One would assume that using less of something every time you need to use it would mean that you use less of it overall, right?
Alas, it’s not that simple. It seems we cannot take efficiency gains for granted, particularly with respect to energy where we most need such gains. If you use less petrol per mile, perhaps you travel further. If you save money on your domestic energy bills, perhaps you spend it on a foreign holiday.
This crude rendering of a complex idea is known as ‘the rebound effect‘, which is a controversial issue in certain circles.
Some say we drastically underestimate how big it is, and therefore squander resources in trying to improve efficiency; gains that are later wiped out because we don’t address underlying causes relating to attitudes and values. Others says we drastically overestimate the rebound effect and undervalue and fail to prioritise perfectly good and tangible environmental gains (e.g. cavity wall or loft installation) for fear of rebounds. My own view is that the effect is likely to be quite large, but in most cases energy efficiency gains are still well worth pursuing. It seems to make sense to start on the relatively easy target of energy waste before moving on to the much tougher target of energy use.
the idea is not just that increasing energy efficiency doesn’t always save that much energy, but that, perversely, it actually leads to more energy being used.
The question of how big the effect is is ultimately empirical in nature, but extremely hard to measure. Clearly it varies depending on the product and the activity. Efficiency gains in fridges are likely to be absolute for instance, because they are on all the time anyway, while efficiency gains in lights are not so clear, because you may feel less bothered to turn them off.
A couple of years ago we built a whole project around the fuel efficient driving of taxi drivers, because we believed we might learn important things about behaviour change as a result. I think we did, but my strong impression is that the drivers were motivated by cash savings rather than any environmental benefit of those changes, which at least begs the question of how much embodied carbon the chosen product or service they buy with the money saved will have.
Anyway, the real purpose of this short blog was to introduce you to one version of the rebound effect, known as the Khazzoom-Brookes Postulate, which is rather extreme, and slightly amusing, at least partly because of the name. In this case the idea is not just that increasing energy efficiency doesn’t always save that much energy, but that, perversely, it actually leads to more energy being used.
The simple expression of the postulate is: “energy efficiency improvements that, on the broadest considerations, are economically justified at the microlevel, lead to higher levels of energy consumption at the macrolevel.” Needless to say this postulate is not universally accepted as being true to reality, which is probably why it’s still called a ‘postulate’.
I mention this now in response to a tweet message from Nick Stanhope, The CEO of ‘We are what we do‘ who kindly forwarded an article in Scientific American suggesting that, at least in the US, the rebound effect has been shown to be small. In fact, the article quotes a few experts with that point of view, with no real supporting evidence, so to my mind the key questions remain:
How big is the rebound effect? How might we find out? And can you say Khazzoom-Brookes with a straight face?
What was missing from Ed Miliband’s address to the Google Big Tent event today?
By most accounts he gave a fairly prosaic speech. Miliband praised the internet for breaking down old hierarchies, but then warned it could create its own new monopolies. He applauded the advent of the digital age for levelling the playing field for new businesses, but then lamented the low rates of digital literacy that prevent people from making the most of these new opportunities. It was easy to tell that the whole thing was geared towards the W-moment – explicitly telling Google and Eric Schmidt that it was ‘wrong’ they did not pay their fair share of taxes.
You could argue he should have said more about the capacity of new technologies to overcome our biggest social challenges – namely dementia and other issues associated with an ageing population. You might also say he should have gone further with his important point about teaching our young people to create, not just consume digital products. Yet still, there isn’t much contention here.
No, the most important thing Miliband failed to mention today was the P-word: pornography. Explicit material – once the preserve of shady outlets and the top-shelves of newsagents - has become ubiquitous since the advent of the internet. All a person now needs is a decent connection and a computer – and many young people have exactly that. In a sign of how easy it has become to find such material, research by the security firm Bitdefender found that 1.16 per cent of children had accessed pornography by the age of 6.
The harmful effects of exposure to pornography have been well documented. The Internet Watch Foundation points out that close to 70 per cent of people are disturbed by violent or extreme pornography. Yet the effects of exposure to explicit material go much further than making people feel squeamish or awkward. A recent parliamentary inquiry, for example, noted that young men are now receiving the majority of their sex ‘education’ from pornography, which in turn means it becomes more difficult to promote the use of condoms.
