A big Thank you!

Two weeks ago we published the Communication Report: Home in the Time of Coronavirus.

“Congratulations on this report! What good voices and what good ideas!” from Argentina

We are very happy to see the great reception it has had. We have received hundreds of messages thanking us for this compilation of articles and testimonials. But the thanks are mutual. We are also very grateful to all the participants for not hesitating for a minute to say “Yes” to our proposal, and to all of you for receiving our news with such affection.

Many of the contributors to the Report have opened their hearts and closely shared what this quarantine means for them. This has allowed us to know more about what this virus is demanding of us as a society and as individuals. Without a doubt, the home has recovered its place as a vital centre and we must learn from the mistakes made before the virus.

“HRF is doing a fantastic job, furthermore, I enjoy the posts a lot. We are all in this together” from Thailand

The Report is a document that requires leisurely reading. We know that many of you have left the Report on file to read over the weekend. We remind you that there are six different chapters and that in them you can see how the different sectors have been facing the pandemic.

Those who have turned their home into a workplace, those who have made their offices into their homes as key workers. Those who have had enormous difficulties in surviving this situation because they live with people with disabilities who cannot stop receiving their therapies. But also those who are homeless, have lost their homes, and those whose homes are not safe places to live.

“Many congratulations on your report it represents an enormous effort on your part with a wonderful outcome which is entirely appropriate for these extraordinary times” from the UK

Covid19 has caused so many tragic deaths, but it has helped us to see the value of home. Our home now and always should be that place where one feels safe, cared for and loved. At HRF we are not going to stop working every day so that every human being has the chance to be born and grow in a stable and supportive home.

“I want to congratulate you for this very thoughtful initiative to produce a documentary about the Home and the context of the current pandemic” from Portugal

Home in the Time of Coronavirus

Responding to the coronavirus in relation to the Home, we have produced a Communication Report in which different personalities share their experience of what home is – and means – to them during this time of a pandemic.

You will find, among others, the testimony of Colin Brazier, Baroness Hollins, Bryan K. Sanderson, Jaume Duch, Mia Mikic, Carlos Herrera, Teri Agins…

People from Institutions, Journalism, Academia, and also from the first line of battle and with huge difficulties to cope with the virus.

Enjoy this Communication Report and share it if you like it. We are looking forward to reading your comments.

Home in the Time of Coronavirus 

The Value of Home Work

During this period of lockdown the internet has been buzzing with the activities that people have found helpful, therapeutic, or at least a welcome distraction at this time. There is no surprise that reading has proved popular,  along with learning new subjects and skills and watching some of the great live-streamed concerts and shows. More surprising, perhaps, has been the number of “quiz nights” taking place. This is possibly because it gives a context and purpose to our virtual social gatherings – or a substitute for all those missing competitive sport.

Most popular of all, though, has been work in the home. This has varied from ambitious DIY projects to long-postponed smaller endeavours, such as finally tidying the cupboard under the stairs.  In the UK, the news that B&Q was to reopen brought queues of householders, keen to buy equipment and materials to complete the home improvements they had embarked upon.

There are many reasons for this. One of the most obvious ones is that we have all been spending so much time at home that we have noticed that the hall really needs painting or that window fixing. It’s the same recognition that firms that sell sofas have when they bombard TV with adverts at Christmas, reckoning that we’ve all been sitting on our old sofas long enough to be persuaded to buy a new one.

In certain gift shops, you can often find a small, circular plate for sale with this message printed on them: “I am a ROUND TUIT – now you can do all those jobs you said you’d do when you got me!” In our homes, during quarantine or lockdown, there are few excuses for not “getting around to it” and hence the burgeoning maintenance activity in our homes.

There is something else too, something less tangible but more important. Janice Turner, a journalist writing in The Times, touched on this last week in her article “Is there a gadget that makes your family clean?”. Aside from some humour about task sharing, Turner notices the satisfaction that comes from really cleaning something properly. Be it the fridge, the windows or the kitchen floor, the drudgery aspect of cleaning that we felt when we had so much else to do, is replaced by a sense of calm and even pleasure.

