We start with hope
We must take this moment to reappraise and reimagine how our systems of support for the most vulnerable should operate in future, writes Andrew Magowan.
How we shape and control the world around us is the primary means by which we develop and express our place and role in this world. If we are unable to exercise this control, it undermines the essence of who we are and can be. This is the true nature of inequality and it is personal.
For millions of people, the current crisis has diminished their ability to exercise choice and control, serving to weaken an already precarious existence. For some in this group, the threshold between just getting by and life-shattering emotional, financial and health change has been breached. And for others, COVID-19 has hastened an unrelenting spiral to the margins of society. In this sense, the current situation is not only a public health crisis, it is a humanitarian one.
‘Building back’ will not be enough. We need to do better if we are not to fail people. However, we start with hope: “not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out” (Vaclav Havel).
What makes sense, is to foster the conditions in which people can comprehend and manage their life in a way that has meaning and is worthwhile. To afford them the opportunity to exercise control over the circumstances that influence their life. The consequences of the removal of this control reverberated through our society long before this crisis broke.
We need to imagine, design and implement structures, systems and practice that build from the person upwards, not top down as has for so long been the way. As social creatures, the bedrock for this human-centric approach is unquestionably our connection to others …
a shared passion for similar interests, a shoulder to cry on, sharing a meal, celebrating success, a hug that says it’s going to be ok, accepting and coming to terms with differences, our solidarity with others, to feel wanted and needed, to love and be loved
…these are what shape us and make a life.
For many however, such interactions are not part of their daily lives. For others, the nature of their interactions is singularly destructive. For both, life is diminished, and their path becomes one of retreat or chaos.
Our Link Up programme has for nearly a decade sought to enable local people, many amongst the most vulnerable, to exercise control over their lives and alter this path. This begins by creating a safe space for social activities; a space where trust and reciprocity grow, and the fundamentals of supportive relationships, confidence and self-esteem are established.
These positively redefine the person’s view of their self and the role they play in family and community life. In turn, this leads them to reimagine their future and exercise choice and control over its realisation: improving health and wellbeing; creating a brighter financial future; and, becoming active citizens looking out for others and addressing tough local issues.
Nurturing these fundamentals is a role community-based organisations are uniquely placed to undertake because it is in their DNA. Unfortunately, such work is not always recognised and rarely funded. This needs to change.
What’s more, we must understand that when this can be done at scale, we set the foundations for and catalyse a process of societal renewal.
This is possible because we create conditions in which peoples’ lives pivot from retreat/chaos to stabilisation, recovery and ultimately, personal renewal. For many, this self-managed change is accompanied by a growing activism.
If this can be fostered at a collective level, a second phase of transformation can proceed; one in which local people and organisations (public, social and commercial) collaborate to identify and develop their path to an effectively functioning community that is resilient and regenerative.
Scotland’s first ever Social Renewal Advisory Board offers a powerful vehicle to do so. But it needs to go beyond careful listening and set us on a course to the fairer, healthier and environmentally sustainable future we seek.
There is a wealth of evidence to guide this course, but it must start with the understanding that people can only make progress in life when they are able to shape and control the world around them.
Andrew Magowan is Programme Manager for Inspiring Scotland’s Link Up programme.
Read a more in-depth version of this article here.
Collaborating with communities in Kilmarnock: “We want to lift people out of really dark places.”
This article was written by David McPhee and originally appeared in Positively Scottish in May 2017
Isolated. Cut-off. Islands.
These are just a few of the new buzz words used to describe people who, often through no fault of their own, become disconnected from mainstream society. If the isolation lasts long enough, they can become forgotten people, living out their life on the fringes. In extreme instances they can feel forgotten in their own minds, where they no longer consider themselves important. Situations as common as the death of a parent or spouse, depression, stress or anxiety related to living on a low income. Feeling like you’re part of a community can be a powerful tonic. It can save lives.
Link Up, a community development programme set up in 2012 by the charity Inspiring Scotland seeks to delve into longstanding societal issues, with workers embedded in areas who aim to form collaborative relationship with the communities in which they operate. Local is everything. Those who work there have to know the people, who they’re helping, and how they can make the situation better. Most importantly, the people of the community have to decide what’s best for them. What they want. Link Up facilitate people to help themselves in their own community.
