Facing Winter

The summer of 2022 will go down in the record books for scorching temperatures across Europe, and the resultant destruction from drought and wild fires. Many people, though, have looked at 40˚Celsius on the thermometer and have been alarmed not by the summer heatwave, but by the thought of the winter to come.

One of the climate shifts we are experiencing is of hotter summers and colder winters. High summer temperatures are certainly dangerous to the vulnerable but not nearly so dangerous as the risks of hypothermia when the mercury plummets. The NHS in England has already flagged up an imminent health crisis when people are unable to keep their homes adequately heated.

This winter the usual practice, for most of us reading this, of turning up the boiler and putting on the gas or electric fire will be less automatic. The rising cost of energy is already biting and forecasters predict that by Christmas it will leave millions in fuel poverty. In the UK the average monthly combined fuel tariff in 2021 was £140. It is now nearly £400 and rising. Although one-off targeted fuel support payments are being paid out, they will, if the pun be excused, barely touch the tip of this iceberg.

As this is a global crisis, exacerbated by the continuing war in Ukraine, it is understandable that we can feel helpless as householders when we watch our smart-meters tick through money we do not have. Helpless when the choice becomes between food and fuel for many already struggling to keep their heads above the poverty line.

Global problems need collaborative solutions, and better stewardship of our planet and its resources, though non-negotiable as a concept is still far from seeing many practical applications. It is perhaps the only positive of the current situation that a heightened sense of urgency in achieving sustainable and renewable energy will lead to real global progress in this area.

Meanwhile, our homes need to be heated. The thoughts which follow in no way minimize the crisis as set out above, but depending on our own circumstances offer some potential approaches to facing winter this year. As always in the home, actions and activities go hand in hand with attitudes. What we do reflects how we think, so here are a couple of things to think about.

The one single biggest change to how we live in our homes was not the television or indoor sanitation but central heating. Before central heating in most homes only one room would be heated – the kitchen where a fire heated food, water and the family. It was to this hearth that all the family members gathered – not necessarily out of fellow-feeling all of the time, but simply to keep warm. Nowadays with radiators or heat-sources in every room there is no need for such gathering or such a heart/hearth place. What if this winter we made a hot hub in our homes? It would not work for every household, but for many the decision to make one place the gathering spot and to spend time together there might have other benefits as well as cutting our heating bills.

People who are only in their seventies now have memories of growing up in city neighbourhoods where there were communal baths and bread ovens. Far from seeing these as signs of deprivation they are remembered as part of a time when the logistics and costs of hot water and getting domestic ovens hot enough to cook bread made them welcome amenities. No one is going to turn back this particular clock, but is it possible that we could take a turn in being a hot house? Inviting extended family, friends or neighbours to come and make the most of our heating and cooker for supper once a week – or however often – and enjoying having the compliment repaid by going to their hot house on another day.

Thinking about our lives as lived in relationship and in community with each other is the building block that enables a global joined-up energy policy. Not facing winter on our own; being prepared to share the warmth, physical and emotional, of our homes beyond our own front doors.

No home

“After breakfast, after Stefanie and the children have kissed me goodbye and run off to the museum, I sit quietly and look around the suite. It’s like all the hotel suites I’ve ever stayed in, but this one is even more so. Clean, elegant, comfortable: this is the Four Seasons, so it’s beautiful, but it’s still just another version of what I call “No Home”.

I was reading this paragraph in tennis player Andre Agassi’s memoirs, ‘Open‘, and I was thinking of all those people who have no home to return to at the end of their working day. How many people, either for work reasons or for personal circumstances, do not live in a home, but in a hotel room, which is not always a suite. Some stay in small rooms on long business trips, roadside motels, hostels in the middle of nowhere… And I am sure there are even people who return to their house every day but have not managed to make it a home for whatever reason.
And you may ask, how important is this? Well, it is vital. Whatever their age, the role that home plays in their lives, in their mental health, in their development, in their care, and in their stability is essential.

