Event at the House of Commons

The launch of the Global Home Index results will take place on November 6th at the House of Commons in London. Due to the General Election, the event had to be rescheduled and we would like to thank MS. Fiona Bruce, member of Parliament for her hosting and giving us this opportunity. It will be an honour to present the findings of this international research in order to show the reality of the work of the home in the United Kingdom and around of the world.

So far, United States, Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, El Salvador, Portugal, Italy or Spain are only some of the countries where HRF and our two main partners have presented this first report.

We are very pleased to announce that the lawyer Mrs. Miriam González Durántez, Mr. Nick Clegg´s wife, will be our honorary speaker. She is co-chair of the firm’s International Trade and Government Regulation practice at Dechert.

More than 9,000 people from 94 countries across 5 continents participated in this Global Home Index study which you can find here. This first report is a comparative study of 20 countries on the recognition of the work of the home. Please click here to participate, your view makes a valid contribution to society.

Agenda

  • 1.30-2.45pm.: Light lunch refreshments

Jubilee Room at House of Commons

  • 2.45-4.14pm.: For Presentation & Discussion

Committee Room 16 at House of Commons

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Less is more, or not!

The more children you have, the less quality of life? Think again!
I have a friend who is something else. I don’t usually brag about friendships but I can’t help giving this dear friend a special mention.  Regardless of the particular country where I happen to be working or visiting, the circle of friends in which I find myself – be it a family reunion or a discussion about children and family life – my friend immediately springs to mind. Some people call her and her husband crazy but I haven’t noticed a constant stream of what might be classed ‘sensible’ people in my travels.

Each time she says she has a big announcement to make, you know in your heart it must be the news she has been sharing with us for a number of years – that they are expecting another baby. They now have 9 children – and as you come to get to know each child, your whole perception of what it means to be part of a large family changes.

The first comment people usually make when I talk about the family is “Of course they will surely be from some radical religious group?” And I am amused because my answer is, “I don’t know or care, but what I do know is that they belong to a group of people who possess a quality we should all imitate -generosity.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean that their like-minded group of friends have equally large families but, economics aside,  they are all generous and give of themselves completely. I might not pass that test of sheer selflessness.

When you walk through their front door it immediately feels like a home. The first thing that hits you is the buzz and vibrancy of children offering to help. The disorder expected is non existent as everyone has a designated role to play, something they’ve been taught from a young age. Their five-year-old was setting the table, taking dishes from the cupboard at his height level and carefully arranging the knives and forks on the table. I could have offered to do it for him but I thought better of it.

There’s no need to speak about equality in this house because clearly, their home belongs to everyone. Their sons and daughters divide the chores equally and both parents manage to work outside the home, neither having to give up their chosen profession.

People often ask me if they have lots of nannies and are rich to afford so many children. The answer is negative to both those questions. But sometimes I don’t even bother to answer as it’s clear that, even after explaining everything, they still don’t understand that a team of 11 is much stronger than a team of just 3 – for prejudices of this nature are hard-wired into the human brain.

 

Fine Dining? Living At-home Culinary Culture

 

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How much does it cost to go to a really swanky restaurant? Fifty pounds a head? A hundred? You can certainly see why the authors of a new study, suggest that people now plan and save for a lovely dinner prepared under the aegis of a top chef.
 
The author, a Cambridge university academic, speculates that so seriously do diners take their forays into the world of fine dining, that they are prepared to set cash aside for it, in much the same way they would for a holiday.
 
Wow. Is a good dinner really worth taking that seriously? Are there really people out there who think some appetising nosebag is up there with a week at the beach? Maybe there are, and each to their own etc.
 
But the guiding spirit of thrift moves me to ask – is it worth it? The author says her respondents – 40 celebrated chefs – liken the occasion of going to a top restaurant to a trip to the theatre; a cultural, rather than a strictly gastronomical, experience.
 
Which rather sets the cant-detector off. Because the whole drift of the food industry – the cult of the celebrity TV chef, the library of cooking books, the magazines, the faux intellectualism – is predicated on a love of food; principally – its taste.
 
Yet a ‘cultural experience’ is more than how the taste buds are responding. It’s about what we see, who sees us, what status we derive from being observed in a fashionable milieu. All well and good. But nothing to do with the grub. If the food is good, it tastes good whether it’s at home or in SW1.
 
