The culture of the workplace has its roots in the home

By Rosemary Roscoe

I’m not normally given to public airings about private matters but I can’t help speaking about this one.
I’ve recently been treated for colon cancer at Luton and Dunstable University Hospital, one of the best performing NHS hospitals in the country – and you can see why.
I was given an appointment at the hospital just over a week after my GP requested fast track treatment. A few days later I had a colonoscopy and soon after the biopsy results came through the operation went ahead.
Thanks to the superb skills of a leading Consultant Laparoscopic Colorectal Surgeon and the medical team who performed the challenging 7 hour partial colectomy, the operation was a great success. I was discharged after 3 days and almost back to my normal self within a couple of weeks.

During those few days recovering on the ward I was impressed by how graciously doctors, nurses, health care assistants and physiotherapists attended to every need of some very poorly patients, treating them with such dignity. And their willingness to help each other was reassuring to witness. You would hear someone call out “I’m going to need help moving my patient” and immediately help was at hand. Staying in bed too long was actively discouraged for your own good, with the enhanced recovery team gently coaxing you out of it and into a chair the next day and later on inviting you to walk along the corridor to get the circulation moving.

The nursing staff were constantly monitoring your blood pressure, temperature and oxygen level, administering drips and painkillers or antibiotics, changing dressings and checking how much you had drunk so far that day. Without exception they were professional and polite and remained cheerful throughout their 12 hour shifts. The healthcare assistants were also wonderful – attentively filling up jugs of water, offering hot drinks, asking what you would like to eat, giving bed baths, emptying catheters and drains, putting clean sheets on the bed.

The medical staff appeared to not get a minute’s peace – one nurse worked all weekend while her husband looked after their young child and did night shifts during the week to save on childcare costs. One of the nurses on night shift was heavily pregnant and another worked permanent nights – and yet they were so positive and self-giving.

Their wages are low, hours are long, work often arduous but they choose to work for the NHS. Why? Because they know that what they’re doing is worthwhile and they are people imbued with a deep sense of service who genuinely care about the welfare of others.

Many of the staff were of African or Asian descent and you could tell by the respectful way they spoke to everyone around them that they had come from loving homes where they had been taught patience and understanding and the need to help others. The nurturing that stems from the home clearly must influence the way people work and make a big difference to the health and wellbeing of society as a whole.

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What is HRF?

We would like to start by telling you what HRF is from scratch. This does not mean that all we have said to date is invalid, we simply want to restate. For 12 years, we have generated a lot of information resulting from our research, and we now want to make it available more widely. We also want to take advantage of our new, improved website and we are bringing it to your attention so that you can use it when necessary. Let’s begin!

1. What is HRF? An International Think Tank based in London. Sometimes, another immediate question follows: What is a think tank? A laboratory of ideas that launches lines of thought into society.

2. What is HRF’s aim? We seek a ‘social revolution’ in the home environment or as our slogan says: we want to renew the culture of the home.

3. What does that mean? Well, homes are very important for society and many people have neglected them for some time, so we want to encourage people to return to giving homes all the attention and care they deserve.

4. How are you going to achieve this ‘social revolution’? We have two clear lines of action: theory and practice.
The theory is simply to demonstrate through research with academic institutions and prestigious disciplines, the importance for society of the work involved in running a home, for example, for the health of its members or the global economy. For this reason, we do research and organize Experts Meetings, Symposiums, Academic Conferences or Policy Events. We think it is the most appropriate way to put the issue on the public agenda and open the dialogue with policymakers.
The practical part is what allows us to influence the reality. Based on the information obtained in the research we have conducted and knowing people with expertise in the ‘day to day’ of the home, we train all those who want to learn about or want to improve, the management of their home to build a happy home little by little.

5. And why do you think a think tank like yours is necessary? Simply because the figures show the following:

– Increase in mental disorders in children
– Increase in malnutrition
– Increase in the number of grandparents living in care homes
– Reduction in families who eat home-cooked food
– Increase in the number of hours children spend alone in front of the television or other screens
– Fall in reading among the younger population
– Reduction in the time that parents spend with their children
– The difficulty of work/life balance.

This scenario could make us feel very guilty or push us to blame society in general, but it would be useless. The good thing about stopping to analyse and observe the problem is that we can diagnose it and try to solve it.

Neither the migration of women into work, nor the appearance of new technologies, nor other external factors are the problem, they are simply new actors with whom we will be living for the foreseeable future. And we should simply adapt to the circumstances, and train as well as possible, to use all those new resources in the most efficient way in the management of our homes.

And that’s why HRF is working every day. To detect problems and try to offer solutions through dissemination, training and dialogue.

Now, we hope you understand what HRF is doing. Then, if it seems appropriate, let people know, tell all those who think they may need a little help in the management of their home. And tell us what aspect or area of the home you are worried about, and we will try to investigate it, to demonstrate to the world the importance of the work involved in building a home.

Feel good food

With all the hoo-ha about hormones and antibiotics in our meat, it’s hardly surprising that ‘flexitarianism’ is the new vogue. ‘Flexitarians’ apparently eat a vegetarian diet most of the time but splash out on ethically sourced organic meat occasionally.

Addressing the 4th International Conference ‘The Home, a place of growth, care and wellbeing’ at the Royal Society of Medicine in London in November, Dr Timothy Harlan emphasised the proven health benefits of a Mediterranean diet. It traditionally composes of very little meat, some fish, fermented dairy, wholegrain, pulses and an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables. American Professor Michael Greger goes a step further claiming that all meat and dairy are bad for us – as harmful to our health even as smoking! Others advocate a ‘paleo’ diet consisting of food that early civilizations hunted or gathered such as lean meat, eggs, fruit, nuts and seeds.

Whatever our food fads, with grocery deliveries direct to our doorstep and hosts of online recipes boasting hearty meals in half an hour,  it’s never been so quick and easy to prepare nutritious home-cooked dinners. And it doesn’t have to break the budget to eat healthily – a shopping bag full of vegetables can be bought for the price of just one ready meal. Meat and fish may be expensive but if you can stomach the alternatives such as lentils, beans and soya products they’re a fraction of the price and quick to prepare with many dried pulses not requiring any pre-soaking.

The secret is in planning ahead –  deciding menus at least a week in advance means it’s not much trouble to turn out tasty dishes in no time and sit down to a relaxing meal with family or friends.

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

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.