It is easy to mock this realization and to see it as “what we are reduced to” in lockdown. Whereas, in fact, it is what is raised to our notice – not our dirty windows, but the physical and mental benefits of sorting them out. Anthropologists and psychologists will note the in-built need of humans to create safe spaces for ourselves and our dependents. Maintaining the safety and protective environment of our homes, as we have been forced to as a response to the coronavirus, has made explicit this implicit need.

The pleasure we might get from a clean fridge and mended windows is not just about a passing sense of achievement, but about caring for ourselves  (and many of us do find ourselves on our own at this time) and those we are sharing our homes with. Sharing that care, passing skills on to the next generation, transforms and renews not only these tasks but us in the process.

Amidst all the anxiety and the background “noise” of these strange days let us hope that the connection between our homes and our well-being is recognised – and that this stays with us when our doors open again.

Intergenerational Care in the time of Covid-19

One of the emerging themes of the current crisis is the awareness of a previous undervaluing of carers. As one carer has put it, “We have gone from ‘low-skilled’ workers to ‘key’ workers in less than a month – but our jobs remain the same, caring for the most vulnerable in our society.”

CARE is the simple word that will be on the new badges to be worn by workers in this sector, in recognition of what they do, and for the rest of us to recognise them as they go about their work. This simple word “care” is also a very precious one, but it has been open to misuse, or at least misapprehension in recent years.

Children removed from their birth parents in the UK are frequently described as “looked-after children”, or having been “taken into care”. Reports, and criminal trials, have shown that in many cases being looked after or shown care is far from what these youngsters have actually experienced. Using the word “care” hardly guarantees that this is what is being offered. This is no criticism of individual children and youth service social workers, but a fault-line in the whole of society’s responsibility to its most vulnerable members.

Care Homes are associated most often with the elderly and sufferers from dementia, but in fact a wide-range of needs and age of residents makes up this sector. Stories and coverage in the press in recent days have given a voice to those managing, under extremely difficult conditions, to keep these residents safe and indeed cared for. To this observer at least, the quiet, professional dignity and genuine compassion shown by care workers has been humbling and revealing.

For these are the people who do the jobs that many of us either cannot or will not do. The phrase “personal care” covers all the basic needs of keeping someone clean, fed and comfortable, but it is also about becoming a trusted presence in that person’s life while these intimate tasks are undertaken. To see this care as “low-skilled” is to misunderstand not just the value of care, but the meaning of being human.

On our screens have been carers, usually younger, often immigrant, almost always women, talking not about their pay, or their grievances, but about their worries for the people they are looking after. This intergenerational care is especially poignant at the moment, as the statistics for this disease tell of a stark age differential. The older and more infirm you are the more likely Covid-19 infection is to be fatal.

This has led to 1.5 million primarily older people to have been instructed to self-isolate for at least three months. The pattern of living in the UK means that for many of these 1.5 million it will be at least three months without seeing children or grandchildren. Those families who live with older relatives may have even more troubling concerns – how to protect grandparents while some household members have to go to out to work.

Bryan Sanderson CBE, Chairman of Home Renaissance Foundation offers a positive personal insight into this time as he acknowledges that social-distancing from grandchildren is particularly hard if, as his family are, we are used to spending time together. The new technology is a life-line, and keeping in contact via facetime, skype or zoom, makes this deeply unsettling time more bearable. Those needing care now, have all been caregivers in the past. Remembering our interconnectedness and our interdependence stops care becoming someone else’s responsibility and returns to its place at the heart of our lives and our homes.

We cannot yet see what the aftermath of this crisis will hold, but whatever else changes and is never the same again after Covid-19, let us hope that the undervaluing of care and carers are at the top of the list.

Groundhog Day

By Antonio Argandoña

Groundhog Day is a classic film from the 90s in which Phil (Bill Murray), an arrogant and frustrated meteorologist who works in television, is sent to a small Pennsylvanian town on February 2 for the annual Groundhog event, which involves a groundhog supposedly foreseeing the exact date of the arrival of spring. But when the reluctant newsman awakes the next morning it is February 2 again without any change in circumstances, as some may feel is happening with Covid-19 forcing us to stay locked up all day at home.