Outlining the aims of the project, Marie-Amélie Viatte, Link Up Performance Advisor, said: “What [we] aim to do is create a space and a platform and a catalyst in those neighbourhoods to come together to meet one another, develop relationships and to take forward positive action. We’ve had a myriad of groups creating themselves; whether that be archery, creative writing groups to music and cooking and eating together. It’s a very broad range. The possibilities are endless as long as it’s positive and local people want to take it forward.”
I’ll never lose my sense of humour as long as I keep coming here.
I travelled to North West Kilmarnock where I met local worker, Neill Patton, to witness first-hand the social impact many of these initiatives are having on the people of this community.
Our first port of call was a local group that encourages women from across North West Kilmarnock to get together, have a cup of tea, chat and take part in an activity. Despite the different personalities represented, many of the women’s reasons for coming here are too often the same. Flora and Noreen have been coming to the group for four months and a year, respectively. Isolation played a key part in their reasons for coming, as Flora, an Elvis Presley fanatic, points out: “For me it’s a way out as I don’t often get out the door. I wasn’t really going out at all so I enjoy this group.”
Speaking about the effect on her social life, Noreen has found the company and shared concerns cathartic: “I’ve got a lot out of this group. I’m not going out much unless I’m coming to this group. Most of the week I’m not out the house so I find this therapeutic.”
Today they’re making decorative cushions, yet often what they’re doing has a wider social impact, such as knitting bears for Teddies for Tragedies and hats for premature babies. Yet, where there could be sadness, there is laughter and kinship. This feeling is exemplified by Margaret who said: “I come here for a laugh. I’ll never lose my sense of humour as long as I keep coming here.”
In addition to coming together as a group with shared experiences they’ve also become more community-minded and band together to organise events ranging from bingo nights, psychic evenings to women’s fun days and trips, many of which involve others in their local area.
Rose said: “We want our group to be looked upon as providing a service outside of the group. We didn’t have anything for ladies here. It gets people who feel isolated out into the community. It’s a very positive group.”
I’ve ended up getting really involved.
In the afternoon Neill introduces me to two members of The Wednesday Waffle, a group that sprang out of a Link Up consultation with locals and founded on the principle that people meet and eat in a welcoming and safe environment.
Lynn and Doug had both become isolated within their community for quite different reasons; Lynn battles depression whereas Doug is the sole carer for his elderly mother. Yet people come from all over the north west region for a myriad of reasons. Some come simply because it’s a good place to voice concerns about their life and get advice from others who have shared experience.
Lynn said: “It was the community connector who got me coming to the The Waffle as I was in a bad place with depression. I was trying to sort it out myself but they wanted me to get out of the house. I’d been in the house for quite a while. I was changing my medication and when it finally kicked in I decided that I wanted to go. Like most people you’re nervous when you walk into a room like that with different people but they’re all very friendly and talkative. It gives us somewhere to go.”
Doug agrees: “I’m my mother’s carer so I came to the walking football group to kind of get some exercise, know, something to do to get out of the house and someone suggested I come here. Being in The Waffle…it’s good to be in there as it’s good to get breathing space. If there’s any problem that you have you can get some help there. I’ve ended up getting really involved.”
The Waffle, as it’s known locally, seems to function successfully on the age-old premise of sharing. Making food for one another and the simple principle of breaking bread and sharing problems breaks down barriers and forms a sort of social cooperative. Also, as Lynn points out, it’s easier to open up within a group where there is no implied pressure to discuss your problems, like there is at other more targeted meetings.
We all miss the target every now and then. And that’s okay here.
The largest and final Link Up collaboration that Neill wants me to see that day is an archery group, which consists of around 60 members and runs four times a week. They are affiliated with Archery GB, represent many different age groups and, as Neill claims, “it attracts a very particular person who might not ordinarily be involved with community groups. For a lot of people this is their first experience of being part of a community group.”
Archer, James, who was referred by his Community Connector based at his local GP service, states openly that being part of a club like this has helped him greatly with social anxiety. He said: “It’s really helped me out. I suffer with depression, anxiety and stress and it helps to get me out. It’s increased my confidence overall. I still get bad days but it’s less and less. My friend group has increased because of this.”