But it does behove one question for those of us trying to think hard about the role of the home. To what extent should we seek to mimic that ‘cultural experience’ at home – for a fraction of the cost?
 
Does shrewd home-making rely on a monthly menu which picks out red letter days? If money is tight, does lighting a couple of candles at the dining table really recreate an evening with Raymond Blanc? Obviously not. Part of eating out is the adventure of ‘going out’. However, there is still something to be said for apeing the conventions of fine dining – at home.
 
This is not to suggest hiring a maitre d’ to work the front of (your) house. But a bit of spit and polish, breaking out the candle-sticks, foldling a couple of napkins, some music; all can help a dinner stand out. And there might still be money left for a summer break.

Emblematic Extravagance: The Homes of Strongmen

Opinion Piece -By Joanna Roughton

We have been here before. From Baghdad to Bucharest, from Saddam Hussain to Nicolae Ceaucescu. Tyrants or strongmen, forced from office, whose homes become emblematic of the corruption and extravagance of the ancien regime.

The latest home to be held up to this strange scrutiny belongs to  , the – seemingly – now former president of Ukraine.

Since he fled Kiev, scores of ordinary citizens, as well as photographers and journalists, have been wandering at will around the enormous house he kept an hour’s drive from the capital. There is marble and gold, chandeliers and ball-rooms. There is a golf course, a zoo, even a fake Spanish galleon. The list goes on; a litany of profligacy.

What is it about the men who exploit their countries in a fashion so predictable there is even a word – kleptocracy – to define their style of misgovernance?

And what is it that makes them want to make their home such a garish exemplification of their rule?

Because there does seem to be an identifiable stereotype here. The world is full of wealthy property owners who want their show home to be a statement of their success, their taste – or sometimes – want of it.

But there does appear to be something very particular in the way that dictators do decor. In the gaucheness so abundantly obvious in the home-cum-palace of Yanukovitch, you can almost sense the megalomaniac’s insecurity. It is money spent in a rush, splashed-out at the instruction of a man for whom money is no object, who knows that one day the mob will come crashing through the front gates.

These are homes designed to strike awe into apparatchiks, to intimidate visitors and reassure cronies. They signal to fellow travellers that they are backing the right horse. “Look at this place,” it almost screams, “stay with me and such lavishness can be yours too”.

Such a home is not designed to be comfortable. If there is an architectural purpose – it is to be credible. In the same way that the builders of bank branches would flirt with classical design, doric pillars and the like, to inculcate a belief in customers that there could never be a run on such an august institution.

A home like the one so recently vacated by Victor Yanukovitch, and his hangers-on, is not homely. They are the product of millions extorted or siphoned from the masses. And sometimes, when the putsch comes, it is to the people that they are returned.

The Home Must Prevail in the Winds of the Housing Market

-By Joanna Roughton

The average price of a house in England and Wales has now breached a quarter of a million pounds mark.

This milestone is a reminder that the chief characteristic of a home has, for many people now, become a price tag and a set of calculations. How long will it take for me to pay off the mortgage? What will it sell for? And so on.

These are entirely understandable considerations. They are predicated on a view that sees the home as an asset, a commodity to be bought and sold, an investment that can go wrong; but rarely does.

How should we at the Home Renaissance Foundation feel about such a trend?

Should we sigh when we hear another person announce that their “home is my pension” – a financial lifeboat that will save them from the razor-like rocks of penury.

Ought we to recoil at stories of ‘gazumping’, ‘gazundering’ and all the other underhand tactics employed by people whose moral compass goes haywire when the big numbers of the housing market come into play.

Or should we feel neutral. That it is nothing to do with us.

Well, here are some questions of my own.

1. Are householders less happy in their home if their decision to leave that home has nothing to do with its utility, and everything to do with the moment that property reaches a certain optimal value?

2. Might homeowners who see their property as an investment vehicle spend too long looking at it as a balance sheet, rendering them reluctant to spend money on improvements that might make it a better place to live, but which they will not recoup when they sell?

3. Do communities become less cohesive when first-time buyers cannot get on the housing ladder, increasing the number of properties in an area which are on short-term lets and whose occupiers have, ergo, less of a stake in the neighbourhood around them?

