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!

Reflections on our Knowledge Exchange Forum: Inverness

Thursday 5th May might have been a significant date in the calendar for Scottish politics, but more importantly it was also the date of our Knowledge Exchange Forum in Inverness. The event invited an audience of social enterprise practitioners, academic researchers and associated organisations to share their thoughts and ideas of social enterprise and its links to health and wellbeing.

The forum included fantastic presentations from 3 local social enterprises; Calman Trust, Highland Blindcraft and Eden Court; alongside presentations from NHS Highland and the Highland Council. The event also allowed us the opportunity to discuss in groups what we mean by health and wellbeing, how our work might affect the lives of others, and how this might be measureable, leading to some thought provoking insights! As there were so many interesting points raised we have asked our CommonHealth team to highlight just a few……

A massive thank you to everyone who attended and shared their views, and a special mention to the Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) for their support and input!

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Working as a social enterprise

The presentations from Calman Trust, Eden Court, and Highland Blindcraft reflected the diverse ways in which social enterprise has become both a structure -around which you can build an organisation- and a tool -which third sector organisations can make use of to fulfil their social missions. For example Calman Trust operates the social enterprise Ness Soap and Cafe Artysans; Eden Court is a publically funded arts organisation that uses elements of social enterprise in its practice; Highland Blindcraft has existed in one form or another for 140 years. Currently it operates as a charity limited by guarantee and has been variously labelled a social enterprise, and a supportive business.

People and organisations who want to create social change and generate social value don’t worry too much about what they’re called. For many organisations, if ‘social enterprise’ is a title which might bring in funding to help their users, then they’ll happily slap ‘social enterprise’ stickers on everything. But equally, if the funding flavour of the month is ‘social business’ or ‘charity’, then that’s the name they’ll use. Participants’ commitment to their social purpose was prioritised over the label used to describe their work.

This raises questions for academics like us at Commonhealth, and suggests that we should perhaps think of social enterprise as a set of processes that organisations use, rather than a group of organisations that share common characteristics. In turn this leads to further questions for policy makers and the support that should be in place for social enterprise.

For those of you interested in this discussion you may be interested in Simon Teasdale’s upcoming professional lecture: What’s in a name?

Addressing vulnerability and providing support

Several of the discussions throughout the day picked up on concerns that practitioners were witnessing increased levels of vulnerability, especially in connection to young people and youth unemployment. In this context the imperative to balance the ‘business’ elements of a social enterprise with its social purpose, becomes an ever more delicate balancing act; and for some this was likely to become a central challenge for the sector in coming years. Social enterprises therefore felt that while they could not hope to solve all the problems they faced, they could help to make young people more resilient and able to cope with the challenges they faced in the future.

When discussing support and vulnerability, often what can be neglected are the effects that social enterprise activity might have on its founders, board members and managers. When individuals volunteer their time and energy into creating and building their social enterprise we can forget to consider the impact that this might have on their personal and family life, and the sacrifices that they have to make. This can be in terms of personal finance, lack of time spent with loved ones and having to work long and anti-social hours to make things work. Yet support for such groups can be scarce.

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Amazing illustrations by Sarah Ahmad

From pathways to evidence

Social enterprises frequently need to prove (or attempt to) the outcomes of their work. Practitioners from the numerous organisations in attendance could relate to us the pathways that individuals had taken through their organisations, but often felt that these stories alone were not taken seriously as evidence of their impact on health and wellbeing.

Often the most small and subtle changes were felt to be the most powerful. In environments where social enterprise practitioners are working every day, the most satisfying aspects might be simply putting a smile on a young person’s face. Yet, not only is it difficult to measure the value of a smile, it may not be what funders are interested in anyway. There are ways of measuring impact (e.g. SROI or Social Audit) which may give a snapshot of the social value of a social enterprise. However, such measurement can be tough when funders want hard numbers not stories, or can’t think about long-term outcomes beyond the funding period.

Moreover, what was commonly found was that measures do not always account for major differences in social enterprise type and scale. For example, a community centre might benefit 1,500 community members, yet a childcare service might only benefit 5; and each activity impacts to a variety of different levels. Therefore, how can measures be truly representative of how people are individually affected?