Coaches Julie and Vicki very much believe in the sport as a way to meet new people and a safe space to bolster self-esteem and laugh at your mistakes. As Vicki states: “We all miss the target every now and then. And that’s okay here.”
Marie-Amélie Viatte echoes the sentiment of gradual confidence building within what Link Up are hoping to achieve: “We want to encourage people to come out, have fun and do some positive stuff together. Gradually you start to notice people building up their sense of themselves. Bit by bit you help them reinvent themselves into something other than what they’ve been depicted as. The point of the project is quite profound, we hope to lift people out of really dark places.”
This article was written by David McPhee and originally appeared in Positively Scottish in May 2017
The importance of social connectedness for mental health and wellbeing
Mental Health has been a taboo for a long time. It is encouraging to see the topic going up the agenda and becoming a subject of lively conversation, not just amongst professionals but with family and friends too. It is slowly but surely becoming looked at for its universal relevance and central importance to our lives.
Ahead of the ‘Tomorrow’s World Today: new frontiers in mental health’ conference, which takes place this week, Marie-Amélie, Link Up Performance Advisor shares her perspective, mainly drawn from Inspiring Scotland’s Link Up programme. Perhaps the impetus to explore new frontiers can be the opportunity to remind ourselves about what lies at the heart of being human.
Rather than purely focusing on fixing what seems like a rising tide of poor mental health, how about protecting and promoting those things that give us good mental health? The benefits of being in nature and getting some physical exercise are key and well evidenced. Possibly even more essential and yet often ignored (taken for granted?) is our need to connect with others, belong, and have purpose.
“Purpose is perhaps the leading indicator of your wellbeing. Pablo Picasso put it well when he said the meaning of life is to find your gift and the purpose of life is to give your gift away!” Dr Mark Rowe.
Link Up- dogged determination to be mindful of pace and scale
Over the last five years, Link Up has worked in 12 of Scotland’s most socio-economically deprived neighbourhoods and enabled over 17,000 people to come together, connect, build relationships, feel they belong to their community, and develop a sense of purpose. We did not set out to improve mental health,but have witnessed first-hand how fundamental social connectedness is to everyone’s health – mental and physical – and the critical role of Link Up in facilitating that.
The success of Link Up has, for a large part, come from that dogged determination to be mindful of pace and scale. In a world where ‘time is money’ and speed is supposedly key to success and delivered to us through every bit of technology, it is all the more important to slow down.
In the neighbourhoods where we work, we are taking the time to get to know people, to nurture relationships, and to support the development of a wide range of activities – all at a scale and a pace that enable trust and reciprocity to grow. Our workers are genuinely interested in people’s stories and listen to them. They naturally adopt a highly authentic and human response. They empathise and bring practical and emotional support to deal with the hardship and toughest of challenges, and just as importantly, they share in the joys and celebrate the successes. They provide support directly to individuals, but also create positive ripples in the wider community, generating supportive networks that empower people to help themselves and to help one another.
Technology is often given as the solution, but is it friend or foe? The solution or the problem for our mental health? Maybe the more cutting edge technology becomes, the sharper and potentially dangerous its blade turns out to be? Social media is a case in point; we can use it to grow community but must be guarded not to fall into the pitfall of “the more we connect online, the more disconnected we become”.
A catalyst for greater health and wellbeing
What Link Up has shown is that carefully facilitating welcoming social spaces and places – indoor and outdoor – where people can meet, enjoy each other’s company, and be inspired to join in community-led action must be at the heart of our efforts to promoting health and wellbeing, and reduce inequalities. Harnessing people’s interests and skills, and encouraging those to be shared offers that opportunity to find your gift and give it away, thereby fostering that all-important sense of purpose. To give is to receive and can only happen when we’re connected to others.
Stimulating social participation increases community empowerment and resilience, strengthens social capital and local economies, which in turn allow people to deal with complex challenges, including around mental and physical health, and increase ‘copability’.
