How does the Internet affect our lives?

There are few professions, jobs or activities that are now possible to carry out without using the internet. The current coronavirus crisis and the instructions to self-isolate have even more powerfully underlined this, and we are also having direct personal experience of the benefits that being connected to each other via the internet bring.

Although in some homes and in some parts of the world internet access cannot be guaranteed, most of us, with this simple connection have the world at our fingertips. With a single click, we can – or could -buy a flight, enjoy a virtual visit to a museum, read our favourite novel, watch a recently released movie, order food at home or talk to our best friend who lives on the other side of the world. This is greatly valued at this time and a credit to those who have developed AI systems that help the elderly and more vulnerable to feel better connected and therefore less alone.

It is evident that the network has changed the way the world works, from the global financial system, to our own daily lives as ordinary users. This is what Maria Bakardjieva, Dean of the Faculty of Communication at the University of Calgary, Canada, addresses in her latest publication.

In Internet Society, Professor Bakardjieva investigates Internet use and its implications for society through the insights of just such ordinary users. Drawing on an original study of non-professional, ′ordinary′ users at home, the book examines how people interpret, domesticate, and creatively appropriate the Internet by integrating it into the projects and activities of their everyday lives.

How many businesses have flourished thanks to the Internet? How much information and how many good things we share through social networks? Appropriate and responsible use of this amazing tool opens many doors and a huge world of possibilities. Many individuals have been enriched and communities created through the shared interests of family and home concerns – from cooking to child-care. Online hubs offering opportunities for conversations way beyond our immediate circle have been used across society, including by religious communities that use technologies to improve and expand their message.

And this is precisely the idea that Prof. Bakardjieva tries to show in her projects: it is not only the Internet that has influenced people’s lives but the people who have used it in their lives. “Early scholarly writing on the Internet saw cyberspace as an emergent realm separated from real life. Later studies gradually brought in the realization that the online and the offline worlds were tightly intertwined and events unfolding in one of them affected developments in the other. Most recently, some researchers have proposed the idea that there are not two distinct domains of experience, but rather that the virtual and the real have blended into the same fundamental reality to which we wake up every day.”

Without a doubt, the 21st century is the century of communication, of information, and a positive outlook is possible. This century is also though the century of disinformation, fake news and online scams. Despite this very real danger, at  HRF we are very optimistic about the digital age because a responsible use of this technology greatly benefits all family members. The keyword here is “responsible” and this is where work on the ethics of the digital world in our homes -the place where the online and the offline meet – is so clearly needed.

Our own commitment and work in this area continue to grow and we invite those who also engage with these concerns to register for our next academic Conference to be held in London this November, where we are delighted that Professor Bakardjieva will be joining us as a participant.

Beyond Words

“Home comes in many different shapes and sizes but whoever we are and wherever we live, we need our home to be the place where we feel safest. That’s not always possible for reasons of finance or family turmoil or because a disabled person is deemed too needy to be supported at home. My life’s work has revolved around trying to implement the principles of the Ordinary Life movement for people with learning disabilities,  that each person is entitled to an ordinary Life in an ordinary house in an ordinary street with the support that they may need to be able to live safely and fully. Such support must include homemaking- a skill rarely found amongst the repertoire of direct support staff/ carers who are working in the community.”

These are the words of Professor Sheila the Baroness Hollins, independent crossbench life peer in the House of Lords, and Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry of Disability at St George’s University of London, and patron of Home Renaissance Foundation.

Beyond Words is the name of the charity founded by Sheila, Baroness Hollins in 1989, which produces picture books to help people with communication difficulties live safely and fully. It came out of her personal experience with her son Nigel who has learning a disability. In a recent article with The Guardian’s Saba Salman, Baroness Hollins explained that it was through pictures that she could help her young son understand and be prepared for the world outside his home, “When we put things into pictures, he felt more in control.”

Since 1989, Beyond Words has developed 59 titles covering a wide-range of topics from Falling in Love and Cooking with Friends to Getting on with Cancer and other health issues. At the time of writing, the charity is working rapidly to bring
out a book to address the recent health crisis: Beating the Virus. The pictures articulate, as no words can, some of the anxieties and joys of living in community, and offer explanation, familiarity and comfort. Over 100,000 copies have been distributed or sold and each title involves 100 learning disabled people as advisers or authors. There are 60 associated book clubs with 350-400 members. Nigel Hollins, now 47, is just such an advisor and runs one of the book clubs in Surrey. As his mother says “People see Nigel in the shops, cafe or train station. He has a life in the community.”

The books in themselves are a valuable resource to a person with communication difficulties, but their contribution is overwhelmingly enhanced by the presence of the care-giver who sits alongside exploring and listening page by page. Each book mirrors the loving patience and determination to nurture and prepare a child for a full and meaningful life.

The role of the home in this preparation, passing on practical skills and values with love and care, is both foundational and fundamental.  These two words, although on the surface synonymous, help to tell the wider story of all the home offers to the individual and to the society in which that individual will take his or her place. Foundational, in that what is learnt – for good or ill – in our early experiences of home will underpin our experience for a lifetime. Fundamental, in that the intrinsic qualities of home as a place of nurture, and the sharing of skills and values, shape  communities where we can all continue to feel our lives have dignity and meaning.

At the end of her interview with Saba Salman, Baroness Hollins is asked what hopes she has for her son, “I hope Nigel will be so embedded in his community that there will always be people who’ll look out for him, love him and care for him after I’m no longer here. That’s what every parent wants,” she replies.

Beyond words.

Lessons from the school of hard knocks

We begin the month of March with this post by Rosemary Roscoe in which she talks about Resilience, that human being’s ability to overcome traumatic experiences. Being resilient opens the door to happiness.

“In 2009, an Ofsted happiness questionnaire made an interesting discovery –young people in a deprived suburb of Liverpool were happier than those from more affluent areas. Teenagers from the closely-knit community of Knowsley, where grown-up children tend to stay living close to their families or siblings, enjoyed a better quality of life than was typically found elsewhere in the country, apparently due to stronger friendships and family relationships.

It was argued that many in the area were happier because they had benefitted from being “resilient” in the face of social deprivation, and from experiencing more stressful moments and competitive or frightening situations. Resilience, many believe, is a central part of any child’s emotional wellbeing, and learning to ‘troubleshoot’ can do a power of good.

While everyone agrees that children should be protected from chronic stress and some in the economically deprived area were no doubt seriously unhappy due to family breakdown and high unemployment, short bursts of stress, especially physical play, are not just fun but even considered necessary for childhood development. Even feelings of acute stress that can be overcome within seconds or minutes, teach us how to bounce back from adversity.

Ellen Sandseter, a professor of early-childhood education, began observing and interviewing children on playgrounds in Norway. In 2011, she published her results in a paper entitled Children’s Risky Play From an Evolutionary Perspective: The Anti-Phobic Effects of Thrilling Experiences. “Children have a sensory need to taste danger and excitement; this doesn’t mean that what they do has to actually be dangerous, only that they feel they are taking a great risk. That scares them, but then they overcome the fear,” she concluded.

But before we all head off to climb Kilimanjaro, it’s worth bearing in mind that it’s not just the training that matters, the environment we’re raised in also makes a big difference. Those who are taught patience and self-control early on, while being allowed to take risks from the safety-net of a loving home, have the best defense against stress in later years, and are much more likely to be well-functioning, contented adults.”

 

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