Other research suggests that pornography can damage personal relationships because it gives people unusually high expectations of their sex lives. Only last week, Diane Abbott suggested that the proliferation of pornographic material had been one factor in precipitating a “crisis of masculinity” and a “Jack Daniels and viagra” culture among young men.
What is perhaps more cause for concern than young people watching pornography is them creating it themselves – I genuinely believe this is one of the biggest challenges facing UK society. Research undertaken by NSPCC has indicated that as many of 40 per cent of young people have been involved in sending explicit pictures of themselves and their peers. The problem is particularly problematic for teenage girls, many of whom face pressure from their friends and classmates to join in.
The scale of the challenge is such that the Prime Minister himself waded into the debate, recently describing the problem as “a silent attack on innocence.” The government has matched these concerns with several proposals to limit young people’s access to harmful material, including by working with computer manufacturers so that parents are prompted to restrict access to ban certain sites when turning on new devices for the first time. Others in the business sector have been less forthcoming in their support of such proposals. Google, for instance, decided against implementing an automatic ‘opt-out’ of pornographic websites, in part because it may unintended block innocuous ones.
Time will tell whether moves like these will yield any kind of impact. Whatever the result, the efforts are to be commended. The seriousness of the issue is such that we need as many imaginative solutions as we can get. Indeed, to return to the topic of Ed Miliband’s speech, the issue of tax avoidance doesn’t really compare to it. One is a manifestation of a society that is becoming less empathetic, the other is potentially one of its biggest causes. While Ed Miliband may feel proud of himself for calling out the big corporate guns on their practices, even more courageous would be to get to grips with the taboo subject that is doing the real damage to our society.
I’m not a great fan of Labour’s current ‘responsible capitalism’ trope. That’s not because I favour an irresponsible capitalism but because what really lies behind much of the Party’s thinking is a belief that inequality and high risk practices can be resolved by state intervention and greater regulation. I am extremely sceptical about this not least because, despite its best intentions, state activism can exacerbate these problems as much as solve them. Our economy and society is also far too complex and fast moving these days to be easily shaped by the clunky habits of government.
So while much of Ed Miliband’s speech at Google today left me cold, it was refreshing to see him picking up on the theme of micro-business and entrepreneurialism which we have been working on here at the RSA extensively. Here’s what he said in a section nicely entitled “An economy made by the many”
The second part of our task is to harness the ability of the internet to transform our economy. In particular making sure that power isn’t concentrated in a few hands, but we allow the smallest firms to flourish. Enabling individual creators to work hand-in-hand both with the public sector and with global companies as they design the next generation of technology. That will only happen if the big firms don’t squeeze out their smaller rivals.
Sometimes markets themselves see off this danger. Like Google did when it gave Android to the world, open source. It prevented the smartphone market being monopolised.
But we can’t rely on the private sector alone. In the public sector the principle should be create more open access. Think of our great public institutions, like the BBC and the British Library, there is more we can do to open them up, through digital public space. Think of the old world where you had to go to the British Library, where you had to go and have a membership card to get in. Then imagine a world where you don’t need to go to the British Library with an exclusive membership card to access to the amazing archives they have.
Helping a whole new generation of small businesses in this country.
As I’ve suggested elsewhere making that link between the rise of micro-business and the challenge to concentrated economic power is very important and powerful. Forging an understanding of how that link might also address inequality and deprivation seems to me to offer a far better potential route to ‘responsible capitalism’ than talk of tinkering with tax and heavy handed regulation.
It would be good to see Ed M and other politicians developing these thoughts beyond the over-hyped tech sector into areas such as banking and energy where the state plays a role rather less than friendly to micro-business.
Guest Blog by Charlotte Britton FRSA, Chair RSA Digital Engagement
There are currently six regional online fellowship networks (nings), which over the coming months will be moved home into the main online space RSAFellowship network. This decision has been proposed by the Digital Engagement group and is currently being implemented by the RSA staff.
The Fellowship Digital Engagement Group (DEGroup) have recommended the regional online fellowship networks are consolidated. In practice this means that some online networks will close and individuals will be invited to join a dedicated regional or national group. This means that fellows can be part of a wider conversation with each other all over the world in a central space! Some of the main reasons for the recommendation (following feedback from Fellows) were:
It is unclear which regional online fellowship networks people should join, especially where there are the regional and main Fellowship Ning. Fellows are unclear which one they should use or become active in.
