Ageing isn’t (just) a number…

Census large

Focus 50+ ends on 31 May 2017. As this will be my last blog for CommonHealth, I thought I would sign off by sharing some discoveries from my experiences during the past 22 months.

Like the time I tried to find out what the widely-accepted definition of elderly is. Turns out there isn’t one. Some people use age ranges, other people talk about the ‘older old’ being elderly (so who counts as ‘old’?!) You can’t definitively classify elderly by any physiological measure because the ageing process is too individual and varied. The Edinburgh Lothian Birth Cohort Study demonstrates that. They found the neurological ageing process is different for everyone, or in other words, some people’s brains age much more slowly than others. And unfortunately, some age much faster.

In Focus 50+, the most riotous interview I had was with a 91 year old who isn’t just living life, it felt like she is life! Sadly I also witnessed the decline of someone in their 60’s in a few short months, and the loss of a very special volunteer in one social enterprise who didn’t make it to 40. I was so glad I met him. He was some guy.

So what is going on beyond the genetics and lottery of birth that gives some people every advantage and opportunity, and others almost none?  The good news is there are some things you can do to improve your own health and wellbeing. If you want to live happier and feel healthier, think about embracing these:

  • Social relationships: They matter. They are also correlated with decreased mortality. Why? We don’t fully understand that yet.
  • Have a sense of shared identity and being part of a group: There is a well-documented and longstanding relationship between group membership and health & wellbeing in academic research. So keep going to the football, or hanging out with your knitting group. It really is doing you good. Even if the team lose or your knitting is as woeful as mine…
  • Feeling young is vital: It’s good for you to keeping feeling like you are 18 inside! Feeling younger promotes your health and wellbeing. Fortunately, we all tend to do it naturally. That’s why the Scottish Census graph above shows less than 20% of people aged 85+ regard themselves as being in bad health. This is called the Wellbeing Paradox i.e. older people’s self-reported health remains at a level similar to younger, healthier respondents despite natural physiological ageing and decline.
  • Be satisfied with your own ageing process: Combined with feeling young (see above) this is an indicator that is being used to measure positive wellbeing. Accepting that you will age and being satisfied that you are ageing well makes you feel more positive.
  • Comparing yourself with others: This is a bit of a sensitive one. Social Comparison Theory says we feel better if we can compare ourselves to others who are not doing as well as us. It helps us feel more positive about what we can do. But there is an upside  to this theory – if we are part of a group, we also feel better if one of our group achieves something amazing.

Of course ageing is tough and challenging for many people, but society really isn’t doing much to help anyone feel better about their chronological age. Age stereotypes abound, and we should all try to challenge them whenever and wherever we come across them. We’ll all feel the benefit if we do, particularly when it becomes our turn to be called older. Or old. Or elderly. Or past it (see what I mean?!)

I would like to sign off with a huge THANK YOU to everyone who participated in the Focus 50+ research – we literally couldn’t have done it without you! – and everyone involved in the Focus 50+ team, the CommonHealth Research Programme & the Yunus Centre for Social Business and Health. Thank you all!

Fiona has been appointed Post-Graduate Research Fellow in Social Innovation and Public Policy in the Glasgow School for Business and Society from 1 June 2017.


The Gathering 2017

‘Do not fear the digital world, it will not kill us all’

Theophilus London

This week I had the opportunity to attend 2017’s ‘The Gathering’ hosted by the Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations (SCVO). Alongside the numerous third sector organisations (TSO’s) in attendance, there were a number of social enterprises and an extensive variety of information sessions, workshops and presentations, which really did resonate with me.

As I wandered around the exhibition between workshops, learning and mainly chatting (professionally, of course) to those in attendance, I noticed a common theme that was a significant focus among TSO’s today. And that was the revolution of the digital world. In a world increasingly ‘going digital’ from products and services, to impact reporting to funding opportunities, to name just a few, how does the ever changing and dynamic third sector evolve and keep up with their clients and communities digitally?

David McNeill, Digital Director of SCVO, posed the question ‘has the third sector evolved the way we deliver services to support individuals and communities in response to the digital world we live in?’ And from my experience I would say no, the sector has been quite slow in adopting the digital era, but from today’s event they are sure taking the steps to change this.

I attended OneDigital’s session on using digital tools effectively and it was a very practical set up. A little like speed dating with industry experts. With 18 tables of experts and only four half hour slots it was almost impossible to decide who you wanted to speak with, but they all provided you with what you wanted to know regarding their contribution to revolutionising the digital world in the third sector, and how this can support you and your organisation. It was exciting to see not only new software, but information databases, updated websites, streamlined search engines, even information regarding cyber security (highly debated among social enterprises, how safe is the cloud?), and these were great. But developing and providing better and more efficient systems is all well and good, so long as you have the technology acceptance of the staff…..

