Stories of Home

I wonder if you have ever thought about the homes portrayed in children’s stories? This thought came to me while watching the recently released film version of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.*

Amid the warm and rich evocation of the Marches, a family of young women finding themselves and their future paths against the back-drop of America’s civil war, there was another star of the film – the March home itself.

Going back to the book this is even more evident. A picture is painted of a home created and tended by a remarkable wife and mother. “Marmee”or Mrs March is shown managing the demands of four young daughters, one of whom is very ill, a household where money is tight, and in the absence of a much loved husband and father. Not only does Mrs March manage this, she also creates an oasis of love and care in her humbler home that the rich young neighbour Laurie needs but does not find in his own cold, marble halls. On the other side Marmee finds time and precious goods to share with those in even poorer circumstances. The Little Women of the title have this priceless treasure to guide them – an ordinary yet extraordinary mother and the wonderful home she has both modelled and made.

Other stories echo this creating of a home from few materials but with great love and faith. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s tales of pioneer life in the Little House on the Prairie series also emphasises the importance of the relationships and wider cooperation needed to make a place of comfort and safety in a challenging world.

Many stories for children though play upon the theme of unhappy homes and lost relationships. There are good literary reasons for this; it is hard to have a daring adventure with your concerned mother in tow. These kind of stories allow children to discover for themselves places to call home.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett is a very good example of this. Mary Lennox, a wealthy young girl ignored by her parents while they were alive, moves from India after their deaths to live with an equally distant and cold uncle in a rambling house in Yorkshire. One secret held by this home is Mary’s sickly cousin Colin, living apart from his father, Mary’s uncle, who is still mourning the death of his young wife. Another secret is the healing power of nature that the new friends Mary and Colin find in the closed up garden that they bring back to life, and ultimately draws the bereaved father home to a restored relationship with his young son.

There is a further secret though and a deep one at that. For along with Mary and Colin in the garden is Dickon. Dickon is the brother of Martha, a servant at the house. Their home is described as one of great love and bustling life despite very poor means. It is their mother who talks to Mary’s uncle about the needs of children and whose guidance in the end he trusts.

The secret of home might be deep but it is also simple. It is the place of love and trust and care. It is no surprise that so many happy endings in children’s stories are the finding of such a place for themselves.

*Links are to safe site free e-books of these titles, but please check your own system is happy with these sites before downloading.

Call for Architects!

After many years of the cult of the body, society is beginning to realise the importance of not only taking care of the exterior body but also the interior mind. And for this reason, more and more activities such as mindfulness, spiritual retreats, and mystical experiences arise every day.

Plato said that man is “body and soul” and therefore to live is to balance both sides. Interestingly, the opposite tends to happen in households. We tend to focus a lot on the interior, on education, on relationships between family members, on the distribution of responsibilities and in some cases we forget about the exterior, which as far as homes are concerned, is just as important. If the distribution of spaces, the decor, the colour scheme, lighting…  are not well thought out, living together and the relationships between family members can be more strained.

A house in which everything has its place will create an orderly environment. An orderly environment transmits peace and calm to the members that inhabit it because when they look for something, they find it. This avoids wasting time and the consequent frustration of looking for a lost item.

Houses whose doorways are wide enough for a pushchair or wheelchair to fit and perform basic manoeuvres, denote care of the person. A practical and pleasant room where family members are comfortable will allow a better relationship between them because they will spend more time in that common area than in their own rooms.

If we go into aesthetic details, the decoration also plays its role. It is not necessary for every house to look the same, as that would be very boring, but we need to pay attention to the style. A house where you enter that is blocked by clutter can be overwhelming. It’s worth finding another place for it, and a regular thorough sort-out gets rid of everything that is surplus to requirements.

A home in which the decoration is neat and simple, where each piece of furniture has its purpose, and the decorative details reflect its occupants, is always a welcome sight.

So thinking of the happiness of homes, we call on architects from around the world to participate in our next Conference. We would like to have your ideas, listen to your studies and know what is being explored today, in the Schools of Architecture to further the design of happy homes.

