Let’s put theory into practice

A few days ago, we had the honour of being the invited Foundation to the meetings of the Argentine association MIF, Mujeres Independientes y Federales. The pandemic has normalised these virtual meetings and technology allowed us to discuss current fundamental issues concerning the home.

From Home Renaissance Foundation we want to thank María Elena Critto and Carolina Castiglioni who have concentrated on making our work known and, above all, brought together such a select audience to talk about the importance of care and the role of women. Among the more than 70 women who attended this event were Carlota Pitiot, a union leader from Apoc, the former Argentine senator, Cristina Fiore, and the national member of Parliament Victoria Morales Gorleri. It was precisely the latter who shared her personal and enriching experience that I dare to summarize as follows:

We women love to talk about how things should be, know the numbers and educate our children in joint responsibility, but it is so hard for us to delegate that we do not always put that theory into practice.

She explained that, in the middle of the pandemic, teleworking and with all her 6 children at home, she was overwhelmed by the pressure of not being able to get everything done. At one point, she sat down with her family and asked for their help. It was her husband and her children who told her:

“Mum, you always talk to us about dividing the household tasks, sharing the responsibilities all together, feeling part of the home, but we are not putting it into practice. Of course, we want to help and we will do the housework together.”

From that day on, the load on her shoulders became lighter. She understood that indeed the time had come for that ideal to reach fruition.

But it is not necessary to be drowned in work before asking for help because we would be missing the point of co-responsibility. It does not consist of doing what the mother or organiser of the home does not attain but in dividing the work fairly among all the members of the home and experiencing first-hand what it means when a sole person does not take on all the responsibility of the home.

Because if there is one place you can fail, it’s in the home. It is at home where things can be corrected with affection, where you can be reminded of your responsibilities, where you learn to be part of something, to be important in your role. As Charles Handy explains in the HomeMakers Project, “At home, skills and abilities that are much needed for professional life are acquired.”

No one is indispensable but by working as a team you are a very necessary link for the rest of the project to go full steam ahead.

People, Care and Work in the Home

It would be hard to find a more important time for the publication of People, Care and Work in the Home. These last months have brought to the forefront of all our lives the importance of the home and the people, work and care that happens within them.

The book, published this week with Routledge, brings together academic and professional expertise in these fields, first gathered at the 2017 4th International HRF Conference: “A Home, a place of growth, care and wellbeing.”

What was clear at the conference was that these vital things – growth and wellbeing  – do not just “happen.” For strong, healthy individuals, families and communities there needs to be attention paid and support given to the frontline of where these patterns begin – at home.

Professor Mohamed Gamal Abdelmonem and Professor Antonio Argandoña, editors of People, Care and Work in the Home have worked with contributors to bring to wider attention this multidisciplinary approach to society’s key building blocks.

Sir Harry Burns, professor of Global Public Health at the University of Strathclyde, and former Chief Medical Officer for Scotland, underlines the importance of home for life-long health and healthy relationships in his contribution to the publication:

Sir Harry Burns“From the outside, a home is simply a building. It’s inside that the magic happens. If a home is a place where children feel safe and happy, they will learn they are loved and respected and, as a result, they are likely to grow up to love and respect others. They will grow in health and wellbeing and develop a sense of purpose, allowing them to make decisions as to the future direction of their lives. Children who experience a nurturing, safe upbringing are likely, as adults, to create a positive home environment for their own children and so, positive outcomes for families are handed on to the next generation.”

If those early experiences are not positive the results are less happy, less healthy for individuals and for society – examples of which are not hard to find.

This recent pandemic, the lockdown and enforced time at home together has given new energy to those determined to champion the unique and priceless role it plays in our lives. In the words of Professor Argandoña:

“The home grows with solidarity, sharing everything. And the most complete way of sharing is love, that is, to take care of others. That is what we learn at home throughout our lives, although in a different way at each stage of that life. In this period of confinement we have learned to live together, ignoring the deficiencies of others; to share, that is, to give and give ourselves.”

People, Care and Work in the Home is a very important articulation of that insight to inform both research and policy in how we value what is given and what is received at home.

We have won!

MovementforGoodAward: HRF has won!!! 13,695 foundations were nominated for awards and more than 250,000 people voted! We are one of the 500 foundations receiving it!!! THANK YOU for your support and thanks Ecclesiastical for organising the Awards.

You made this possible. We requested via email and social media networks that you voted for our think tank, which for the past 14 years has made enormous efforts to make visible the critical work of the running of the home.

Each award, according to Mark Hews, Group Chief Executive at Ecclesiastical, will make a positive difference. In our case, the funding will allow us to continue promoting the Communication Report on “Home in the time of Coronavirus” by translating it into different languages. At the Home Renaissance Foundation, we know that every little push counts because small projects lead to great achievements, such as our latest publication People, Care and Work in the Home that will be published next Tuesday, June 16.

Much effort has gone into the production of the book spanning several years following the Conference held on the subject in 2017, which brought together prestigious academics and professionals from the Public Health and Care sector. During that gathering, workshops were also organised in which researchers from different fields were able to share their findings from the perspective of the home.