On the regional online fellowship networks, Fellows cannot connect with other Fellows nationally, as they are not members of the network and hence this limits the scope of collaboration and connectivity.
Communication & Signposting
There is a lack of signposting or communicating to Fellows which regional online fellowship networks to join. On the main Fellowship page on there main Fellowship Network is listed as a place to connect online. The remaining regional networks are not listed and are not communicated in any central Fellowship communication
Activity & Moderation
Levels of activity on some of the regional networks are low. Hence people do not use the regional online networks as there is a lack of people using the sites. Similarly this results in lack of activity or posting on the regional online networks.
New community platform for Fellows
A new community platform will be launched in 2013/14 and it would be easier to migrate the central network rather than all the regional and national networks.
What does it mean for Fellows?
Please take a look at http://rsafellowship.com/and register online. Once you have set up an account join one of the regional groups in the main online fellowship networks.
If you are an existing member of one of the regional online fellowship networks, then you should be receiving an invitation to join the new regional groups, alternatively the groups are listed below:
- East of England
- South East
- South Central
- West Midlands
- East Midlands
Fellows, Digital Champions, Regional Programme Managers and Regional & National Teams will all be actively posting in these groups, promoting events and discussions around projects or themes. If you are keen in getting involved as Digital Champion or would like to learn more about digital engagement across the RSA please do not hesitate to contact me.
Chair RSA DE Group
twitter @ charlottebritto
This is the sort of blog post that can lose you 200 Twitter followers at a stroke but what the hell.
Politics is a profession prone to humbug and those stripy mints rarely come thicker or faster than when public debate turns to party activists. No politician ever damaged their career by talking of their deep affection for their grassroots and, as we have seen over the last few days, any suggestion that the love does not run deep can cause turmoil.
An assumption behind much of the long-running tension between party leaderships and local activists is the notion that when political generals ignore their troops, democracy has somehow been undermined. This assumption needs to be challenged.
Democracy, of course, is primarily about the relationship between government and the citizens of a nation based on accountability and responsiveness. There are many good arguments for why political parties strengthen this relationship but the claim that local activists act as a transmission belt between the voters and government in between elections is surely false. Indeed, they often get in the way of a proper conversation. I think there are three key reasons why:
- Party activists believe they are more in touch with public opinion than their leaders (or anyone else for that matter) because they speak to ‘ordinary people on the doorstep’. Indeed this claim is used regularly to influence debate within parties. It is nonsense, of course, as any professional pollster will tell you. The party activist’s ‘sample’ is about as far from random as you can get and the views of that sample are never understood nor presented in an unbiased fashion. This is why the Chairs of local Conservative Associations, for example, can convince themselves that there is a wave of hostility to same sex marriage out there which will lose the Tories the next election. Many local Labour activists seem to have come to similar conclusions about the Government’s welfare policies.
- The wider public have not shown any great desire to engage with local political parties for a long time now. Membership figures have fallen consistently over the last forty years. As the Power Inquiry reported (I was its Research Director), people have a strong dislike for political parties both as a concept and in practice and generally feel highly alienated from them.
- Securing a position of power within a local party elite is not at all reliant on one’s strong link with local communities or even voters but is usually the result of simply being bothered to get involved and/or the capacity to impress other members of the elite.
Many will see those points as an argument against democratic engagement. In fact it is the opposite. When party leaders engage closely with their grassroots, it is a dialogue between two very well entrenched elites. Democracy best flourishes, in my view, when leaders have the culture, tools and incentives to have meaningful conversations with the millions of people who are not part of an established political elite.
There are some moves in this direction with national and local politicians making wider use of social media and some MPs and Councillors (as Joe pointed out) ‘embedding’ themselves deeply in their communities. Efforts are also being made in the Labour Party to forge closer links between activists and local communities although I do share the scepticism about how realistic this is.
If we really want to deepen democracy then learning from and developing these initiatives will serve our purposes far better than letting activists set the terms of national debates and policies.