The memoirs of this tennis player are, among other things, an ode to the family and the home as a fundamental pillar for the personal and professional life of the individual. Whether you like tennis or not, it is worth reading; it’s not just another sports biography. You might get a little lost in the story of some of the matches, but the effort, sacrifice, discipline and passion that this man is forced to work for, despite hating tennis when he was a child. How he has been marked by a demanding and severe father, more coach than father, shows a true example of self-discipline to achieve all that he has.

This is what leads him to want to have the kind of family he did not have and to care for and admire his wife and children as a daily motivation to keep going, without the pressure of winning or losing, because he knows that when he returns home they are there.

But “they” and the “home” he returns to have been built by him and Stefanie Graff together. They share a similar past, thanks to all the values that tennis has taught them since they were young. Let’s say that everything Andre Agassi suffered and lacked as a child and teenager, allowed him later to be able to value and care for the treasure of having a family where affection, calm, admiration and love reign.

“We are like blocks of stone… the blows of His chisel, which hurt us so much, are what make us perfect”. A quote from their (both) favourite film, Shadowlands, which is about the life of the writer C.S.  Lewis and sums up excellently what life is all about.

Happiness and Domestic Life

I hope you have been able to rest and are eagerly and enthusiastically getting back to the routine in your homes. As we have already announced, our latest book ‘Happiness and Domestic Life’ was released at the end of August.

Before I tell you what it is about, allow me on behalf of HRF to thank STI for supporting us in getting this work off the ground, Routledge for their confidence once again, this is our third book with them, and all the academics who have contributed, editors and authors who will be appearing throughout the text.

As editor María Teresa Russo explains in her introduction, this book aims to provide a mainly conceptual framework for the relationship between the quality of domestic life and the home environment (family relationships, technical tools, housing style, household chores) and individual and social happiness, especially in the context of current changes.

Two important factors determining the issue of happiness and well-being have themselves been affected by the recent COVID-19 pandemic: the relationship between an individual’s quality of life and engagement with his or her community, and the role of new technologies in everyday life.

The authors highlight, from different perspectives, that happiness has a clear relational character and it is essential for its promotion that it is the central pillar of the family environment. Three dimensions of psychosocial well-being in the home are analysed: the personal, which consists of a sense of stability, intimacy and sharing; the social, which considers the domestic environment as a place for civic education; and, in times of pandemic, the place of professional and physical activity, which consists of spaces, services and architectural styles.

The themes addressed by experts from different countries and disciplines (sociology, architecture, philosophy, education, economics, ethics) fall into four thematic axes. The first focuses on happiness between the private and public spheres from a philosophical and psychological point of view. The authors of this section (Nogal; Chirinos; Gawkowska) propose a model in which home and care, notions that have vulnerability and human relationality as a common thread, are valued as two indispensable elements for individual and social well-being.

The second section analyses the role of digital media and domestication in fostering domestic well-being from a sociological point of view (Bakardjieva; Wessels; Malagrinò). The analysis focuses on the changes in activities, relationships and roles in the home when digital media become deeply and intimately embedded in the spaces and rhythms of the home.

The third examines the home as a place of work, care and creativity, from an educational and anthropological point of view, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic (Díaz, Martín-Sierra and Herrero; Farrell; De Nardo; Grau-Grau, Selvam and Cavallotti). The three traditional approaches to happiness (momentary happiness, subjective well-being and eudemonic well-being) are analysed in relation to the paid work activity that the COVID pandemic transferred to the home, and the more intense family life during the period of confinement.

Finally, the fourth section highlights factors that contribute to supporting happy and functional homes, from the architectural and sociological perspectives of architecture and sociology (Davies; Thunder and Serrano-Núñez; Al-Thahab). These include the physical layout and design of houses, the contrast between tradition and innovation, and social relations in the neighbourhood as a means of bringing families into the life of the wider society.

These issues lend themselves to further fruitful empirical research: we hope that this book will provide a valuable conceptual basis for development in different directions.

This book is both an important milestone in the study and policy of the home’s vital contribution to wellbeing, and a key read for anyone concerned with the true value of home.