Taking all of these insights into consideration we have a lot to keep us busy until the next event! 

Gillian Murray, Bobby Macaulay, Danielle Kelly, Clementine Hill-O’Connor, Fiona Henderson, Steve Rolfe

Knowledge Exchange Forum: Social Health Farago!

 

On Monday the CommonHealth team relocated to Dundee for our latest Knowledge Exchange Forum. An invited audience of 40 people associated in different ways with social enterprises in Scotland listened as 6 social enterprises briefly described their work. The attendees then split into several smaller groups and discussed the links between social enterprise and health, leading to some interesting debates and so many insights we could not fit them all into one blog! So here’s a summary of what we learned about health and social enterprise from listening, with more to follow next week on social enterprise structure and support…

Thank you to everyone who attended and shared their views!

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There are countless ways in which social enterprises can impact on health

The groups suggested that social enterprise can have an impact on different levels of wellbeing, including safety and security, love and belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualization, for one group these impacts being most akin to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Other specific examples of social enterprises’ impact on health discussed by the groups presented us with some interesting avenues for future research. For example, arts based social enterprises were recognised within the groups for the ways in which they can decrease an individual’s stress. One group attributed this to the concentration required to engage creatively and suggested this captures the essence of mindfulness, i.e. thinking only in the present, specifically and immersively about the task in hand. Arts-based social enterprises can also be used as an outlet for emotion through various creative and visual mediums.

In other examples, some groups agreed formal employment is an important vehicle to not only improving health but also to prevent reductions in wellbeing, especially when there is payment of the living wage and sustainable security of employment is assured. Dundee has had a tumultuous job market in recent history when the famed prosperity of its ‘jam, Jute and journalism’ era came to an end, and groups touched on this and the region’s work to create a brighter economic future. For those excluded or distanced from the job market at the moment, volunteering was seen as potentially beneficial assuming it didn’t lead to burn-out or a loss of benefits. (We will be discussing this theme further in some of our up-coming blogs!)

Relationships are important when dealing with those with complex support needs

A recurring point of discussion in the KEF was the creation of social enterprises to address the limited care and support individuals received from institutions, particularly the local authority and the NHS. One of the tables expressed a desire for health and social services to be able to provide longer-term care and to develop relationships with people so that they could work through their complex needs. This was expressed in different ways amongst most groups, and by those working in local authorities, social enterprises and voluntary organisations. Practitioners on the ground know that good health doesn’t begin and end with addressing individual conditions, and are often frustrated when the work they begin with people gets cut short because they fall outside a particular scheme or funding stream. For some practitioners this frustration had become so acute that they had started their own initiatives in order to better address the needs of the individuals, families and the communities they work with. Making good use of this expertise and energy is a central challenge for health and social care in future.

Dundee and Tayside brought us marmalade, Desperate Dan and an exceptionally high level of female employment in the Jute industry before women won the right to vote. The KEF showed us that the region’s communities still continue to innovate and evolve.

Next week we will be continuing the discussion with another overview of what we learned, looking specifically at the strength and flexibility of social enterprise and how they can be best supported.

Bobby Macaulay, Clementine Hill O’Connor, Danielle Kelly, Fiona Henderson, Gill Murray

Food…Glorious Food?

‘Our freedom to choose one bundle of commodities rather than another may have an important effect on the living standards we can have, the happiness we can enjoy, the well-being we can achieve…The perspective of freedom, with its diverse elements, is much too important to be neglected in the making of food policy.’ Amartya Sen,1987.

Capewell 2015 10 corporations food

I was fortunate enough to attend Public Health Scotland’s annual conference last week, ‘Securing Scotland’s Health.’ I was really impressed by the attendees’ passion for the fight against health inequalities to secure a better future for all of Scotland’s residents. For me, this commitment to the cause was summarised best in Professor Simon Capewell’s plenary session entitled ‘Securing Scotland’s Health by Pills or Policies?’