In the Scientific Committee we have the Chair of Architecture of the Nottingham Trent University, Prof. Mohamed Gamal Abdelmonem and in one of the round tables will be Sonia Solicari, who is the Director of the Museum of the Home. She was previously Head of the Guildhall Art Gallery and London’s Roman Amphitheatre, Curator of Ceramics and Glass; and Assistant Curator of Paintings at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. She has published and lectured widely on Victorian art and design and contemporary museum practice. Solicari is currently co-director of the Centre for Studies of Home, a partnership with Queen Mary University of London.

Don’t forget that the Call for Papers is now open and the deadline to submit a proposal is April 30.

The 25% of people give up on their resolutions after just a week!

As we are now half-way through January and the New Year kicks in and good resolutions abound, there’s no better place to look for inspiration than in the home.

Setting ourselves achievable tasks and goals is all about improving the wellbeing of ourselves and others, something that occurs naturally on a day-to-day basis in a well-managed home. It’s within the family that a child gains a concept of their individual worth by helping out with the running of the home and caring for others. A happy child is a well stimulated one who takes an active part and even relishes being given ‘grown up’ tasks from a very young age – just look at how some toddlers love to mimic their parents and siblings and throw tantrums if they are not allowed to join in!

The Harvard Grant study into the parenting of successful children proved a link between high achieving adults and being made to do chores as children, and subsequently seeing them as a part of life. Researchers from Pennsylvania State University and Duke University, which tracked more than 700 children from nursery age to 25, also showed achievement linked to being taught social skills from a young age, an Illinois study found that children’s overall success hinged on their parents having healthy relationships, while a survey of 6,600 US children born in 2001 discovered their drive came from their parents having high expectations of them.

So the inner confidence of setting goals and achieving them really does go back to the nurturing home. It’s where aims are shared and discussed, and initial setbacks not seen as such a bad thing in a well-supported environment where effort is valued over avoiding failure. By giving ourselves goals, we get a road map of where we are heading and the best way there. But beginning the year with small, achievable targets might be advisable if we don’t want to be counted among the 25% of people who give up on their resolutions after just a week!

Happy at home, happy in life

We have just enjoyed the festive season when we give and receive best wishes for a “Happy Christmas and a Happy New Year.” These kind sentiments are often exchanged without reflecting on what we are really saying. We are wishing – and being wished – happiness.

But what is this thing called “happiness”? How do we recognize it when it is there, and how do we find it when it isn’t? In recent years, there has been an increased interest and engagement with these questions. From personal happiness, through happy couples, families and communities, to what makes a happy society, research is being carried out to find evidence and answers.

Richard LayardRichard, Lord Layard, has been at the forefront of this study and his work in this field is world-leading. As editor of the World Happiness Report, Richard Layard has overseen the landmark survey of the state of global happiness that ranks 156 countries by how happy their citizens perceive themselves to be. The World Happiness Report 2019 focused on happiness and the community: how happiness has evolved over the past dozen years, with a focus on the technologies, social norms, conflicts and government policies that have driven those changes.

Richard Layard is also the author of what is described as “the key book in happiness studies”. Happiness: Lessons from a New Science looks at the paradox at the heart of our lives: “There is a paradox at the heart of our lives. Most people want more income and strive for it. Yet as Western societies have got richer, their people have become no happier.”

For Home Renaissance Foundation these questions are both relevant and timely. We believe that the work that goes into creating and maintaining a home has a direct connection to the happiness and well-being of both individuals and society as a whole. This is echoed in recent findings from the Happiness Research Institute that 73% of people who are happy at home are happy in life.

Conference PosterWe are delighted therefore that Richard Layard has agreed to be a keynote speaker and scientific committee advisor for our next conference: Happy Home, Happy Society? The contribution of domestic life in a time of social changes to be held in London 12- 13 November 2020.

Invited speakers and selected paper givers from across the world and the wide-field of disciplines concerned with “happiness” and the domestic context will seek answers to some increasingly urgent questions: How can our homes be places for life-long flourishing? How can this be supported and enhanced? In a time of increased technological connection why is there so much individual social isolation? Are SMART homes happy homes? In a time of increased homelessness what is happening in the early home experiences of the homeless? How can we all find a home to be happy in?

Richard Layard believes “We desperately need a concept of the common good. I can think of no nobler goal than to pursue the greatest happiness of all – counting every person.”