Attachment to place

Forgive me for personalising this post so much, but I find myself in a life situation that truly reflects the focus of our forthcoming book ‘Happiness and Domestic Life‘ already on sale, and one that speaks to the focus of our next Experts Meeting ‘The Home and Displaced People‘ that we will be holding in Washington in September at the Catholic University of America.
As once again, for work-related reasons, I am moving to another country.
For the past five and a half years I have been writing and working from Brussels. A very cosmopolitan city whose population is difficult to calculate as the turnover of people is extremely high and the MEPs of the 27 countries that make up the European Union come and go from Monday to Friday.
And although during these five years I have welcomed and said goodbye to many people, I never imagined the attachment I would feel for this place and for this country which despite being very different from mine, has become my home. It’s hard to leave and say goodbye, it’s hard to turn the page, and it’s hard to pack up and pick up everything I’ve lived through. It is a great physical, mental and emotional effort. These are weeks of instability and uncertainty.
At the age of 18, I left my hometown of Logroño to study and I never went back to live there again. It was my home place, which my parents tried hard to make sure met all the requirements of a home. A place for the growth and development of a person: stable, warm, friendly and happy. It is that HOME with a capital H because it is the one that will always serve as a reference point for me and because it is the one I still call “My home”. To differentiate it from the different homes that I have created and built throughout my life, I sometimes specify “my parents’ home”. But when you come and go so much and you have to create, cherish and then say goodbye to homes so many times, that first home becomes even stronger.
Well, as I said, after different homes in Spain, our stay in the UK and Belgium, we are going back to Spain. The feeling is enormously contradictory, I feel sorrow and joy at the same time. I feel that I am leaving here in Brussels a root that had germinated and was growing strongly and I feel that, once again, I have to sow again. It is a never-ending story, but one that always brings good things, despite the difficulty of the situation.
And my experience is one that is shared by many people who, wanting to improve in our professional lives and grow in our personal lives, have freely decided to take this step and assume these risks that in one way or another bring enormous instability. But it is a free decision. I can’t imagine what it means for all those who leave because of war, hunger, or obligation. Often running, leaving family members behind, separating from their children, parents, grandparents… Uprooting dramas that affect the person so fundamentally.

And now that I have to start again, and reading the book that you will soon be able to hold in your hands, the question is key: what must a home be like to be happy? what relationship exists between the home and the happiness of the person and their development? to what extent does the home form part of a larger community on whose wellbeing it also depends?

I leave you with these questions for reflection. If you have a home, value it and care for it. If you are in a delicate or difficult home situation, I give you hope because the key lies in the simplicity of daily care.

Home Again

Photographs of Mariapol’ and Kharkiv in Ukraine tell the story of devastation – of buildings, and of the lives of those who once peacefully and simply lived in them. We can see the same impact looking at aerial views of Aleppo, Beirut, and the towns of Eastern Afghanistan: the first destroyed by war, the second by an explosion, and the last by the very recent earthquake in that region. Whatever the cause, the rubble and the tragic remains of what had been places of family safety and pride touch our hearts.  Although we pray that it will never be our story, it is not hard for us to enter the stories of others as we see the broken fragments of these much-loved homes.

It is also not hard to feel despondent – how can these broken places be mended? How can they ever be called home again? The places referred to above are still in the early stages, if at all, of being able to even think about “what next?” There are though examples which offer whispers of hope to those whose homes seem gone forever. One such whisper or glimpse is the story of Roombeek in the Eastern Netherlands.

Roombeek is a suburb of the Dutch city of Enschede. On 13th May 2000 a fireworks warehouse exploded, killing 23 people and injuring nearly 1000 more. In total 2000 homes were either destroyed or seriously damaged. This was not a war-torn land or a place of natural disaster, but for the inhabitants, the loss of home was nonetheless as heart-breaking as it was life-changing.