We’ve showed it with Link Up: participants get energised to effect change for themselves, their family and their community. They learn to trust; trust in themselves that they can make a change, trust the workers that they will be there to support them, trust in one another to form a whole that is stronger than the sum of the parts. This creates greater self-belief and higher aspirations.
By fostering greater community connectedness, Link Up is the catalyst for greater health and wellbeing. The good news is … it’s not rocket science and doesn’t cost the Earth; so what are we waiting for?
‘Our great task is to succeed in becoming more human.’ Jose Saramago. 1922-2010. Nobel laureate for literature 1998.
Let’s change the way we fight poverty and inequality in Scotland.
Let’s break the cycle, says Deputy Chief Executive Helen Chambers
We know inequality breeds poverty. And poverty, in turn, breeds inequality.
But it’s not that simple. Inequality is not just about being poor.
Inequality means never having opportunity when you have ability and knowledge. It’s about not having a choice when there should be so many possibilities. Inequality means never being heard when you have a voice and are full of ideas. It’s about never having confidence because you don’t have the chance to succeed. It’s about feeling you have no purpose and losing hope.
Inequality means not getting the chance to have a happy life because you feel trapped. Trapped in the cycle of inequality and poverty.
With Link Up, we are breaking that cycle. We believe the best way to do that lies at the very heart of Scotland’s communities.
Link Up is not a project or intervention. It doesn’t have targets or rigid, narrowly-defined and predetermined outcomes. Link Up works in some of Scotland’s most deprived communities where it is led and directed by members of the community.
It evolves and develops in the community and is different everywhere.
At its heart, it connects people, it energises them, and empowers their communities. Link Up begins with trust. Trust and belief in the power, talent, and ability of people to make a difference for themselves and those around them.
By connecting people, by championing ability, inspiring and encouraging ideas, by listening, Link Up breeds confidence and self belief.
It gives people choices and helps them create their own opportunities.
It allows them to rediscover a sense of purpose and find their own way to a happier life.
And that is how we break the cycle. And change the way we fight poverty and inequality in Scotland.
Inspiring heroes are everywhere
A local project that began with a spot of bicycle tinkering has changed lives and inspired a community, says Celia Tennant in The Scotsman
Now the rush of finish lines crossed and the jubilation of medals won has subsided, a couple of stories from the Rio Olympics which did the rounds on social media have really stuck with me.
There is a photograph of Laura Trott meeting Sir Bradley Wiggins when she was 12 after he had just won gold at the Athens Olympics – 12 years on she is the UK’s most successful female Olympian, having pedalled her way to four gold medals in London and Rio.
There was a similar story about Singaporean swimmer Joseph Schooling who met his hero, and most decorated Olympian of all time, Michael Phelps when he was 13. Schooling went on to beat Phelps in the 100m butterfly in the Rio pool, taking home Singapore’s only medal and setting an Olympic record in the process.
What I love about these stories is not just the personal dedication and determination they show – two young people moved to drive themselves to greatness by the greatness of others – but the potential for people to inspire each other; to unlock potential in one another and bring out the best.
Of course,not everyone has the opportunity to meet their heroes. But that is not to say great things cannot be achieved by the most ordinary of connections, in the most familiar of places.
Take the Gallatown Bike Hub in Kirkcaldy, for example. The hub began with a few teenagers learning and teaching each other bike maintenance. The group then began offering to repair people’s bikes from around the community, and, after a donation of 20 bikes from local people, the group began lending and giving bikes out around the neighbourhood and organising trips and community bike rides.
Fast forward nearly four years and the Bike Hub is a fully fledged social enterprise servicing and repairing bikes for the community, and selling recycled and refurbished ones. It still regularly organises rides and meet-ups, teaches people maintenance skills and has created a growing network of cycling enthusiasts throughout Gallatown and beyond. All this has happened because a few local people met at a youth club.
The teenagers who set up the Bike Hub did so with the help of Shuggy Hughes from Kirkcaldy YMCA. Shuggy is part of Link Up, a programme run by Inspiring Scotland to build connections across communities in Scotland. He was also involved in setting up the youth groups in Gallatown where the teenagers met and has helped local folk to run cookery and computer classes, gardening groups, a thriving community cafe and a fruit and veg co-op. But he can’t (and wouldn’t) take all the credit.
