enterprise on health and wellbeing of (rural) communities.

Guest Blogger: Artur Steiner

The Ins and Outs of Rural Migration (Part 2)

This week we continue our conversation about rural migration from first-hand experience. Using themes drawn from literature Bobby Macaulay will guide us through his experiences. Bobby is a CommonHealth researcher who left Shetland shortly after his 16th birthday.

Rural economies are dominated by low paid labour markets and there is a lack of training and education opportunities for young people……

Bobby: I don’t think it is necessarily true that you are more likely to go into a low paid job, but I would say that the choice of well-paid industries is much more limited in Shetland. Despite its ups and downs, the fishing industry in Shetland is still strong with some of Britain’s largest pelagic trawlers based in the isles. Another source of well-paid jobs is the energy industry, previously dominated by oil but now developing into natural gas and renewables. Through the UHI-affiliated Shetland College and NAFC Marine Centre, there are possibilities of gaining certain sector-specific training within Shetland. However, outwith these industries and the upper-echelons of the public sector, well paid jobs may be harder to come by.

Young people face scrutiny and hostility for wanting to move away……

Bobby: Cultures die if young people do not keep them alive. Therefore, there is a natural and understandable desire from the older generation that young people remain in the community to continue that culture, whether it be in the form of language or dialect, livelihood or local practices. So for those families and communities very deeply rooted in the culture of an island (which can be totally different even to the neighbouring island) there would be a desire for their young people to stay, or at least promise to return home.

I have never personally experienced hostility for leaving but that may be because (a) my parents are not native Shetlanders so don’t have such a deep rooting within the culture, (b) there may be a belief that new practices and viewpoints may not necessarily be detrimental to an island culture as it evolves, or (c) they weren’t too bothered about losing my presence within the community!

There is little to keep young people occupied in rural locations, which can affect emotional wellbeing…..

Bobby: Similarly to Jack’s response to this last week, I have never found this myself. Before I left home I was involved in a huge number of sports, clubs and activities and rarely found myself with nothing to do. Even now when I go ‘home’ there is always too much to do. This may differ between people and communities but I subscribe to the belief that ‘you get out what you put in’ so those people who are willing to get involved in the community will find that there is a huge amount to do and gain from being part of it.

There are many older retirees moving to rural communities which can be a burden on local services e.g. healthcare…..

Bobby: Of the people who have moved to the island I am originally from, I don’t know that I could say they tend to be much older. I’m not sure about the strain placed on public sector bodies but I can see the opposite effect on local businesses and schools. The bigger the population, the more products the shops can sell. The more kids are in the school, the more jobs can be supported on the island. In this way a steady in-migration to an island community can help sustainably support local businesses and preserve local jobs.

Incomers tend to interfere or try to take over the running community activities, leading to hostilities….

Bobby: This is a very poignant question for me as my parents were incomers to the island, moving there 2 months before I was born. Over the past 28 years they have been involved in a huge number of community activities. Over that time they will have undoubtedly done things in their own way, but I don’t think there is any suggestion that this has been detrimental to the island, and I am unaware of any particular hostility towards their involvement. As Jack said last week, the values held by an island culture are not necessarily compromised through the involvement of incomers. Indeed, it may be these very values which attracted people to move to the island in the first place. As any community evolves, it must decide which elements it carries forward and which it lets slip away. Perhaps the level of hostility towards incomers in community depends on which elements of the community culture fall into each camp.

The Ins and Outs of Rural Migration

In compiling my literature review on the challenges and opportunities for social enterprises in rural Scotland, I have been struck by the negativity often associated with life and conditions in rural communities.  Two of the biggest challenges for rural community culture are found to be: the decreasing numbers of young people remaining in the community, leading to the increase in ageing rural populations; and the consistent number of ‘incomers’ to rural areas, such as retiring city dwellers, and the effects that this ‘counter urbanisation’ has on community life.

Despite these issues having been highlighted in academic literature, I was keen to hear the perspectives of the Yunus Centre’s own islander population, Jack and Bobby, dubbed ‘the faces of rural migration’, on a few prominent themes from the literature highlighted below. This week we begin by chatting to Jack Rendall, one of our PhD students, who left rural Orkney at the age of 18 to study at University here in Glasgow.