The Centre for Citizenship and Community, a new collaboration between the RSA, the University of Central Lancashire and the Royal Society for Public Health, was formally launched at the RSA House yesterday. Grounding academic and social research in community practice, the Centre will bring together researchers and practitioners from universities, public bodies, voluntary organisations and business to implement community projects and guide social policy using a Connected Communities approach to social and community networks. The launch consisted of key-note speeches from the Centre’s associates followed by a series of discussion groups held by delegates from numerous professional backgrounds to debate the policy implications of the Centre’s early perspectives.
Co-production: a connected communities approach to social policy
In a plenary speech David Morris, Professor of mental health, inclusion and community at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) and the Centre for Citizenship and Community, spoke about how the Centre will promote a vision of the ‘social value of empowered communities’ being integrated into public policy, with a culture of co-production emerging in public services. He stressed the need for policy makers to recognise the complexity and potential that lies within communities, to build innovations around shared community assets, and to use Connected Communities-inspired research to inform the production of community owned, networked social interventions.
Afterwards, RSA Connected Communities director of research Steve Broome criticised what he described as the standard ‘deficit model’ of viewing communities, which focuses exclusively on their problems rather than their assets and potential. In contrast he demonstrated how social networks approaches help us to understand communities using an ‘attribute model’ which reveals which assets in a community help people interact and support one another. He emphasised the prominent role that public services play in supplying or supporting these community assets, and went on to highlight the danger that ill-considered spending cuts present to social networks when community assets are not mapped or recognised. A forthcoming RSA report will develop these themes further, focusing on the viability of community assets and social networks in the context of government austerity.
Theory into co-produced practice: Murton ‘mams’ and ways to wellbeing
Examples of such projects were presented by Mandy Chivers of Mersey Care NHS Care Trust and Lyndsey Wood of the East Durham Trust. Both organisations are working in partnership with the RSA and UCLan to implement co-produced, network-based community projects based on findings from Connected Communities research. In Liverpool, Mersey Care is training volunteers from the BAME community in the principles of the New Economic Foundation’s ‘five ways to wellbeing’, while in Murton, a former mining town, the East Durham Trust has helped set up a new social group for single mothers called ‘Murton Mams’, in which the activities and programme are led by the members of the group themselves to help combat the widespread isolation among this group that the Connected Communities findings revealed.
Challenges ahead: austerity, tolerated harshness, and championing social networks
Following the introductory talks, attendees split into discussion groups to debate the implications of the presentations for public policy and community practice, and to begin to think about what the Centre can contribute to such debates in the future. Some key points that emerged from these discussions included:
i) The need for the Centre to promote and build the status of social networks in a context in which the very existence of ‘communities’ often seems to be doubted. The evidence base for a networked approach to public and community policy must be vigorously argued.
ii) The need to be conscious of the risk of ‘making a contrivance out of ordinary connection’. Co-production, in other words, must avoid the pitfalls of regularising informal, reciprocal relationships, or exposing what David Halpern has called the ‘hidden wealth’ of communities to overly harsh light where they would be better preserved by remaining hidden. An example given was the ‘spontaneous expression of citizenship’ of a train ticket saleswoman who enjoys smiling at her customers and once decided to give Easter eggs to her regulars; if a statutory system of formalised gift-giving on public transport was initiated, the spontaneity and charm of the exchange would doubtless be compromised.
Other challenges were also discussed. Morris and Broome both highlighted the dangers posed to sometimes fragile networks by austerity, growing inequality, and ‘externally enforced fragmentation’, while it was elsewhere noted that cultural norms are becoming less social, along the lines of what Hugo Young described as a growing ‘tolerated harshness’ in society. Other attendees urged that co-productive services must be genuinely co-produced with public services taking an active role, rather than simply deferring responsibility or ‘outsourcing by another name’.
The mood was on the whole optimistic, however, with numerous attendees stating that they welcomed the opportunity to network and debate issues in this way, and praising the new Centre as a valuable line of communication between community-oriented actors from the academic, public, private, and third sectors.
Based in the School of Social Work at UCLan and the King’s Fund offices in London, the Centre for Citizenship and Community will meet regularly over the coming months and offers organisations dedicated support for community engagement through:
- Strategies and integrated programmes for social and community- based commissioning
- Service development and redesign, based on economic modelling and cost-benefit analysis, organisational, leadership and workforce development
This is backed up by:
- Bespoke programmes of accredited learning and professional development
- Programme evaluation and research evidence.