Link Up is about supporting people to get together in their communities and create their own groups and social activities – doing things they want, the way they want to do them. Communities come together, participate, get to know each other and inspire each other to realise their, and their community’s, potential.
As Shuggy says: “It costs absolutely hee-haw to get involved in the Bike Hub, which breaks down one of the biggest barriers to participation in ‘so-called’ deprived communities. Local folk can come along and get their bike fixed, learn how to fix their own bike, ride their bike, borrow a bike and even build a bike to keep. We’ve helped build over 300 bikes for free with local folk over the past four years.
“The real beauty of Link Up is that communities aren’t being defined by an index of deprivation stats – it’s all about the cakes they bake, the friends they make, the bikes they fix, the quilts they crochet and the lives they change. The Gallatown Bike Hub is just a small part of the emerging Scottish Index of Multiple Aspirations.”
At the heart of the Bike Hub is something really simple: local people – friends, neighbours, strangers – getting together and starting something, helping each other to achieve, grow, learn and find purpose, encouraging each other to build something great together. And, who knows, maybe the next cycling gold medallist will hail from Gallatown, inspired to greatness by a trip down to the Bike Hub.
To find out more follow Link Up on Facebook and Twitter @LinkUpScotland
What makes a Link Up worker effective?
Tackling societies biggest issues depends on very special types of people on the frontline.
At Link Up we have been analysing what the critical factors are that make our workers most effective in connecting the communities in which they work. Since 2012 Inspiring Scotland’s Link Up Programme has been leading efforts in actively tackling inequality and improving the lives of people in nine of the most vulnerable communities in Scotland.
Link Up starts from the premise that the ingredients for lasting change already lie in our communities in the shape of the passion, strengths, skills, knowledge and interests of local people.
Our Link Up workers work with local people to harness these gifts to establish activities such as gardening or cooking, or arts and crafts. Really anything that members of the community want to be involved with.
Having been so successful at achieving the above to date, we wanted to understand how to continue to recruit effectively in the future. So, we commissioned Quine Time to help us understand what these factors are.
The basis of their study was to take an approach developed by psychologist Robert Biswas-Diener to provide a holistic picture of each individual by exploring six areas of positive human functioning; well-being, values, personality, capacities (including accessible support), situational and future orientation.
The conclusions are threefold:
Alignment with personal purpose, goals and values
Several elements appear to be core to Link Up workers:
- A concern for the welfare and interests of others over self.
- Non-acceptance of the status-quo combined with a readiness for change.
- To be instrumental in exploring and creating a better future that endures.
A high degree of self-awareness and sense of what is important in life
This self-awareness manifests itself in the worker’s ability to draw on the lessons they have gained from personal life choices, using this to inform their choices in the present – both personal and work-related. This knowledge helps them to be more effective in their Link Up role; however, it also gives them a strong sense of what is important in life. The following appear to be critical in this respect:
- Supportive and rewarding personal relationships.
- Growth and development of self and others.
- Freedom to think, explore and operate independently.
The Quine Time study also highlighted that a worker’s self-awareness extends to their understanding of what it takes for them to be effective in their role with the majority of Link Up workers rating the following ‘resources’ as being the most relevant:
- Energy & passion;
- Social skills; and
The ‘right’ personality
A Link Up worker’s characteristic pattern of thoughts, feelings and behaviours are integral to how they react and interact with others. In this sense, there are two dimensions that are core to the majority of workers:
• ‘Agreeableness’ – they are considerate and value getting along with other people; seeking to build trusting, co-operative and appreciative relationships and an environment that fosters this.
• ‘Low neuroticism’ – they are calm, confident and emotionally stable, not easily stressed. Additionally, they proactively seek to reduce tension for themselves and others.
Again the above traits and strengths intuitively make sense in the context of the role of a Link Up worker. It is notable however, that they are underwritten by a positive perspective on what the future holds and how that future might be achieved:
• Being naturally inquisitive, seeking information in new and existing situations.
• Viewing challenging situations as an opportunity to grow and learn.
• A self-belief that goals will be achieved whatever the barriers.
So, what happens next?