4. When a property is seen solely as an investment, it can often lie unoccupied; either as a second home or while awaiting resale at a premium. Is there a less happy home than an empty one?

I could go on. But the point is that our mission to explore the nurturing quality of the home may run counter to the prevailing winds of the housing market. This is not to wish for a slump or begrudge homeowners the right to turn a profit on their appreciating asset. It is simply to note that when we say the word ‘home’, many of those who hear it see before their eyes something very different to our ‘Vision of the Home  ’.

* An Evening Standard investigation revealed that more than 700 “ghost mansions” — worth a total of £3 billion — lie empty and unused in London.

Homes Under Flooding

-By Joanna Roughton

A very good friend has recently returned from the Somerset Levels, scene of some of the worst flooding to hit Britain during this long, wet winter.

The picture he paints of villagers fighting to hold back the steadily rising waters is instructive for those of us trying to couch a debate about what the home is for and how it works best.

What is striking is the different approaches taken to combat the deluge and resultant inundation. These are homes which people care for deeply. Many people living on the Levels have retired there after a lifetime of toil in a town or city, while others are raising young families in a green space.

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All are aware of the risk of flooding, though few expected to see it afflict them for so long or to such an extent. The vast majority are also fighting tooth and nail to hold onto their homes. They are hoping for help from the Government, but in the meantime, are helping themselves.

Hundreds have clubbed together in mutual support, helping to build lines of sandbags, loaning one another pumps, sharing higher land for livestock, ferrying food to the old and vulnerable.

Their response, as homeowners, has been nimble and cohesive. It seems to be in contrast to big government, which is only now sending in the troops and political heavyweights.

So the home, under threat, provides a spur to rapid action which makes the state look ponderous and riddled with inertia.

But something else is happening too. The floods have sparked a debate about the importance we attach to homes, relative to other things. Should the Environment Agency – the government quango tasked with flood management – prioritise the salvation of homes or wildlife?

It seems the quango has spent more than a decade quietly preparing to surrender homes to the encroaching tide and bursting rivers. One former agency chief is said to have argued the Levels were ready to be returned to a more natural state. “Just add water,” she is reported to have quipped.

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Yet, when it comes to it, people feel differently. There is something so deep-rooted, so utterly sacrosanct about the home, that when push comes to shove, we recoil at the thought of capitulating to the forces of nature.

Not only, it seems, is an Englishman’s home his castle, but we do not like the idea of it being swamped by the moat!

It’s a Wonderful Life

In the best film ever made, Frank Capra’s ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’, the hero is desperate to leave home. George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart, wants to explore the world like many of his successful friends.
But, as you know from watching the movie every Christmas, George never quite makes it. The Buildings & Loan, set up by his father to help the poor buy houses, needs him. His witless uncle needs him. The town of Bedford Falls needs him (lest it be dominated by a tyrannical old miser and renamed Pottersville).
My thoughts turned to George Bailey when reading that more and more young men are now living with their parents. Much has been written about why this is happening to the so-called ‘boomerang generation’ – who leave and come back. Similarly, lots has been said about the ‘sandwiched’ parents who provide the ‘bank of mum and dad’ to children who cannot quite achieve escape velocity from the family orbit.
These concepts are almost always considered negatively. And indeed there is something unsettling about young men who – usually for financial reasons – do not fulfil that arc of manhood with all its rites of passage (including setting up their own family home).
And yet, as George Bailey reminds us, there can be something redeeming about a grown-up child who chooses – sometimes against their better judgement – to stay close to the family nest.
Indeed, it has long struck me that one of the strange ironies of modern life is the sheer effort parents expend to secure an outcome which often renders them miserable.
Increasingly, parents stump-up huge amounts of cash for tutors and private schooling to wring the last ounce of academic performance from their child. For what? So their prodigy can go to university many miles away to get a degree that will allow them to take a job which will probably require them to work anywhere, including abroad.
Of course, this is one of the oldest paradoxes in parenting. We love our offspring so much that we move heaven and earth to launch them into the world (even though that may mean they will effectively be lost to us).
But I wonder if the sands are shifting irrevocably here. Certainly, many young people now question the merits of a – sometimes – meaningless higher education. They baulk at the student debt. They wonder if it might be better to get stuck into the world of work without leaving home for a distant campus. When George Bailey saw his friends return from college, they did so in cadillacs. It tends not to be like that now.
So does this release some of the pressure on parents? Does it provide a justification to the instinct to retain a child’s presence, rather than submit to the cool logic that betterment comes with dislocation? Well, I would definitely not argue the merits of children living in the family home indefinitely. A well-run home can flourish with adult-children around, paying their way, doing their share – while saving up money for their own property. But there is a natural life-cycle to such an arrangement. When our children find a spouse of their own.
Yet, how many parents are there out there who – like George Bailey’s matchmaking mother – seek to keep their child in the neighbourhood? Surely the answer is the vast majority of those parents whose home life is harmonious. This is not about seeing our children as friends from whom we cannot part (good parenting is to be a parent first, and a friend second). But it is to acknowledge that the family can exist beyond the home, within the locale. Again, I accept this will seem incompatible with the aim of helping our offspring to ‘get on’. Perhaps, though, many parents would be happy to see – like George Bailey – their child get on a little less, if that meant being around more.

