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!

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

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

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…..

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

What do we value? And why?

 

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We have talked a lot about value both on this blog and in our conversations as a research team. It has recently come up for me in the context of one of the chapters I’m working on for my PhD. I’m arguing that one of the reasons the women in self-reliant groups value their involvement is because it helps them meet the expectation set for them by the job centre and work programmes. Thus the groups become valued on these terms. My supervisor asked me whether I thought that this meant that the women had simply taken on board the values of the job centre…or is there something more going on?

I can think of many examples of ways that they want to challenge and rail against that system so my immediate answer would be ‘no’. Nevertheless I can’t ignore the fact that women are framing some of their values in these terms. The women talk about lots of other things that they value and aspire to in their lives which challenge the expectations of the job centre and other such structures. In the here and now what is important, and therefore valued by the women, is the fact that certain aspects of their involvement in the SRG will help them justify their time and experience within the terms recognised and valued by the job centre. This can, in the words of one of my respondents, ‘help get the job centre off my back’.

However, it all gets more complicated when you consider that there are times when the job centre and related institutions do not recognise the value of the SRG. Nevertheless, by framing the value of SRGs in terms of skills development and confidence building the SRG members can claim that the groups are more effective at delivering on ‘work-readiness’ than any work programme delivered by external agencies.

This means women in groups can simultaneously claim a certain amount of social worthiness (in a context where paid work is valued above any contribution they make as mothers, carers, volunteers etc.) as well as challenge some of the assumptions about what they can expect for themselves in the longer term as the recognise the potential for SRGs to create work spaces that are sociable, in which they are considered as equal and there is a sense of ownership and pride in their jobs.

If we are to measure value, whether in quantitative or qualitative terms we should be considering why certain things are valued over others and who is setting the terms. Within organisations are values set by external factors related to funding or other external pressures or do they relate to the intrinsic purpose and nature of the organisation- is it both? How do they measure it? Which values are prioritised? We should also consider the timeline or context of value- is it seen in the here and now, meeting an immediate need for money, safety, employment or might it be valued in the longer term in relation to raising aspirations, challenging a status quo or reducing inequalities.

 

 

 

Growth at the very edge

Born and bred in an inner city, I’ve had my preconceptions of social enterprises as well funded, technologically capable and fast growing entities that exist, quite commonly in urban deprived areas. The very word enterprise has synonyms of ‘boldness’ and ‘inventiveness’ that is all encompassing. Coupled with the idea of the ‘Starship Enterprise’, it might lead someone like me to believe it to be some abstract yet powerful third sector force to be reckoned with.

The reality is that many social enterprises are fragile organisations that can suffer from a lack of guidance, funding and resources. This could not be truer for many rural and remote community enterprises in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, where life can change completely on the roll of a dice. Communities in these areas can live on the tipping point with depleting populations, poor transport links and lack of infrastructure. All of which can be contributing factors to the small population size in many rural communities in these areas.

Of the existing populations many choose to migrate to mainland cities like Inverness and Aberdeen to gain an education or to look for work. This can result in a disproportionately large ageing population, threatening the future development and sustainability of communities.

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To me the idea of this was initially hard to comprehend. Imagine an island with only 100 inhabitants, 10 of which are aged between 18-30yrs, what happens if 7 of these leave to go to University? How do keep the remaining 3 people from leaving?

Like in inner cities, social enterprises in rural and isolated regions are built from the ground up with the intention of strengthening and sustaining communities economically, socially and culturally. Yet, if social enterprises in remote areas are primarily governed and run by ageing populations this brings into question their shelf life. The very nature of these enterprises is that they are community led and governed in such a democratic way that everyone is entitled to a voice. But what if the voices are depleting? Who continues the conversation?

It could be said that the future of social enterprises in fragile remote and rural locations lies in community development initiatives that involve a cross section of all age groups. However, opportunities and anchors for young people must be put in place to persuade individuals not to leave and also to attract young outsiders to move into these areas. This may include targeting them as service users, employing them as staff members, or electing them onto boards of governance. Their skills and opinions must be utilised and coveted. But this is not as simple as it seems.

Of course there are many factors that require consideration, but here are a few of my initial thoughts: Community development may involve the delivery of ICT education, installing of broadband internet and workplace placements for young people. But this could serve to broaden the horizons of young people and open them up to a world of possibilities outside of their community, which may make them more likely to leave. Similarly, universities across Scotland are offering opportunities for young people from rural areas to move away from home and study in large cities to improve their job prospects.

Interestingly, the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) based in Inverness offers courses that cater to rural industry such as forestry, tourism, game-keeping and sustainable energy solutions. Courses can be studied online or remotely at one of their many campuses which could ensure that young people’s skills are re-invested into rural development and conservation within their communities. But, in the same breath, young people’ skill sets must have a welcome place back into the heart of their rural community home. They must be recognised as vital assets for the future of social enterprises and communities themselves.

Ultimately, without the utilisation of youth ideas and skills into rural social enterprises, we can only hope that ageing populations are living long enough to leave some kind of enterprising legacy for the next generation to build upon.