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

Back to the future in Community Business!

Reading a recent Guardian article on the work of Vidhya Alakeson and Power to Change got me thinking about community business in the twenty-first century and the dimensions of continuity and change in the history of community business. For me there are some interesting parallels between the community business movement that began in the west of Scotland in the 1970s and the community businesses being supported by Power to Change in England today.

We could all use a DeLorean sometimes!

I’ve written before about my research on the history of social enterprise in Scotland and the importance of studying the emergence of the community business movement in the 1970s as part of this work. In Scotland, the use of the term community business was superseded by the social enterprise in the late 1990s/early 2000s. Therefore I’ve been especially interested in tracing the histories of the organisations that were established as part of the community business movement in the 1970s and continue trading today; examining to what extent their practice has been affected by changes in the sector.

Most of the people participating in making oral history recordings for the CommonHealth project remain committed to the co-operative values of the community business movement. Some organisations have changed their operating structure to survive, where for others this was out of the question, but a strong commitment to their the core mission was a defining feature of their work.

For me this suggests an important thread of continuity, which is why I was so struck by the report on community business in England today…

A middle class pursuit?

Vidhya Alakeson’s description of communities coming together to say ‘we can do something about this’ echoes the words of John Pearce in the late 1970s when he described people coming together to say ‘what can we do?’. As part of her work Alakeson is keen to challenge the idea that community business is something that happens in idyllic, leafy, rural, communities where retired and affluent professionals have the time and expertise to take over the running of the local pub, shop or other services.

The story of the Scottish experience of community business, certainly challenges this representation; often established in estates labelled ‘multiply deprived’, and aiming 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. The testimony of Susan McGinlay, who started a cleaning company with 3 other women as part of Possil Community Business in the 1980s and went on to become the commercial manager of the organisation, speaks to the importance of perceptions and the role of community business in challenging them:

‘It was such a proud moment when you look back and you think my god all the work that we have created in this area. It rejuvenated quite a lot of people, it really did. It was a turning point for many of them, who started to see what they could do and what they were worth, rather than being told oh you come from Possil or Milton and you are scum and you are this and you are that. The commitment was amazing.’

McGinlay also talked through the valuable support her and her friends had received from Strathclyde Community Business over the years, a key issue if community businesses are to flourish outside affluent areas.

Reflecting on the history of community business, social need and the desire of people to come together to bring about change are constant, but the ability to put structures in place that support that need vary according to the governance of funding and policy.

Historical research also reveals numerous inspiring examples from the past that show other futures are possible.


Gillian Murray