In addition to achieving an improved understanding of what makes a Link Up worker effective, the findings from the study and our own experience have important implications for the Link Up programme, other organisations facilitating similar work and commissioners of such work.
- Strengthened recruitment procedures
- Enhanced support for Link Up workers
- Importance of connecting with other like-workers
Ultimately, our main conclusion is that Scotland’s most vulnerable communities need more workers of these qualities. After three and half years of operation, the learning from Link Up (including three independent evaluations) has led us to conclude that loneliness, low self-esteem and a lack of confidence are fundamental barriers to individual change. When these factors are prevalent across a significant proportion of a community’s population, that community’s ability to organise itself to look out for each other and to effect larger scale change for itself, and with others, is inhibited. This is more than conjecture as our evidence supports this view, but if we are correct, it has important implications for community empowerment and critically, how Scotland becomes a ‘fairer’ nation.
Loneliness doesn’t have to be for life
Our Deputy Chief Executive, Helen Chambers, writes about how Inspiring Scotland’s Link Up fund is tackling loneliness through transforming communities from within.
At a time when the damaging effects of loneliness are being equated to the effects of smoking, the need to transform our communities is more critical than ever. Combatting community breakdown and isolation from within is key so that communities can begin to support each other. For the past four years we at Inspiring Scotland have been developing and measuring the impact of Link Up, a community asset initiative, which is beginning to have an effect in some of Scotland’s most vulnerable communities.
Meet Doug. He is in his late 70s, suffers from diabetes and needs to have regular insulin injections. He is also hard of hearing and needs a walking stick. A well-known character in his area of Dundee, he was very active in his community when he was younger and was a Boys Brigade Captain. His wife died nine years ago and he has lived on his own since.
One day he was contacted by his local Link Up worker. Her role is to use the seemingly simple steps of working with what’s good in a community and using social activities (eg gardening, cooking, arts, crafts, sport, music) to build relationships between local people. Following a conversation with Doug, she was able to introduce him to the local weekly Lunch Club, a cinema club every fortnight, and the new social and camera clubs.
Because of his numerous health issues, the volunteers at those clubs began to look out for him. When they saw that he was struggling with the soup bowls at Lunch Club, they bought him his own bowl with a handle on it, to make it easier for him to use. Other times volunteers would phone his house to check he was ok if he didn’t turn up for something – like when he forgot to put his clock forward. That initial conversation with the worker became a whole social and support network for Doug and his new friends.
Link Up works with nine of the most vulnerable communities in Scotland with local workers being hosted by charities operating in that area. Their work always starts by asking “what’s good in this community?” ie local people’s passions and talents.
Whereas in the past “interventions” in the community have seen people as problems that need to be solved or fixed, Link Up’s approach simply values people as they are, and helps them to see the huge potential of who they can be. The Link Up worker’s ability to nurture individuals, identify sometimes long-forgotten skills is key to helping people re-engage with their local community.
Link Up also helped Kenny, from the South Side of Glasgow, out of isolation. Kenny was chair of the local tenants’ association in the 90s, when it went into decline. As a result, he began to feel less and less a part of his community and when his partner left him, the feeling of isolation really set in. Someone suggested to the Link Up worker that they contact him and he was invited to attend a camera club and things began to turn around for Kenny.
“I’ve always taken photos my whole life but being part of the group has really sparked my enthusiasm for it again. It’s really good bouncing ideas off people. With the photography group we make decisions together and being that way with each other has helped us get closer. I’ve met new friends who have similar interests. The groups not closed like other groups can be. You always feel welcome. It’s company. “
Marco Biagi, the Local Government and Community Empowerment Minister earlier this month commented that there was a “strong moral case” for tackling the issue of loneliness but warned there could be “no quick fixes”. Now in its fourth year, Link Up is looking to expand throughout Scotland.
Driven by Inspiring Scotland and with the backing of the Scottish Government and private trusts, both the charities that host Link Up and their workers are offered specialist support to achieve their goal in genuine community development, And it’s working. By September 2015, over 12,000 individuals had participated in local activities with almost 800 of them volunteering in some capacity. In one area where Link Up operate, there was a 40 per cent reduction in recorded crime and 66 per cent reduction in anti-social behaviour calls over three years.