Its associates will be posting regular updates from varied perspectives on the RSA’s blogging platform; in the meantime, more information on the Centre including contact details can be found on the RSA website. If you would like to be notified when the forthcoming RSA report on the impact of austerity on communities is published, or to be kept informed of the work of the Centre for Citizenship and Community, email email@example.com and request to be added the the RSA Action and Research Centre mail list.
The Big Idea: Unleashing religious spaces and communities to create jobs and encourage entrepreneurship.
The Cathedral Innovation Centre is a new type of place. Part innovation centre and hub, part religious and local business partnership and part community share offer – it is a business, a charity and a cause. It also offers a forward thinking model of using established buildings and communities to address pressing social needs.
It started as a conversation between RSA Fellow Francis Davis and a Canon about some unused office space in Portsmouth Cathedral. Francis was concerned about the lack of social innovation centre in the area and had long argued that the faith communities should act as social labs in response to economic and social challenges of the day. In 2012 fourteen desks in the Cathedral were made available for local start-up businesses, and the Cathedral Innovation Centre began to pilot its idea.
Six months on and it is more than an enterprise hub located in an unusual building – it has quickly evolved into what inventor Francis Davis calls “the front end of a movement”.
Part innovation centre and hub, part religious and local business partnership and part community share offer – it is a business, a charity and a cause.
The project so far
So far there have been a number of significant developments.
- Launched in April 2013 by Baroness Berridge and Mark Hoban MP (Min of State for Work), the Cathedral Innovation Centre is facilitating a thriving partnership between Portsmouth Business School, the religious communities and local councils. New volunteers from across the private, public and voluntary sector are coming forward all the time.
- They’re working with twelve start-up ventures in the Portsmouth area, and looking to replicate the model in Southampton, Havant, Reading and Dagenham.
- Partners Portsmouth Business School have given two full MBA Cathedral Innovation centre Scholarships focusing on social responsibility and innovation (and are looking for applicants now for October 2013).
- They’ve launched the first community share offer of its kind. The first shareholders include Mark Hoban MP, Penny Mordant MP, John Denham MP, Baroness Berridge, the CofE Bishop of Portsmouth and folk in the Midlands, Herts, Lancs and London as well as local individuals, parishes, clubs, societies and firms.
- They’ve created the ‘Faith In Enterprise Awards’. Announced by Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP and endorsed by the Archbishop of Canterbury these awards offer a £200,000 micro-loan fund (£2.5k to £7k loans) for start-ups led by those aged 18 to 30 and five Chairman’s awards comprising free office space wherever you live, a circle of mentors, a £10,000 interest paid loan, and a small grant.
- And, as an RSA-Catalyst supported initiative, they’re working with the support of several RSA Fellows across the region to grow their work (so far ten have come forward to mentor businesses including a Chief Executive of a local economic partnership, governors of FE Colleges and local entrepreneurs).
After a busy pilot phase, they are launching further initiatives including:
- A leadership programme for rising stars in regional firms, government and social sector.
- A series of seminars and events nationwide focused on public and social innovation.
- A parliamentary summit on the role of faith communities in creating jobs and backing those out of work.
- Bringing 1000 school age children through their programmes in the first development phase.
Francis says “This is the very first Cathedral Innovation Centre. We need to be more innovative about how we use our public space and this is our solution to the problem. We want to encourage local enterprise and we will always meet every person that approaches us to discuss their idea”.
How you can get involved
If you live nearby:
If you live around one of the key regional areas (the Solent / Reading / Dagenham) then you can help get the idea moving in a number of ways, either by becoming a mentor or by sharing other skills.
If you live elsewhere:
Plans are underway to develop the UK’s first micro finance (low cost) business degree with a strong social responsibility dimension. Get in touch if you’re an academic or business person or thought leader who could contribute some pro-bono help to design deliver and launch it.
A second national initiative is looking to develop fresh models of support for carers of those with severe and long term conditions or illness. Get in touch if you’d like help develop this idea.
You can also help by buying a community share at www.cathedralinnovationcentre.com.
For any of the above, or if you’d simply like to know more about it, get in touch with Francis Davis FRSA.