The film portrays the despair of Phil, who hopes that circumstances will bring him the happiness he desires. But the circumstances do not change and since he knows what will happen each day, he takes advantage of others; he tries to dazzle Rita, his new producer (Andy McDowell), and commits suicide multiple times, only to wake up again every morning, again on groundhog day. Finally, he changes his attitude and begins to worry about others: he saves a child who falls from a tree, he studies medicine to save the life of a homeless person … the people of the town appreciate him, he confesses his love for Rita, who accepts him … and finally he wakes up on February 3.

The film contains some messages for us, confined to our homes. Let us develop our virtues every day. Let us promote knowledge through curiosity. Do not trust in good luck, but in our effort. And, like Phil with Rita, we will discover that virtue is what makes us really kind … and we will break the groundhog day spell. We cannot control the circumstances, but we can control ourselves.

Approaches to facing the uncertainty

In this time of uncertainty, it is easy to get overwhelmed and spending so much time in the home can lead to tensions. A 22 year old has shared some of her concerns about this period of self-isolation, and we share some of the approaches to working through them. At HRF we recognise the value of the home for everyone as a place of refuge and nurture – now more than ever.

What am I worried about?

  • Everything
  • The uncertainty of not knowing how long we will be like this
  • Not having a routine
  • Forced to be at home and not being able to go out
  • Not seeing friends
  • The intense coexistence with my siblings

 

What can I do about it?

First of all, these feelings are very understandable as this is such an unsettling time and although this may not seem helpful, “we are all in the same boat”. There are no easy answers but here are a few thoughts:

1. Trying to get hold of “everything” is exhausting and impossible. It is best to try to focus on the things you do still have control over – how you react to “everything” that is going on.

2. Uncertainty? Well, it is true that we are going to be at home for a long time, but that’s like when you face exams. You cannot think about the last exam until you have put the others behind you. We need to face the imminent exams before worrying about the later ones… That translated to self-isolation means thinking about one day at a time For now, medium / long term planning is not helpful.

3. You have to create your own routine. If you do not already have one, now is the time you both need one and have the opportunity to find one that works for you. A suggested pattern might be: Get up early, wash, dress comfortably, and be ready for the day. A good guide is to do “head work” in the morning and “hand work” in the afternoon. So if you are studying do this before lunch and leave the afternoon for cleaning, baking, gardening and exercising. The evening can then be spent watching TV or catching up with friends and family online. Once you find a regular time-frame for your days, your mood should improve too.

4. Make the most of any outdoor/fresh air experiences you can have. Maybe you have a garden? A terrace or balcony? No matter how small it is, take advantage of it, go out there to take the air, every 2 or 3 hours. There are people going through this without access to the outdoors at all, remembering this can help us make the most of what we do have.

5. Sharing space with loved ones requires us all to be mindful of the needs of those others and how we can make it a better experience. Find moments for yourself, to read, to pray, to listen to music, without doing anything else and then return refreshed to family times. Not having the luxury of choosing how and with whom we spend our time is going to be a steep learning curve for us all.

Keeping cheerful is going to be a big help!

New ways of being in our homes

We are all having to find new patterns of being in our homes, either on our own or with our families. This family, in the United States, has shared the new shape of their days with us. At HRF we are interested in how you are finding this time in your home. Please, tell us your new days too.

A mother in the US writes:

We are doing well.  We have enough food but it runs out fast because there is 8 of us here-me and hubby, 4 kids and my parents.

Kids wake up at 9 am, we have brunch at 10, everyone does office/school work until 4 and then we eat dinner at 5,  we do virtual mass at 6, then go play together, then watch a movie at 9:00-11.

My 8 year old Therese and I manage to play piano too and the other kids play their bass, guitar instruments, read books. My 12 year old Louise can spend hours with books. Gabriel,16 and Andrew 14 get an hour each of video games with their friends. This is their virtual interaction with them.

Our favourite outdoor family game is “Hide and seek” or Patintero (a Filipino tag game).

I am trying to make them learn Chinese but they are resisting. We also get to do catechism together for 30 mins before we watch a movie.

As for my business,  the 3 ladies who work for me are now working out of their homes now. We work with “essential” infrastructure because we are in the food business so, so far we are operating normally.

I am happy that we are all together and like all of the world is very concerned about our elderly. So, the quarantine is going quite well and we are aware of the importance of a good routine.

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.”