There was a brief mention of this and significant information regarding providing training, software and hardware, it was very inclusive of teaching the staff first, to then deliver to clients and the community too. But from previous research, a significant problem faced regarding anything digital is technology acceptance, it’s preconceived, and learned attitudes towards ‘all things digital’ that can have a significant negative impact on moving things forward. So, I’m not saying that what the sector is currently doing isn’t right; it’s influential just how far they have come, even just in the past year or so. But how do we address the culture, the attitudes and the guards that we know are already up?

The refreshing thing was to see just how many participants were in attendance at the digital sessions, showing the want to be more digital with their organisations but how can we ensure that this filters down effectively throughout the organisation?

In the coming years being digital will have a significant impact on third sector organisations, it will become a need for survival. You are unlikely to exist if you do not have a significant online presence, clients and communities need to have you right there, in their hands, for you to be noticed. And today’s event evidenced that there is significant support and commitment out there to help organisations do just that.

So as a social enterprise, voluntary organisation, charity, whoever you are in the third sector, are you ready to ‘go digital’? The help and support is there, but we need you on board. Let’s take the leap and continue to evolve the way in which we deliver services.

Melanie Liddell

Social Enterprise Strategy

se-strategy-image-2Following on from a previous post regarding the social enterprise strategy (here) it sparked my curiosity regarding other social enterprise strategies that had been introduced in other countries. At first glance (google searches and networking), they are few and far between, but with some terminology tweaking you can find them buried in the depths of Government policy and literature.

The name of the documents was interesting in itself; from strategy, to blueprint, to vision, to framework. Each one of these words creates a different perspective for the reader, is the document what the Government hope to see? Is it a document that incorporates a step by step process for empowering and expanding opportunities for social enterprises? Or is the document a collection of ideas that perhaps in time would be beneficial for the sector? And it is the word from the outset that establishes the reader’s expectations from such a document.

A concerning factor of the Scottish social enterprise strategy was the numerous grey areas alongside a certain vagueness regarding specific priorities and workstreams. And looking initially at another four ‘strategies’ (the names of the documents do vary), from various regions; this was also the case in three of them. The ideas, the opportunity, the potential buy in from readers’ was there, but the execution, the how we are going to achieve these, at times ambitious goals for the sector, were ambiguous. One document did break down a year by year, step by step process of how they were going to achieve sector sustainability by 2018. And it begs the question, although almost an operational plan, is this what Scotland’s social enterprise sector were hoping for with the new strategy, or do we prefer the flexibility due to the changing nature of such a diverse sector?

Although vague at times there were two prominent and recurring themes in all social enterprise strategies that will lead the way for social enterprises in the future, and that is collaboration and visibility. Both of these priorities were not only represented in all ‘strategies’, but are reiterated extensively throughout the documents.

The documents discuss and emphasise the importance of social enterprises working collaboratively with the Government, public sector, educational institutions and private sector. In turn this would reduce costs, share resources and create new opportunities in a variety of markets. These are crucial benefits for the sector, as with extensive funding cuts but increased opportunity and demand for services; the need for alternative resource is at its highest. For a sector striving for sustainability, collaboration would appear to be the answer. If this is now an international understanding, could it see a baseline for incorporating more international collaboration of social enterprises? Social enterprises taking the world by storm perhaps?

From the strategies analysed another recurring priority was social enterprise visibility to consumers. And looking at the social enterprise figures it is astounding how many are still unaware of social enterprises. There are 120,000 social enterprises operating in Thailand, 50,000 more than the UK (please note there are small differences in social enterprise classifications). The Scottish social enterprise strategy hope for the sector to be fuelled by consumer demand, and look to encourage ‘buy social’. Understandably with so many social enterprises operating worldwide, the need for consumer commitment and support is crucial in terms of survival. This is still in the learning phase for many, and it would appear to be an international challenge, but with implementation of strategies, it looks to change the perceptions of the public to understand the extensive work that comes out of social enterprises’ products and services. This in turn could lead to an internationally recognised certification for social enterprises, not just in Scotland.

Many of the social enterprise strategies identified have been implemented in the last 2-3 years with the exception of Wales who were ahead of the game in 2005. This is largely due to Governments identifying and understanding the significant contribution their social enterprises are having on their economies and the support in which they provide. Working together would increase opportunities and meet demand. But in the light of collaboration should Governments worldwide perhaps be discussing their strategies to see what is working so we can work towards the best strategies for the sectors? Learn from each other? They speak about collaborating with everyone but what if there was collaboration for policy to further support this ever growing sector.