Alice Dyke is Regional Programme Manager at the RSA. Follow @imAliceD on Twitter
Today sees the publication of a report that Steve Broome and I wrote on behalf of Hanover Housing Association, as part of the Hanover@50 debate. It’s called ‘Sex, Skydiving and Tattoos: The end of retirement and the dawn of a new old age?’ and it explores perceptions of ageing, the implications of these for how older people are regarded in society, and what we need to do differently.
In recent years, older people have increasingly been characterised as a social and economic burden. As life-spans get longer, and the need to provide for older people’s social, economic and care needs grows, we have ended up regarding older people as a problem. The language used about older people is frequently patronising and paternalistic, and this shapes attitudes, influencing how older people are treated as well as how they see themselves.
I passionately believe that we need to think creatively, reviewing our perspective, policies and practices to enable and support older people to keep contributing to society in meaningful ways.
In our report, we argue that the time is ripe to turn the issue of ageing on its head. We need to move away from a culture that regards old age as inherently undesirable, perceives older people as having nothing to contribute to society and focuses on the economic ‘burden’ of caring for the ageing population.
Could it be that older people actually represent a tremendous untapped resource? If so, how can we shift culture, remodel how we accommodate older people and attend to their care needs, whilst enabling them to continue to contribute to society in ways that are meaningful to them and useful to all of us?
In order to explore these issues, we conducted a literature review and held four focus groups made up of:
- Retirement community residents aged over 70
- Fellows of the RSA aged over 70
- A ‘transitioners’ group aged 57-70
- A ‘millenials’ group of people aged 21-32
In each of these focus groups we asked participants to tell us what comes to mind when they think of old age. We showed them a range of images of older people and asked them what they thought about those images, and used a range of ‘springboard’ techniques to stimulate discussion.
The results were extremely enlightening and sometimes surprising. The retirement community residents said they were happy to be described as ‘pensioners’, saying they saw it as stating a fact about them. The RSA Fellows disagreed, feeling that that it carried connotations of inactivity, stagnation and marginalisation (as in being ‘pensioned off’).
This divergence in views around the word points to the possibility that new, positive language could reinforce a sense of empowerment and enable older people to keep contributing to society in various ways as they continue to age. For the RSA Fellows, being active professionally and feeling that they maintained a degree of influence were important elements of identity, while for the Hanover residents, this was less important that being socially active, although volunteering, and keeping up with the issues that were of interest to them before retirement were also very important to them.
The ‘transitioners’ group expressed a range of views about what it feels like and represents to be approaching old age. With 65 as the traditional marker for the beginning of old age, some members of the group talked about the way they don’t recognise themselves as being ‘old’ and felt instead that ‘late middle age’ is a phase of life that lasts longer for their generation.
I don’t mind knowing that older people are sexually active or whatever, but I don’t want to see images of it. It’s just distasteful
When we showed this image of an older couple kissing in bed, reactions were diverse across the groups. Most strikingly for me, the ‘millenials’ group (which I’m only just too old to belong to) responded with almost unanimous distaste.
“I’m sorry but that’s just wrong. I don’t want to see that. Nobody wants to see that.” (Female, 20s, Millennials).
“I don’t mind knowing that older people are sexually active or whatever, but I don’t want to see images of it. It’s just distasteful.” (Male, 20s, Millenials).
By contrast, reactions were overwhelmingly positive from members of the other three groups:
“Oh, yes, now that’s lovely. It’s so refreshing to see. It makes me so happy to see that. There should be more pictures like that in the media.” (Female, 80s, Hanover)
“Ah, that’s an unfamiliar image. You don’t see much of that sort of thing. Sexual images of older people should be more commonly available.” (Female, 60s, Transitioners).
“Great, that’s great. They’re in love. I love it. Most people would hate it. Young people would hate it, definitely.” (Female, 70s, RSA Fellows).
The negative reactions from the Millenials group were certainly surprising to me. Coming from a culture that is saturated with sexual images, many of which are far more salacious than this, one might assume that the younger generation would be indifferent to an image like this. The revulsion that some members of the group showed appeared to be purely on the grounds that the people in the image are older. It is noteworthy that one member of the RSA Fellows group predicted that young people would not like the image, and that the comment “I don’t want to see that,” was followed with “nobody wants to see that,” indicating the view that even older people would prefer not to be exposed to an image like this.