Edited by Professor Mohamed Gamal Abdelmonem in conjunction with Professor Emeritus Antonio Argandoña, and published by the prestigious Routledge, the book contains 17 fascinating contributions with insights into the care of the home and its members in various different ways throughout the world.

Covering three broad elements, as its title indicates, it begins by paying attention to caring for the person as the centre of our homes and, above all, delving into the critical care of the elderly, focusing on homes that provide for the needs of people with disabilities; and ends by highlighting the importance of the work that all this entails, analysing individual cases across the continents.

Without a doubt, as you can see, your support is crucial in giving back to the home the place it deserves, both socially and in public policy decision-making.

Home Truths

It is very early days to try to predict the long-term effects the coronavirus will have on our relationships with our homes. During this crisis, they have been seen as places of safety and security. For many of us, this has definitely been true as we have drawn strength from the solace and sanctuary of our homes and closest relationships.
It has not been the case for everyone though. A time of enforced lockdown in difficult physical or emotional circumstances has taken its toll on physical and mental health. Evidence-based investigation of what has really been happening in our homes is also at a very early stage, but anecdotal evidence suggests a number of factors that affect our experience of lockdown. This article looks at the positive aspects of these factors while recognising the very real implications of the negative ones.

Feeling in control
In a situation where there are so much fear and contradictory information in the wider world, keeping a sense of control in the small areas of domestic life is known to be beneficial. This sense of control or being able to order at least one part of our lives is seen in the increased order we are putting into our daily lives. This might be a more structured day, with regular work, meal and leisure times. It might be tidying and rearranging our home environment for optimal space and calm. It could be something as simple as planning the meals for the week, or sharing out domestic tasks. The key is that an order and a plan bring a sense of control at home that can strengthen us to deal with the things beyond our control. This is especially important in homes with young children or vulnerable family members. Predictable daily patterns are a source of great reassurance in such unpredictable times.

Respectful Relationships
There is no rule that we have to like everyone we live with, but when there is no getting away from them a modus vivendi is less a choice than a necessity. Respectful relationships recognise that people need different things and express themselves in different ways. That we can offend as much as we are offended. That we can praise as much as we need praise. The old adage “If you can’t say something nice, say nothing,” might have led to some quiet homes some days, but on the whole when no one can leave the house to cool off, this has not been the best time for “warts and all” candour.

Nature Cure
One of the telling distinctions of this crisis has been between those who have access to private outdoor space and those who do not. Again, anecdotally, there has been much in the press and elsewhere about the value of green spaces to our well-being. Those with gardens, backyards and balconies have had a social advantage at this time over those without. One of the harshest restrictions, after not being able to be with relatives, was the limit of time and activities outdoors. The ability to bring nature into the home has also been limited by the restrictions, but those who have shared this lockdown with pets have spoken of the very positive benefits of this over and above the difficulties. Similarly, even without a garden, schools have encouraged parents of children learning at home to grow plants from seeds, just using a window-ledge for small pots. These may seem tiny actions but the positive effect of tending and sharing space with the natural world bring far larger rewards.
The exercise of order, respect and care – for ourselves, those we live with and our environment – are human choices and disciplines which are largely independent of our personal circumstances. Those already suffering from the effects of poor housing, financial insecurity, ill-health, broken relationships, violence or addiction will have found this period harder to manage.

The next article in this series will look at some lessons for policy-makers from the places we all need to call home.

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.

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.

“Society”: you, me, us, all

When we speak of “society” it can seem like something that does not have anything to do with us. We happily use the term society to refer to the number of problems that exist in it, but we are not aware that society is us. Society can only improve if everyone puts in their two-penny worth. Because society means everyone, including you!

For this reason, when the Home Renaissance Foundation affirms that society can collapse without well-managed homes, we observe that nobody is surprised, nobody screams, no one tears their clothes as though bemoaning a great loss. A dysfunctional society is a society that does not advance or grow, and we understand that nobody wants that, but it does not penetrate the heart or thoughts of many because the concept of “society” becomes more remote with the passing of each day.

It may be that another reason why we no longer give value to the idea of “society” is the lack of feeling of belonging. We do not belong to the “society”, we belong to the school football club, the neighbourhood association, the tennis club, the local gym. We feel part of groups or communities where we have a degree of influence, either because we pay a subscription, or because we feel we belong there and that our opinion matters.

And of course, you may say that apart from the taxes we pay in exchange for basic services, why should we feel part of a “society” where our opinion doesn’t appear to matter and authorities never consult us when making decisions? Who asks me what I think before introducing or abolishing laws?  We may feel so far removed from the management and governance of that “society” that we distance ourselves from the idea of society as a whole.

But like everything in life, nothing can be understood or seen in its true perspective if we cannot visualise it in a particular way. And to recover the meaning of “society”, we should take as an example that small and close “society” that we have in our immediate environment, the one in which our opinions matter, where we feel part of, that takes our feelings and opinions into account … namely, the home. Our family is a microcosm of society. And we feel that we belong there because of the unity that exists between members of our home. Each action we take has a consequence, which is normally direct and immediate.

At HRF we examine the home in-depth from many different angles, as a reflecting mirror for society. When households do not function well, the knock-on effect is immediate and direct on society.  We should therefore first and foremost take great care of the home as the microcosm of society.