Domestic Imaginaries: The Role of Homes in Film, Literature and Popular Culture

Yesterday Home Renaissance Foundation’s Research Coordinator participated as a delegate at the Symposium “Domestic Imaginaries: Homes in Film, Literature and Popular Culture” at the University of Nottingham.

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The conference addressed both symbolic and material elements of the home through panels from such perspectives as “Materializing Home”, “Homes away from the House”, “Nation, Home and Identity”, “Migrant Homes” and “Femininity and the Home”.  The conference explored extensive audiovisual materials, including a screening of several short films about the home and the concept of domesticity.

Among the highlights of the conference were lively discussions following the keynote address “Justifiable Home-icide? Clutter, ‘Thing –Power’ and Light-Green Living by Dr. Tracy Potts, exploring the concepts of clutter and hoarding in the home and their interaction with green consumerism and sustainability.  The second keynote addressed the striving for a better sensory future through both sound and light, in relation to the modern British Home in a presentation by James Mansell entitled “Lighting the Modern British Home: Towards a ‘New Jerusalem’, 1920-1955”.

Home Renaissance Foundation was pleased to be represented among distinguished academics and practitioners at the forefront of research on the home, including delegates from universities from four continents, as well as prestigious UK institutions including the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, UCL, Queen Mary and Nottingham as well as the London-based Geffrye Museum of the Home.Image

Creating Home Away from Home: Home Renaissance Foundation at the Ritz London

On Saturday September 28th 2013, the HRF Research Coordinator and Research Intern were invited to dinner at The Ritz London, a long-time favorite of Royalty, aristocracy and celebrities, to learn more about their Happy Families accommodation programme. It is encouraging that the hotel that for over a century has been the benchmark by which other hotels are measured also claims to be “the most family-oriented of London’s luxury hotels”. The key to the Ritz’s approach is an emphasis on facilitating a family atmosphere by creating a congenial and welcoming environment, where service to the person is given utmost priority.  TheRitzarticle-1

The Ritz claims to design its guest services in a manner that allows families to create moments that will be remembered for a lifetime, rather than merely providing a distraction for children when travelling away from home. This emphasis on facilitating family interactions and traditions is of great interest to the Home Renaissance Foundation.

But how, in particular, does the Ritz London create home away from home? First and foremost, the hotel is a plaTheRitzarticle-2ce where no detail is overlooked; even before you have entered the building, you feel the staff treat people with warmth and familiarity. One of the best features for families are the interconnecting rooms for parents and children, creating a social space that facilitates family interactions. Children can also enjoy the selection of age-appropriate children’s books and DVDs in-room, as well as an assortment of bathroom amenities that youngsters are sure to love

These efforts to live excellence in the home – even away from home- show us that training and precision go into creating excellent home atmosphere, and that hospitality and domestic work are not merely a collection of services such as laundry, cleaning, and cooking. They are truly a value system in which science, art, psychology, culture, skills and an aptitude for management all play a crucial part.

Have you ever been somewhere far away that felt just like home? What made you feel this way? Was it the food? The sheets? Or the flowers in the bathroom? Share your thoughts with us, and let us know where we can find a special home away from home!