At Home Renaissance Foundation we believe the HOME is a common good which needs to be recognized, supported and valued.

For more information on this please see our Conference website.

 

2019: a year restoring the value of the home

As 2019 comes to a close I have great pleasure in sending news of our recent activities and some reflections on what has been a very good year for Home Renaissance Foundation.

The year began with our Experts’ Meeting: “The Home in the Digital Age” held with the support of the Social Trends Institute (STI). Clear indications for the importance of our work came from this meeting, along with high-calibre discussion and a publication in preparation.

We are committed to having “a seat at the table” where decisions affecting the life of the home are made. This has seen our directors and staff team taking part in discussions at the House of Commons, House of Lords and in the Spanish and European Parliaments.

This autumn has seen HRF continuing this work as a catalyst for change by engaging with key organisations and policy makers. Following our involvement in the International Federation for Family Development (IFFD) Congress in London this October, we were pleased to host a meeting with Renata Kacmarska Social Affairs Officer for the UN. As a result of this, we are looking forward to working with Renata on future projects.

The year also saw very successful launches in Nottingham and Warsaw of the publication from our first Experts’ Meeting: The Home: Multidisciplinary Reflections edited by our academic director, Professor Antonio Argandoña. I can now announce that we have signed a contract with Routledge for the publication from our 4th Conference: A Place Called Home, edited by our patron, Professor Mohamed Gamal Abdelmonem. This is something else to look forward to in 2020.

Conference PosterPreparations are going well for our 5th Conference “Happy Homes, Happy Society? The contribution of domestic life in a time of social changes” to be held in London, 12-13 November 2020, again with the support of STI. We are delighted that Professor Maria Teresa Russo is our conference director, and that Richard, Lord Layard, the distinguished economist and author is to be our keynote speaker. There will be more about him and his work as editor of the World Happiness Report and author of the influential Happiness: Lessons from a New Science on our website in January. Please do share the Call for Papers for the conference with your own networks.

I end 2019 and this letter with thanks for the generosity of all those who have given their time, skills and financial support to the work of Home Renaissance Foundation this year, restoring the value of home for everyone.

Best wishes for Christmas and for a very happy 2020!

Tidy desk, tidy mind!

In our series of posts focusing on ‘Happy homes, happy society?‘ the title of our upcoming London conference in 2020, Rosemary Roscoe opens December talking on Organisation.  

I remember a teacher at school while inspecting the inside of our desks declaring, “tidy desk, tidy mind!” And the same could surely apply to the organisation of our homes. We all know how distracting it can be worrying about disruption at home – anyone who has undergone major building work knows about the chaos that comes with it. Households need to be kept in order so our days run relatively smoothly and we don’t end up wasting valuable time searching high and low for a missing item.

If you come from a well-functioning home you’re most likely to transfer those skills to your place of work. Employers are coming to realise that people with happy home lives perform well and get on with everyone. What employer wouldn’t choose a calm, well-organised person over someone with a more chaotic, whirlwind approach to life who might clash with colleagues or clients? They may be more lively and entertaining but they are most likely harder to manage.

Not only does a good work ethos stem from the home, but vice versa as well. When business principles are applied to the running of the home, such as having a timetable and delegating tasks, once seemingly never-ending household chores can run like clockwork. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by an insurmountable amount of work in the home, it’s worth giving it a try!

After all, it’s not just our physical wellbeing that’s at stake, it’s our emotional state as well.

According to the 2019 GoodHome Report, our emotional connection to our homes matters and what happens in the home can have repercussions in the workplace and on the whole of society. The European survey of more than 13,000 people concluded, “how happy we are with our home is very closely linked to how happy we are in general.”

Studies prove relationships within the home really matter

In our series of posts focusing on ‘Happy homes, happy society?‘ the title of our upcoming London conference in 2020, Rosemary Roscoe will feature over the next few months aspects of home life that make for a fulfilling future and secure relationships beyond the home. 

The key to a contented life is growing up in a happy family, confirms a study conducted by Harvard Medical School, following interviews with 81 men from adolescence to the twilight years, a span of over 60 years.  It’s official: our nurture has far-reaching consequences for the rest of our lives!  The new research suggests the impact can last longer than ever imagined with people from caring home environments being more likely to have good marriages in their 80s, as they have a greater ability to manage stressful emotions and have more secure relationships.