So the question is, are these strategies/blueprints/visions/frameworks meeting, not just the expectations, but the needs of social enterprises worldwide? We can see that social enterprises are being more recognised by their individual Governments, particularly due to their contribution to economy and those incorporating support, legislation and policy do want to step up and increase opportunity, but are the documents instilling this? Can we expect to see progression to a worldwide social enterprise strategy?

With these documents being the first of their kind, the next stages (although many are looking to achieve sustainability), particularly in Scotland, should hopefully see a further understanding and descriptive, almost operational, process to move the sector forward. Perhaps this will come with the 3 year action plans?

Melanie Liddell

Scotland’s Social Enterprise Strategy

It’s finally here…..after significant discussion, debate and deliberation the Scottish Government released Scotland’s Social Enterprise Strategy for the next ten years on Wednesday 14th December. But the question is, does it live up to and meet the needs of social enterprises in Scotland?

Previously there was discussion around this strategy at the Yunus Centre’s annual John Pearce Memorial Lecture (see here for link), and the first thing that brings a little comfort is knowing that the 10 year strategy has been broken down into 3 year action plans. A previous concern was how would it be possible in a fast, dynamic and continually changing sector to put together a 10 year strategy? Even a 3 year action plan is ambitious for the social enterprise sector! But…it is more manageable, and the strategy identifies an understanding of the world as ‘volatile, complex and ambiguous’, instilling confidence that the strategy hopes to continue to be re-evaluated and adapted alongside the sector as it changes.

The document as a whole gives good identification of social enterprises work in their communities (and is an easy read compared to some Government strategies):

  • it realises the potential of the social enterprise sector and how they are part of a global effort towards social change;
  • it realises social enterprises contribution to economy;
  • it emphasises the importance of partnership and collaboration with others sectors;
  • it recognises that social enterprises represent an important part of business and community life and will contribute significantly to a more inclusive Scotland.
  • and it promotes the need to normalise learning about social enterprises while contributing to our ‘world class research capabilities’ within the sector.

It is refreshing to see significant recognition for the work that the sector delivers, as at times it can be perceived that their contribution can go unnoticed. It is well deserved and gives assurance that social enterprises work has been realised and their contribution has been incorporated into the new strategy.

The strategy draws on the vital research conducted that formed the first social enterprise census (find here). With integrative support from active social enterprises and extensive research it can be perceived that the strategy has been constructed from the most knowledgeable throughout the sector and has the potential to succeed with the correct execution.

The document after introduction breaks down the political, social, economic and technological ‘plausible’ trend ‘predictions’, and overall the ‘predictions’ can be evidenced from within the sector. Although this has been identified the strategy seems to have a few over ambitious ideas in regards to addressing these. This will be further discussed by the research team in the coming weeks.

Before breaking down the framework the economic strategy lays out four key areas that will be the focus going forward:

  • investment
  • innovation
  • inclusive growth
  • internationalisation

The strategy then continues to elaborate and describe the three priorities for the social enterprise strategy (although vaguely at times):

  • stimulating social enterprise
  • developing stronger communities
  • realising market opportunity

These broadly cover the goals of both the Government and social enterprises. The strategy lays out the Scottish Governments ambitions for Scotland, which are closely related and interlinked with numerous social enterprises aims and objectives for their organisations:

  • to increase sustainable economic growth;
  • to create a world leading entrepreneurial and innovative nation;
  • better and affordable public services that rise to the challenge of tackling inequalities;
  • to build stronger, more resilient and supportive communities;
  • to be a good global citizen by increasing international reputation and addressing global challenges.

The majority of these ambitions (3 out of 5 in particular) are things that social enterprises have already been striving for, they have been working hard to tackle inequalities, they have been committed to building stronger communities and their dedication and devotion to making a difference shows just how entrepreneurial and innovative Scottish social enterprises are (figures can be found in the Social Enterprise Census, 2015). So it can be perceived that they have to continue doing the significant work that they have been and will have done despite the strategy but hopefully with Government collaboration it will provide further opportunities for local communities.

Although the strategy reads supportively, optimistically and praises the work of the social enterprise sector there are still a number of uncertainties. There are some things that do not align with the strategy at all e.g. cuts in funding support particularly in rural communities. The strategy’s priorities that give what looks like a great structure in fact has some very grey areas regarding just how they are going to deliver on some elements. There is concern about how much is known regarding social enterprise operations. The sector may be understood but its extensive diversity and how it operates is a lost throughout the strategy….

So… that we have the strategy and we have had time to digest it, we as a research team plan to bring further critical discussion to you regularly over the coming months that link in with emerging findings from the CommonHealth project. So stay tuned…….