What happened next was inspirational. The national and local governments saw the rebuilding of Roombeek as an opportunity for its residents to have real say in what the rebuilt community should be like. Questions were asked about what was really valued. The answers to these questions were very encouraging. The priorities were that the past should not be forgotten but that the building should look to the future. For this reason the general ground plan of the area was kept the same. People wanted to return to familiar surroundings and to feel at home, but not for each home to be rebuilt brick by brick. There was a recognition that what made Roombeek home was more than the houses themselves. It was about being neighbours as well as households.

People wanted neighbourhoods that were safe and welcoming for all. Certainly that each home should reflect the needs of the household, but more than this, that each home would have, metaphorically and often actually, its doors open to others.  With the guidance and skill of sympathetic architects and with the financial commitment of the government, twenty two years on Roombeek is a thriving place of real community and with confidence in its future.

This is a vision to hold onto as we contemplate the destroyed places of today. They need the will and means and skills of many agencies to become places where people can feel at home again. They also need the will and skill of those people themselves: to make each other feel at home again too.

The contribution of home to the well-being of individuals and their communities cannot be overestimated. Our new publication ‘Happiness and Domestic Life’ examines the vital connections between the home and human flourishing. To order an advance copy please click here.

Have we looked through the peephole before we let technology in?

How many times have we said that our home is that safe, private, intimate, stable place that allows us to develop normally and gives us the tools to go out and live in society? Thousands of times.

However much society evolves, however much change comes, however much technology bursts in and develops at breakneck speed, nothing is going to change the raison d’être of the home. That is why we must pay attention to anything that could jeopardise this value and role.

Last week HRF participated in a meeting with the Spanish association The Family Watch. We were invited to talk about these issues and one of the conclusions we came to and which we have all experienced is that the impact of technologies in the home is both positive and negative. It is undeniably bringing benefits and saving us time, and being able to recognise this and take advantage of it is important. But we also need to be aware of the problems it is causing us in terms of privacy, instability, isolation, communication and relationships between family members.

The participants in the session asked me for formulas, alternatives, recipes to ensure that the integration, the incorporation of technology is adequate. And, even at the risk of disappointing the audience, I could only be honest and answer that there are no magic recipes, but that every home has to develop an approach that works for their circumstances.  The response to technology will never be simple because we are facing a complex reality, as explained in our report by Mei Ling Fung and Patrick Scannell.

There are, though, recommendations that we can try to apply and that require effort on our part, namely education and prudence. Have we looked through the peephole before opening the door of our home and letting in someone who is friendly and beneficial but who is also a stranger? Have we taken into account that technology seems innocuous but once inside can we lose control of its impact? Have we read the small print or the side effects and still want to go ahead? Are we aware that artificial intelligence is already among us and is changing the way we communicate, the way we work, the way we relate to each other?

The changes do not have to be bad, we simply have to be aware of them and be the ones to decide in which direction and in which way we want these changes to influence our lives and our homes. Let us be the ones to take the reins now because only we should be the ones making decisions when our homes are at stake.

Educating in waiting

We have become accustomed to wanting something and having it now. The immediacy which is brought to us by the Internet, online shopping and mobile apps, while allowing us to avoid queuing at the bank, at the store and at the supermarket, does not make us better. Maybe more efficient, maybe more practical, but also more intolerant. This is something to be careful of,  because this can also become transmitted and infect our attitudes at home.

We live in a hurry to do everything immediately and a simple traffic jam can make us angry. Now there are appos that help us avoid them, but not always… And those of us who grew up sending letters or postcards, not whats apps, those of us who grew up waiting ten months to meet our summer friends again, without facetimes, those of us who grew up waiting at the door for our neighbour to come down, without missed calls, should be an example for the “amazon kids”, as the digital expert, María Zalbidea, calls them.

Waiting at the doctor’s office while reading a book, waiting in line at the supermarket while ordering groceries, waiting for petrol while listening to the radio, waiting for the elevator while time simply passes, helps us to work on our patience, our tolerance and our frustrations. In addition, waiting allows us to think, reflect, evaluate, analyze and decide calmly, without haste.