So what needs to happen in the home, with all the ups and downs of life, to ensure the future well-being of children? Smile and the world smiles with you, as the popular saying goes, and smiling at babies is a good start. A simple smile can make a baby feel safe and secure and even boost their brain development apparently. And a baby’s smile in return gladdens the heart, releasing good endorphins in a parent’s brain. Parents under constant stress, on the other hand, can transfer that emotional state to their children, possibly with long-term implications, according to sociologists.
Good parenting can also overcome socio-economic barriers. A 2014 study of 243 people born into poverty, by the University of Minnesota, found that children who received “sensitive caregiving” in their first three years not only did better in academic tests in childhood, but had healthier relationships and greater academic attainment in their 30s.

Teaching children to get on with their siblings will also have life-long benefits. Researchers from Pennsylvania, in a 20-year study covering infants into adulthood, proved that socially competent children who could cooperate with their peers without prompting, be helpful to others, understand their feelings, and resolve problems on their own, were far more likely to be successful academically and have a full-time job by the age of 25 than those with limited social skills. The studies confirm what we instinctively all know: that being raised in a warm family environment has huge benefits, whatever the set-backs in life!

Rosemary Roscoe

Happy Homes, Happy Society?

We are about to launch our next international Conference: Happy Homes, Happy Society? to be held in London 12th -13th November 2020. This will be our fifth conference and we are very excited about the focus, which this time is on Happiness and the contribution that domestic life makes to the wellbeing –“happiness”- of wider society in a time of social changes.

There is a clear public as well as academic and professional engagement with this topic. Happiness indices and surveys at both popular and research levels are a current trend in monitoring and improving individual and societal wellbeing. At HRF we see an equally clear link between this and the attitudes and activities fostered in stable homes and a further link to how housing policies and practice and the new SMART technologies contribute to the home’s role in this wellbeing.

Next week, we will be launching a Call for Papers, so we would love to reach all those researchers whose work relates in some way to the home. Many disciplines from architecture to social sciences and from art history to town planning have vital contributions to make to this discussion. On our website, you will find summaries and papers that have been presented on topics relating to the home at our previous conferences.

Happy Homes, Happy Society? will have two main strands:

1.How is happiness/wellbeing linked to activities of the home? What are the key indicators for happy homes and what is the wider social benefit of happy people?

2.New technologies: Housing and Connecting. How do new trends in architecture and planning and the new digital technologies allow for maximum opportunities for those home activities and connections that lead to greater individual and thereby societal happiness?

We have hundreds of questions that we would love researchers to answer. Here is just a taste of some of the areas we are interested in exploring:

  • Is it possible to establish a series of criteria to consider whether a home is happy or not?
  • Are new technologies and AI developing according to human needs and contributing to people’s happiness?
  • How can we ascertain if the work required in creating a happy home and improving the coexistence of all its members is better performed manually or by machines?
  • Home and its role in children’s happiness. Why is this important?
  • Attitudes in the home that contribute to the happiness of its members
  • Poverty and happiness in the home: what is the relationship?
  • Unstructured families and happiness at the home
  • The relationship between happiness in the current home and that of the parents or previous generations
  • The elderly as “creators” of happiness for children and young people
  • How much do the material conditions of the home contribute to well-being?
  • How SMART technologies contribute to (or make difficult) happiness in the home?
  • Which housing schemes/policies best promote happiness/connectedness?
  • Why do we want to grow old in the home? How is this best achieved?

We hope that this gives you a good “snap-shot” introduction to our conference Happy Homes, Happy Society? and that all of you reading this post who may have questions about the relationship between Happy Homes and a Happy Society, will send them to us and help us in the promotion of the Call for Papers. We are looking for researchers from all over the world, perhaps that means you, or you know of someone worth contacting? Please keep us and them posted. Much more information in later posts, so please, “Watch this Space!”

Why does HRF exist?

The summer season may now have faded, but it has left behind such happy memories. It is the season when, in my case, you can use your holiday time to return home after working outside your city or country, a time for happy reunions.

“What about your life? How are you getting on? Are you working abroad, away from your family? These are questions that I answer again and again when my work for Home Renaissance Foundation comes to light.