Professor Capewell is an epidemiology expert from the University of Liverpool. His central proposition is that there are things that impact negatively on our health which we as individuals cannot control and for those things policy change is the best solution. Amongst his examples of past public health policy successes were mandatory seat belts, tobacco sales and smoking bans. Minimum price for alcohol might be a future success, but is currently being fought in the European courts by the Scottish Whisky Association (SWA). The SWA claims the robust academic evidence that minimum pricing works is flawed, a tactic Capewell claims was used by the tobacco industry and is now increasingly adopted by the food industry. Green MSP Patrick Harvie has also recently accused the drink industry lobbyists of mirroring tactics used by the tobacco lobby to fight what he calls ‘life-saving legislation.’

Professor Capewell is particularly concerned about how widely and effectively industries can fight health policy. He ran through some worrying facts about the food industry, including that most of the food in a packet that we buy in the supermarket originates from one of only 10 huge multinational organisations (see picture above). Pepsico alone has a global annual turnover of over $65billion, greater than the individual GDP of over 100 countries. Professor Capewell argued that these companies are very powerful, and hence their tactics to undermine strong research evidence and influence governments through lobbying can be particularly destructive to the common good. The food industry matters greatly to public health. Across the conference it was shown that diet-related deaths are higher than alcohol and tobacco-related deaths combined, and that diabetes has more than doubled in males in areas of highest deprivation.

But thankfully all is not lost. In her blog for the Guardian last year, Ilana Taub stated social enterprises are making a difference throughout the food cycle in the UK, and evidenced her statement with examples of social enterprises growing food, distributing food, making & eating food together, and dealing with food waste. Taub believes social enterprise is making the food system in the UK more socially just, and highlights the importance of food not only as source of good health but also as a social process which creates bonds between people. Such intangible community bonds are embedded in our relationship with food and our cultural & social traditions, most of which revolve around locally-produced in-season or easily stored crops. For example, St Andrew’s Day is almost upon us and many of us will sit down to haggis, neeps and tatties, whilst in the USA Thanksgiving celebrations will see families and communities come together to eat a traditional meal.

Fortunately for us, social enterprise in Scotland has embraced the challenge of ensuring locally grown food is available in some deprived communities and many continue to preserve the intangible social value of food through their activities. So perhaps on St Andrews Day we should raise a glass to the Scottish Community Food Social Enterprise Network, and thank them for playing their part in ‘Securing Scotland’s Health.’

Picture Source: Capewell, S (2015) Securing Scotland’s Health by Pills or Policies? Presentation at Faculty of Public Health Conference Securing Scotland’s Health, 5 – 6 November 2015, Peebles Hydro.

I’ll drink to that

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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.

Stretching the mind

Almost three months ago, my American wife left her job in New Mexico and moved lock, stock and barrel to Glasgow. Initially she had intended to take some time to settle in, enjoy a relaxed summer, start to do up our slightly dilapidated flat and gradually work her way into employment. Unfortunately, the reality is that we didn’t really get a summer this year, we have only now acquired a wallpaper steamer, and work is proving difficult to come by, resulting in her recently crossing that dangerous line between ‘holiday’ and ‘unemployment’, and giving her a fair amount of time on her hands.

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Two of the ways she has been filling that time is by wandering around the Mitchell Library (highly recommended) and by doing yoga. These two activities converged last week when she borrowed the above book, Yoga: The path to holistic health, by B.K.S. Iyengar. With frameworks and conceptual models swimming through my head about the ways social enterprise can impact upon health, this title intrigued me. The claim being made was that through doing yoga you follow a path which will lead to a broad definition of health and wellbeing, that people’s lives were being improved through engaging in this activity. The NHS apparently acknowledges this, recommending yoga, along with other ‘mindfulness activities’ to combat stress, anxiety and depression. Alongside the knowledge that yoga classes almost always cost money, does that mean that all yoga schools and studios are social enterprises? Is Mr Iyengar a social entrepreneur? And, through reading the book, could I increase my understanding of the processes involved in how this particular social enterprise model can be considered a public health intervention?