Patrick Scanell says in our report, “The Impact of Technology in the Home,” that technology is complex, it is not something simple, so how can we incorporate it into our lives so quickly without evaluating and waiting to see its impact. Complexity requires thoughtfulness and we haven’t stopped for a minute to assess whether we want to introduce these dizzying changes in our lives.

I have grown up in a small city, far from the hustle and bustle of the capital, and immersed in the agricultural sector where the sky rules and the earth has its own rhythm, and often remember those sayings of the older generation such as: “more haste less speed”, “no matter how early you get up, the sun rises at its time” or “good things come to those who wait”. Wise words today as well as yesterday.
Why do we want to rush and put a screen in our children’s hands when they are young if they have their whole lives ahead of them to use them? Why not educate them to wait and offer them such a tool when their brain and personality are finally formed and they can make good use of them?  Rushing into things is never a good idea.

The home can be a place where time can be taken and the vital skills of patience and discernment taught. Learning to enjoy and benefit from all that technology offers us is well worth the wait.

Technologies require maturity

It is a fact that the big technology companies are trying to keep us hooked. After watching the documentary ‘The Dilemma’, I was struck by the number of things they have in mind to capture our attention and how well they study their audience. That the workers themselves decided to leave their management positions to tell the public about their experiences and become guarantors of digital ethics through foundations that counteract the power of the technological platforms gives us pause for thought.

We know that there are thousands of dollars behind every “like”, every post and every user. Social networks have become sales channels that move a lot of money through influencers, but the more we are aware of these details, the more we know about the intentions and raison d’être of these companies, the more we will be able to develop tools that allow us to make correct use of them and discern between the real and the unreal: to avoid acting blindly.

The Communication Project that we launched last week, ‘The Impact of Technology in the Home‘, gathers valuable testimonies. It is not about being alarming, but about taking the right steps. We already know that technology is neither good nor bad in itself, it all depends on the use we make of it and also on the responsibility assumed by the developers. Marta Sánchez, Global Head of Retail Digitalisation and Distribution at Vodafone UK, explains that her company has tried to face the challenges that this rapid evolution offers, putting the person, the user, at the centre of its objectives. As she says, they are well aware of the importance of going down this road together, sharing the challenge with society.

We are all capable of appreciating the advantages that technology has brought us. We are also capable of seeing the changes that are taking place in the way we relate to each other, the way we work, the way we communicate, and even the way we manage our homes. What we have to achieve, and this is a personal task that the community must support by offering tools to families, is to develop an ability not to accept or fall for everything that is given to us and to distinguish the wheat from the chaff. For that, as psychiatrist Enrique Rojas says in the report, maturity is needed.

Therefore, while enjoying the marvelous advantages of technology, let’s encourage this maturity.  The digital world is parallel to the real world and that means that it will affect our mental, emotional, cerebral, rational, personal and professional stability. The conclusion does not change, it is up to us to be prepared and to prepare future generations so that this impact is positive, and we manage to avoid the risks that will always exist.

This report is also available in Spanish ‘El Impacto de la Tecnología en el Hogar’

News & More

“I hope that the spring sunshine we are seeing is also a herald of hope as the world emerging from the pandemic finds itself with more challenges. When we look at what is unfolding in Ukraine, we must hope to restore the balance and peace that we have lost in recent times.

The sadly very relevant topic of homes lost and found is the focus of our next Experts Meeting in Washington DC in September, with the support of the Social Trends Institute. Led by Professor Sophia Aguirre of the Catholic University of Washington and director of HRF, the group of experts will address ‘The Home and Displaced People.’ Home is more than a place to stay: how can a fuller understanding of home inform approaches to migration and support of displaced people. Learn more here.

Our research partnership with the International Centre for Work and Family at IESE, is proving to be very fruitful as the team works on the first three papers.  Analysing and interpreting the complex relationships between the attitudes and activities of the home and the workplace is providing key insights into the role of the work of the home in individual, family and professional flourishing. Our thanks to ICWF Director Professor Mireia Las Heras and to Professors Marc Grau and Yasin Rofcanin for the high calibre studies they are engaged in with HRF to benefit all with an interest in this vital field.