Although we were surprised by the vehemence of this disgust, in the context of a society that is overflowing with imagery that champions youth, assumes that getting old is fundamentally unattractive (especially for women) and side-lines older people as having no useful purpose to serve, it is, at least understandable.
So, what do we do? In our paper we suggest three potential ways forward.
- The word ‘retirement’ is part of the problem – we should abolish it. Retirement literally means withdrawing from active life. Whether or not older people continue in paid work, they should be encouraged, enabled, and even expected to remain active, in whatever capacity they can, until the end of their lives.
- Society needs to completely rethink older people’s care. Policymakers and providers must lead a move away from institutional care that disempowers people and forces them into passive dependence. They must develop models of care with roots in the community, for instance by enabling older people to share their homes with each other or younger members of the community.
- These changes should be part of a broader campaign to reposition older people’s place in society. Demographic changes mean that older people not only should be but have to be seen as a part of our human and social capacity. The point is not that older people are all ‘wise’ but rather that there are enormous reserves of experience and time that we are not currently drawing on. It is up to us to choose to see them in this way rather than as a cumbersome burden. This could include a think tank run by older people with a remit that covers the entire spectrum of social issues facing all of us.
- Industry should look at the design of products, buildings and services that older people use. Most age-related goods and services are needlessly vanilla. They are overly institutional and bland in perspective and design. A specialist design agency could rethink design, revitalising and popularising products to make them appealing to everyone, not just older people.
I passionately believe that we need to think creatively, reviewing our perspective, policies and practices to enable and support older people to keep contributing to society in meaningful ways. Such an investment will reap huge rewards for all of us.
Dr Emma Lindley is Senior Researcher at the RSA’s Social Brain Centre – you can follow her @DrEmmaLindley
At the RSA I have the opportunity to meet and work with a diverse and motivated group of Fellows. I’m always amazed how they manage to juggle the range of different ideas and enterprises that they are developing. With 27 000 Fellows there are so many stories it can sometimes feel like you can’t see the wood from the trees but today I’d like to tell you a story of Fellows getting together, discussing an opportunity and providing a solution that helped the environment but more importantly a young man called Sam.
Hill Holt Wood lies on the borders of Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire and is home to an award winning social enterprise. If you get the chance to visit please do, you’ll be welcomed with open arms and always offered a cup of tea. In just over ten years of operation, the enterprise has transformed the woodland from a failing, flooded rhododendron-smothered patch of trees into a thriving broadleaf wood.
The main stay of the enterprise has been as a supplier of alternative education. The woodland provides a developmental resource for excluded or marginalized young people to build skills, confidence and improved prospects. Benefits to the young people and to the woods feed back positively one on another. Kids need the woods to learn and in turn the woods are maintained by kids. So year on year a trickle of woodland converts graduate from Hill Holt Wood who are interested in sustaining woodland and so the story goes on…
The wood itself was privately owned but is now open to the public and community owned and the social enterprise operates from a stunning eco-build that incorporates an eco design team, meeting rooms, and a café.
Salvation Army enterprise manager Steve Coles was looking for a similarly sustainable project in which to invest a small fund of £10,000 donated as a bequest by the Booth family for the purpose of planting trees. Hill Holt Wood seemed ideal and proposed the money be used to support a young person through a horticultural apprenticeship AND plant trees. The long-term on-going gains are obvious.
Sam Welch was 15 years old when he first visited Hill Holt Wood. As part of his school curriculum he attended for a day a week on a junior rangers scheme. He developed an unexpected passion for woodland and went on to attend Riseholm College in Lincoln but when he graduated with Level 2 and 3 qualifications in arborioculture he could not find work in Gainsborough. At this point a Job Centre advisor suggested that he return to Hill Holt Wood as a volunteer on the flexible support fund. Sam proved to be a fantastic volunteer and an obvious candidate for the Salvation Army fund.
The award was given to Hill Holt Wood and they have funded Sam’s on-going apprenticeship in horticulture. He says he has two main goals in life “the biggest one is to get a full time job at Hill Holt Wood which I would love, or work somewhere doing the same sort of job…”
The Fellowship Team are always looking to hear about Fellow led projects. If you know of work that is going on that would benefit from Fellows support and advice please get in touch directly, shout about your work at rsafellowship.com and apply to RSA Catalyst. If that work is based in the East and West Midlands then I’m your first point of contact, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet me @pickfordrich I love hearing about new ideas especially when they are told over a hot cup of tea and some cake.