Project update: Housing through Social Enterprise


You know what they say – how time flies when you’re having fun trying to understand the health impacts of social enterprises in the housing sector. We’re nearly at the end of the first full year of the Housing through Social Enterprise project (Commonhealth Project 7), so we thought it would be a good time to provide a bit of an update. It’s been a busy year, but it’s only going to get busier…which is exciting, if a little daunting too.


What have we done so far?

Since we first outlined the project back in March, we’ve identified the three housing organisations who will be our partners in the research:

Homes for Good – a Glasgow-based social enterprise set up in 2013 as a not-for-profit hfg-logoletting agency, with the aim of supporting vulnerable households to access quality rented accommodation and sustain their tenancies. The organisation also has an investment arm, which is using social investment finance to buy and renovate properties, which it then rents out to people on low incomes who are at risk of homelessness and/or have a variety of other social needs. Unlike most letting agents, Homes for Good uses some of its income to provide a tenancy support service, helping tenants to deal with managing money, looking after their home, accessing specialist services, or whatever else is needed to help them sustain their tenancy.

Y People – a charity providing a range of support services to vulnerable people across yp-logo2Scotland. We will be working with two schemes run by Y People in Glasgow and South Lanarkshire, which provide a rent deposit guarantee for people who are at risk of homelessness, but are unable to access housing in the private rented sector because they have no savings for a deposit. The schemes provide support to tenants during the first year of their tenancy, helping them to maintain their tenancy and build up savings for the deposit.

NG Homes – a large, community-based housing association, which provides social ngh-logohousing for a substantial part of North Glasgow. As well as housing, NG Homes provides a range of regeneration and support services in partnership with other voluntary organisations, from money advice to community development. It also operates NG2, a subsidiary which provides training and employment for local people.

Through the spring and summer, we interviewed key staff from each organisation to clarify exactly how they work and to identify the different ways in which they may have an impact on their tenants’ lives. Crucially, we’re trying to understand the specific impact of these organisations as social enterprises and to develop new ways of measuring this impact. It might seem obvious enough that having a home is likely to make you feel better than not having one, but the question for this project is whether the involvement of social enterprises in providing housing delivers anything extra. Each of the organisations can be characterised as a social enterprise, but they exhibit their social-enterprisey-ness* in different ways, so looking at the three organisations should help us to understand what it is about being a trading, not-for-profit organisation with a clear social purpose that might deliver health and wellbeing benefits for various groups of tenants.


What have we found out?

To give some examples of interesting interim findings, three issues emerged from the staff interviews which we would like to explore further in our research with tenants:

  • Tenancy support – all three organisations place a lot of emphasis on supporting tenants to sustain their tenancies, but they each approach it in different ways. We’re interested in the ways in which the organisations’ not-for-profit status may help with such support, enabling them to invest in services for tenants. And we also want to look at the ways in which the ‘social mission’ of each organisation filters down to frontline staff and tenants.
  • Affordability – not surprisingly, affordability of housing came up time and time again when talking to staff of all three organisations. The diversity of the participant organisations across the social and private rented sector should help us to explore different ways in which not-for-profit organisations can tackle the challenges of housing affordability for low-income households.
  • Neighbourhood and community – we all know that location is quite important in terms of how a house feels (isn’t there a TV programme which has something to do with location…?), but houses generally don’t move, so issues of neighbourhood and community can be thorny problems for housing organisations. Again, there are some interesting differences which arise from the different models of the three organisations involved in the research – we want to explore the ways in which their social missions play out in terms of community development or, in some circumstances, enabling tenants to choose their community.

We’re currently working on a full report of this scoping phase, which we’ll be publishing on the Commonhealth website early in 2017.


What are we going to do next?

Having worked out exactly how each organisation works and identified some of the key areas we want to explore through the research, we’re now starting to recruit tenants to the project. We’re hoping to find at least 30 new tenants from each organisation who would be willing to be interviewed two or three times over the first year of their tenancy, helping us to explore what changes happen in their health and wellbeing and what it is about their housing provider that makes a difference in their lives. If all goes to plan, we should be able to produce at least some initial findings in the second half of 2017, so keep watching this space…


Steve Rolfe, University of Stirling

Lisa Garnham, Glasgow Centre for Population Health


*social-enterprisey-ness is a new term we’ve invented to talk about the different ways in which organisations can be characterised as social enterprises, without delving into the heated debate about definitions of social enterprise. Some organisations may be more ‘social-enterprisey’ in terms of the strength of their social mission, whilst others may be more ‘social-enterprisey’ in the way they reinvest trading profits.



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.

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…….


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…..


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!

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.


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