Many of the other social enterprises I have examined direct their social purpose toward service users who have been forgotten or marginalised by the system and have fallen through the cracks between public and private sector provision, whereas yoga consumers choose to spend their money on the service. The target group are the consumers of the service, which although less common in urban environments, is often the case in the provision of vital services to rural communities. Moreover, it is consumers who entirely fund the businesses, not relying on public sector commissioning or the selling of a separate commercial product to survive, potentially making the business more sustainable.

The model of governance and profit distribution may preclude many from social enterprise status but it is not beyond the realms of possibility that yoga studios could be democratically governed, perhaps through a form of consumers’ cooperative, and that all profits could be ploughed back into expanding the yoga business, thereby increasing the social value generated. If, as Mr Iyengar claims, yoga is one path to holistic health, and if certain governance structures are put in place, yoga studios could not only be considered social enterprises that generate social returns for their consumers, but they may also shed new light on the particular pathways involved in the health-generating potential of social enterprises.

Stretching this a little further (no pun intended), if doing yoga can help to combat some of the detrimental health effects associated with unemployment, should we find ways to overcome the financial and other barriers to involvement so that more people can gain from this form of intervention?

Take only notes….leave only memories

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‘Just being there for someone can sometimes bring hope when all seems hopeless’ (Dave G Llewellyn)

The Growth at the Edge project will be measuring the impact that social enterprises have on health and wellbeing in rural communities. In designing a methodology I am becoming increasingly aware of the effect that ‘just being there’ will have on participant’s wellbeing, particularly in areas where community members may have little contact with external practitioners, such as researchers. This led me to ponder further about how open people might be to experiences that may affect their health and wellbeing, and their perceptions of their environment and relationships around them. What kinds of emotional tendencies do people have? What if someone’s life is filled with pessimism and scepticism? But mostly, to what extent can a very small encounter influence someone’s feelings of wellbeing?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that “wellbeing exists in two dimensions, subjective and objective. It comprises an individual’s experience of their life as well as a comparison of life circumstances with social norms and values”. The subjective side of wellbeing relates to how people perceive the quality of their lives; their emotional judgements towards happiness and how content they are with specific areas of their lives. Antonovsky (1967) expressed this with ‘Sense of Coherence’ theory, which describes how feelings of health and wellbeing are underpinned by three main components. Firstly, having a comprehension that things happen in an orderly fashion and life events are predictable; secondly, that life is manageable and you have the support and resources to take care of things; and thirdly, a belief that things are meaningful and worthwhile, giving you a sense of purpose.

My project will be adopting a participatory action research (PAR) approach embedding the principles of design thinking to measure the health and wellbeing impacts of social enterprises. Potentially, by taking part in social enterprise activities, individuals and communities may feel empowered and less socially isolated. Communities may gain collective and individual responsibilities, and work in collaboration with stakeholders to develop and engage in something socially beneficial; the health and wellbeing effects of which could be increased physical, mental and emotional health. I can only hypothesise at this stage.

Nevertheless, in using participatory action research to measure the effects of social enterprise I will be working alongside individuals and communities to co-produce research methods and will allow them to guide the research topics. Individuals will be given the resources and support to engage in issues that are important in their lives; they will be given a voice and will become important stakeholders in the future of their social enterprise. PAR will allow participants to take part in meaningful practices such as workshops, interviews and focus groups, giving them a sense of purpose in the research arena. PAR methods could be as big as organising a community wide photography project, or as small as visiting an elderly community member for a cup of tea. I may form friendships and bonds with participants, much like Clemmie has highlighted in her previous blog https://commonhealthresearch.wordpress.com/2015/05/01/objective-or-subjective/. The very nature of PAR is that it goes straight to the heart of community engagement, much like social enterprises themselves.

So going back my original question- to what extent can a very small encounter influence someone’s feelings of wellbeing? What if the processes involved in participatory action research has more of an effect on individual’s wellbeing than the actual social enterprise itself? How do we unpick this, and should we unpick this?

The answers to this may be as simple as explicitly stating what I am aiming to measure from the outset, and asking participants to only comment on the social enterprise. Yet one cannot foresee the impact the presence of the researcher may have on the social enterprise itself.

The web continues to weave.