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Jack en route to sunny Glasgow

 

Rural economies are dominated by low paid labour markets and there is a lack of training and education opportunities for young people……

Jack: To gain a highly skilled job within certain industries in Orkney you would need to have college or university education and the chances are that this would only be achievable by moving to mainland Scotland. Consequently, for those remaining on the island the chances of walking into a high paying job would be slim; therefore many people end up in low paid jobs within local businesses. Young people who stay in Orkney may consider something ‘well paid’ if it makes them enough money to support their family, perhaps reflecting differing priorities within the isles. There is a lack of training and education in areas such as renewable energy and other growing industries in Orkney where skills are essential and in demand.

Young people face scrutiny and hostility for wanting to move away from rural areas……

Jack: The reverse is often true amongst young people and their peers in Orkney, as many are ridiculed for having ‘little ambition in life’ if they don’t want to move away. However, older generations may view this differently as young people are necessary for the survival of communities and maintaining history and tradition. Hostility may be felt towards those who have already moved away and openly express their reluctance to return. I’m choosing my words very carefully in this respect so as not to be met off the boat with pitchforks and torches, I would love to return home one day. Either way, there are no real vehement views, part of being an Orcadian may arguably be the understanding that people will always come and go, it’s about making the most of the community you have.

There is little to keep young people occupied in rural locations, which can affect emotional wellbeing…..

Jack: I would disagree, by and large young people are willing and motivated to get involved in island living and there are many opportunities to learn and get involved with things. There’s a great sense of freedom in being able to walk around at night and feel safe or having easy access to beaches and countryside. I appreciate that many people may struggle with this, but for me living in Orkney has only affected my emotional wellbeing positively.

There are many older retirees moving to rural communities which can be a burden on local services e.g. healthcare…..

Jack: It is more apparent in Orkney that those who retire to the islands usually have the money to do so, therefore they are often more economically active; restoring old homes, building new ones and attending local events. They also tend to be very socially active, getting involved in community groups and bringing with them their experience. Whilst this does not lessen the need for elderly social services, it does highlight the fact that they are often some of the most valuable members of the community.

Incomers tend to interfere or try to take over the running community activities, leading to hostilities….

Jack: There are many different types of incomers, so as with any community it is not likely that everyone will be embraced in the same way. Most people are active community members bringing with them enthusiasm, new skills and expertise. Many incomers inevitable get involved in decision making as it is often them who are affected directly by community activity. The way of life on Orkney is constantly changing and adapting, however this does not mean that islanders can’t maintain the same values, and that is what people strive for. Two very important values are to be welcoming and friendly; ‘incomers’ are even front page news on a local island community newspaper which is just one warm example of our hospitality.

Next week we will be continuing the conversation with Bobby Macaulay, one of our Commonhealth researchers who migrated to Glasgow from Shetland…..

Artistic License

Last week’s blog looked at the relationship between art and social enterprise, and what particularly stood out to me was the idea that art can facilitate community expression.

800px-5397_-_Give_a_hand_against_homophobia_-_L'amore_spiazza,_Pavia_16_May_2010_-_Foto_Giovanni_Dall'Orto

As academic researchers we may strive to collect information from communities that can be objectified and rationalised, using mediums like interviews, focus groups, or perhaps even a bit of participant observation. The community talks to us, we write it down, then we display this in fancy reports or papers for peer reviewed journals in our quest for institutional credibility. However, the combined effort of using big long words and academic jargon can serve to isolate the very population we may be looking at, and they may be left feeling underrepresented by our own bias. This leaves us asking how we can fully represent communities through our outputs, and who is this for? This is a conversation that keeps springing up between Yunus Centre staff, most recently at the Unusual Suspects Festival and our CommonHealth Knowledge Exchange event.

The CommonHealth projects Growth at the Edge and Age Unlimited will both be applying participatory research approaches (design thinking and action research) to measure the effects that social enterprises can have on health and wellbeing. This will allow the research to be guided by the individuals and communities that we will be working with. In using such approaches we hope to potentially encourage creative thinking and the collection of data and documentation using non-conventional visual models, such as drawing, mapping, photography, and maybe even sculpting things out of plastercine, who knows?! Yet this will be ultimately up to the communities themselves to explore the most appropriate ways to express themselves and communicate with the research team. Of course we will be using interviews and focus groups to provide further data, but one of the most important things is to find ways to incorporate the visual outputs from the community members themselves into our findings.