I often explain my professional activity by saying that I work for a think tank, but people usually want to know what kind of a think tank. And I explain that HRF explores the care of the home, helping it to be more effective and better managed, so we can all benefit from happier homes. Homes where family members develop into well-grounded adults, sharing responsibilities and looking after the welfare of everyone. The response is often along the lines of “please tell me more, I didn’t realise a foundation exists that could help me in all the headaches of running my home!”

We devote many more hours working outside our homes, but at the end of the day, we have to come back home. And home is the place where we spend most time together, relaxing and being ourselves and giving ourselves generously to others. And it is not always easy. We are not born able to do this. The home we come from may differ from the one we go on to create, although it retains a common structure. Life changes and evolves, with new technologies offering solutions that were not available in the past. Each home is different and managed in its own individual way. The ideal is that we understand the concept of the well-run home and avail ourselves of all the tools necessary to enable us to manage our homes in the best possible way.

And that is why HRF exists because we are aware of the importance of the home and the effort and work required to manage and run a home and family. And we are aware, through investigation and using more advanced data, the extent of the disciplines and fields of study that converge on the home – the importance of the distribution of space, the relations between its members, shared responsibilities, the education and the example of parents, the work necessary to provide for basic needs, the demand for collaboration among all its members.

The work of this international think tank is never ending. We are actively planning our fifth international conference to be held in 2020. We hope that those involved in exploring issues related to the home will be presenting papers and help further expand the growing community worldwide focused on the well-being of the home. Watch this space for more details next month.

Harnessing the digital revolution in the home

Welcome to this month’s blog and welcome back to school, college and everything else that starts again in September!

This month we are looking forward to all the good things autumn has in store. As we pack away the memories of a happy summer we have some advice on “Keeping the Glow” into the new season.

In our feature article, Rosemary Roscoe continues her series of insights into the opportunities offered by the digital technologies to our homes. This month Rosemary considers Intergenerational Homes of the Future. The value of grandparents in the continuing care and nurture of the family is becoming more and more widely recognised and we now need to build the homes and support the policies that allow this to flourish.

As the post-summer routine starts again perhaps you could do with some inspiration for activities and recipes to start autumn in style. There are lots of ways to make this month a golden one so see if any of these creative ideas can put a spring (!) in your step this September.

Enjoy all that this “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” brings your way and keep us posted on all your September plans!

Angela

Harnessing the digital revolution in the home

“An estimated 2.5 billion people worldwide possess a smartphone, a device virtually unheard of just over 10 years ago. It’s little wonder that digital technology is permeating just about every aspect of our lives – and cellular data revolutionising the home and office, blurring the lines between ‘work time’ and ‘play time’.  Whether limitless access to the internet is a good thing is a matter for debate but one thing is for certain – it’s here to stay.
At the Home Renaissance Foundation’s Experts Meeting at the Royal Society of Medicine in London, Mei-Lin Fung, Co-founder of the People Centre Internet, questioned “whether transparency between our internal and external spaces is disturbing millennia-old notions of the family.” She emphasised the need for the digital home to be “a safe place where we live, play, learn, earn and develop the skills to care about other human beings. It is both a real and virtual space where people make healthy and responsible choices so that we can thrive together.” She emphasised that “we must envisage and define what we as humans want a digital home to mean, in a world where digital technology can be embedded in every aspect of human life.”

Addressing the meeting, eminent psychologist Sonia Livingstone, Professor of Social Psychology, Department of Media and Communications at LSE,  while acknowledging the much-publicised risks posed by social media, cautioned against enforcing a blanket two-hour limit to screen time. She advocated instead that parents sit down with their children and talk about what exactly they are doing on the internet.
While online games are obviously addictive they are not all necessarily bad for children’s development. Apparently, some strategic video games, that aren’t claiming to be educational, can nevertheless help with problem-solving and spatial skills and even improve academic performance. Studies, however, have reported that young people immersed in ‘screens’ for too long are not using face-to-face communication and could be losing important social skills as well as taking time away from schoolwork.

But it’s not just young people who struggle to control their screen time –according to a new report by Common Sense Media, most parents worry that their children are addicted to devices, but about four in 10 teenagers have the same concern about their parents!”

Rosemary Roscoe