Last week I was delighted to be part of a panel discussing regeneration in Pillgwenlly, a community in Newport, South Wales. The invitation came from RSA Fellow Wiard Sterk, who has been working with the team leading a major regeneration project in Pill, and asked me along to share examples of some of the inspirational community projects that RSA Fellows are leading elsewhere.
My family have roots in south Wales, but I haven’t been there in a few years – so I was somewhat intimidated to find myself speaking alongside people who know the area inside out, including RSA Fellowship Councillor Kathy Seddon, who grew up in Pill. It turned out, though, that one of the most interesting things about the evening was how much of what was discussed was familiar from projects I’ve worked with elsewhere.
Of course, it’s risky (and usually wrong) to assume that what works in one place will automatically apply in another, but a project I spoke about that seemed to strike a chord was Changing Chelmsford, a community organisation set up by RSA Fellows (led by Malcolm Noble, now chair of the RSA’s East of England region) in 2010. They’d hoped to start a conversation about how Chelmsford could become a more successful place, hoping to disprove the false notion – familiar to many places – that “nothing happens in this town”.
They’ve done this with resounding success. Since a first summer of events in 2010 attracted 120 or so people, they’ve held a ‘festival of ideas’ every summer, and sparked numerous initiatives and projects across the town. This year, over 500 people came to events, and an estimated 1000+ visited a temporary community space set up in an empty unit in a shopping centre. And when in 2012 Chelmsford bid successfully for city status, Changing Chelmsford was cited in the application as a shining example of community engagement.
What worked about the project? Here are a few rough thoughts I shared at the meeting:
- It worked across sectors. From the start, the project brought together volunteers, in the shape of RSA Fellows; officials from the borough and county councils; and professionals, particularly designers and artists. And, although it took a little longer, local businesses are now in on the act, providing support in kind for the annual festival.
- It focussed on real places. There are several fine buildings in Chelmsford that are currently not used to their full potential, most famously the former Marconi factory (often spoken of as the birthplace of radio). The group have increasingly focused their campaigning on these buildings, and have received some high profile media coverage for their efforts. More importantly, though, this has galvanised people around the project by giving them something solid to focus on.
- It supported practical projects. As well as campaigning, the group have worked to support individuals and groups in Chelmsford who had ideas for doing things differently. One example is Young Urban Explorers, a project led by a local architect Annabel Brown (and funded by RSA Catalyst) that challenged young people to seek out under-used spaces in the town, and then pitch their ideas for remodelling them to the council.
The project has been a huge success. However, as someone I spoke to last night commented, it’s frustrating when people talk about these kinds of initiatives in a way that makes them seem like plain sailing – which they rarely are. The group faced some big challenges:
- Volunteer fatigue. Anyone who’s been involved with community organisations knows that they often depend on ‘super-volunteers’: a small number of fantastically committed, dogged individuals who keep things ticking over. Changing Chelmsford was no different, and a constant concern in meetings I attended was to find ways of compensating people for whom the project rapidly became a full-time job.
- Reaching deprived and isolated communities. A persistent challenge for the project was reaching beyond the ‘usual suspects’ who engage in civic activity. The group made great efforts to reach out to all areas in the town, but in particular reaching the least well-off communities was a challenge. This did change, however, as the project grew in profile, and particularly through partnerships with organisations like the YMCA, who worked with Annabel on the Young Urban Explorers project.
These point to a few basic principles that seem to me to mark out many successful community projects: a combination of campaigning and practical action is often most successful; collaboration between different organisations gets things done quicker; and volunteer roles need to be rewarding and manageable if a project is going to last.
The RSA has worked, through research like our ChangeMakers project, to draw these kinds of conclusions about what works in social projects. In a few weeks, we’ll be sharing a handbook based on this work and the experiences of our Fellows and staff, that provides some basic guidance for people who want to improve their communities, and links to resources that can help them.
One thing that came up repeatedly in the discussion last night was the rarity with which good practice in community projects is actually shared between places and organisations. Some of these ideas might seem pretty basic, but I think working out what successful projects have in common – and spreading that knowledge as widely as possible – is time well spent.