Some social enterprises in the Highlands of Islands of Scotland, like ATLAS Arts in Skye, exist to allow community members to create art pieces that represent their landscape, histories and traditions. These visual art projects are used as a form of individual expression, and represent a persons’ subjective understanding of their culture and the world around them. Therefore in researching the people within such social enterprises, surely we need to utilise the visual artwork they have produced as ways of understanding their culture and context.

This got me thinking about how we can possibly analyse and disseminate the visual data we may collect. Ethnographers have faced this problem for decades of how to understand and aesthetically interpret tangible documents and art pieces to understand the culture from which they emerged. Visual anthropologists use methods of collecting cultural artefacts such as photographs, films, artwork and sculptures and then allow individuals from that particular society to both describe them and place them within history. This may still be viewed as pretty niche in academia, yet we could learn a few lessons from this approach on a wider level.

In terms of dissemination, it may be questionable whether visual arts have a place in academic conferences, perhaps displayed as ‘pretty posters’ alongside theoretical case studies and novel ground-breaking policy contributions? But this could just serve to further isolate research participants from their outputs. Or should we encourage community members to organise their own events that display the visual arts they produced within research projects, with academics in attendance? Hopefully our own CommonHealth Knowledge Exchange events will encompass this viewpoint going forward.

In terms of my own participatory study and the use of action research, my view is very much that we must work with communities not on them, so in fully engaging with individuals their problems become our problems. This goes all the way to research outputs; my papers become our papers, in the same way their art becomes our art.

 

I’ll drink to that

Drinking_a_beer_outside

In July this year Edinburgh opened its doors to its first social enterprise pub ‘The Southside Social’ who’s joints aims are to provide a nice wee place to drink, and also to provide sustainable employment for young people in Scotland. The profits of the pub will be donated to charity or re-invested into the programme. The pub will train its staff in the skills needed for a career in the hospitality industry, using a 19 week program including classroom based study and on the job work experience, almost like an apprenticeship. The outcome of which is the receipt of a certificate of work readiness, and qualifications in food hygiene and first aid.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good pub, particularly one that serves tasty pale ale and has a decent crisp selection. Yet the sceptic in me wants to jump up and down waving a red flag, how can the promotion of alcohol use be conducive to the achievement of social and environmental benefit of the community? Yes, these young people are gaining relevant skills for the industry, but will they be trained how to deal with noise pollution complaints when students are drunkenly singing ‘Tubthumping’ by Chumbawamba at the 1am kick out time? And what if the pub is facilitating anti-social behaviour and negative health outcomes? The NHS has found that alcohol goes hand in hand with instances of violence across social groups, with alcohol related illness and injury putting the most pressure on accident and emergency departments across the UK. Most notably, alcohol is a depressant, with suicide and self-harm more prevalent in those who have an alcohol problem.

On the flip side, this site was previously a pub called ‘The Meadow Bar’, of which I used to frequent in my student days. If this pub had not been taken over by a social entrepreneur, it may have fell into the hands of a larger profit wielding leisure company, with no regard for the social and environmental benefits they could be delivering. Moreover, it could be said that there are ethical issues related to health that will arise in any situation where alcohol is sold to consumers, such as shops and restaurants. This got me thinking, we will always have pubs, good and bad, but is it better that they become social enterprises? Or should we be cautious of promoting social enterprises that encourage behaviours that have potentially negative public health outcomes, directly or indirectly? If such pubs are donating to charities and providing sustainable employment opportunities then perhaps these negative outcomes are balanced out as health and social need is indirectly met elsewhere.

The ‘not for profit’ pub is not a new concept, as community based organisations such as working men’s clubs have been in existence since the 19th century. Such places have served to sustain social and economic means in their day, but the very thought of a working men’s club conjures up images of overweight men drinking pints of heavy and chain smoking. Yet as many of these drinking institutions are dying a death due to de-industrialisation, it may be time to further re-modernise this concept and bring it into the 21st century in the form of social enterprise pubs. The UK Government is currently offering loans and grants to communities, particularly in rural areas, who wish to take over their local pub through the Plunkett Foundation. As this diversification into social and economic sustainability in hospitality service provision is now on the government agenda, it has to be questioned whether this can be represented in a responsible and health conscious way, some way somehow.