HRF is also pleased to be involved in an advisory role with academic leaders of research proposals relating to our work on The Home in the Digital Age. One impact of the pandemic has been to reveal the home as the frontline of technology designed to support not just WFH but all aspects of domestic life. HRF champions the home as a place of life-long care and nurture and it is good to have our seat at the table when decisions affecting all our homes are being made.

In February, we were delighted to hear from our patron Professor Gamal Abdelmonem and his Vice-Chancellor that cultural heritage research at Nottingham Trent University, led by Professor Abdelmonem, has earned a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education: the highest national honour for a UK university. We are proud of our association with this work and send renewed congratulations.

Our forthcoming publication ‘Happiness and Domestic Life’ is due to go on sale later this year. In the meantime, we continue with the launches of ‘The Home in the Digital Age’. Just a reminder for Spanish speakers, that we had the privilege of participating in an event at the Universidad Panamericana in Mexico, with one of the co-authors of the book, Professor Matilde Santos. Please use this link to see the event.

We are also about to launch our latest Communication Project which reflects on the Impact of Technology in the Home.  The voices of parents, experts, psychologists, psychiatrists, engineers and developers have been gathered to help to understand how the integration of technologies in the home is taking place and how it is being experienced by families.

I am glad to be able to share this news of our work and all the work behind the scenes by the HRF team that this represents.

With best wishes to you and your homes this Easter,”

Bryan K. Sanderson CBE

The Home and Displaced People

Like many of you who read this blog, I myself am a person who lives in a different country from the one in which I was born. In my 36 years of life I have already lived in 6 cities in 3 different countries, but I have done so seeking to grow personally and professionally and having the certainty that I can return to my country when this international experience has fulfilled its expectations. It will not be easy, because that is what those who have already returned say. I will not be the same person who left home in 2003 to study a degree, nor the same person who established her home in 2012 outside her hometown, nor the same person who packed her bags in 2015 to live in the UK, but the sum of all the new experiences, the people I have met, the difficulties and challenges, will have forged the person who freely decided to move.

Unfortunately, this is not the experience that people who migrate or move under compulsion usually have. As we are seeing with the Russian invasion, Ukrainians flee the bombs, with no prior physical or mental preparation, leaving everything behind and not knowing what life will bring. This uncertainty, this insecurity, this fear, is affecting the deepest part of the human being. We have seen Afghans, Venezuelans, Syrians fleeing and many more on our screens in recent years. We also see those fleeing poverty, risking their lives, crossing paths with mafias who blackmail them and whose only aim is to reach Europe, the land they long for, the land of the footballers who, like them, have also crossed the world to fulfill their dreams. There are those who are lucky, those who meet good people when they arrive and survive until they get papers that allow them to work. But there are those who are less lucky, who are forced to commit crime in order to put something to eat in their mouths. People who end up hating the country they arrived in because it did not give them the opportunity they had hoped for.

Movements, displacements, comings and goings, dreams fulfilled but also broken dreams. Opportunities for some, despair for others. Uprootedness in many cases that can sink a person or give them wings to achieve a better life.

Over the last months we have been working on our Experts Meeting The Home and Displaced People to be held in Washington DC in September, supported by the Social Trends Institute.  Our academic director and meeting leader, Professor Sophia Aguirre, has assembled a panel of key contributors on the issues and impact of migration. Experts who understand what it means for people to leave their homes and roots and start a new life elsewhere.
Suzan Ilcan, Professor of Sociology at the University of Waterloo, and editor of Mobilities, Knowledge, and Social Justice, will be one of the experts contributing to The Home and Displaced people. Her work with refugees underlines the precarious nature of leaving and seeking home and some of the ways in which to understand the broader picture of an increasingly mobile world. Finding a place to call home and to feel at home is key to human thriving: at the heart of the vision of HRF and all those searching for home today.