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.

Newsletter June 2022

Dear friends,

As we reach the midpoint of the year and summer holidays approach for many of us, we are grateful that 2022 has allowed a long-awaited return to more normal days. For HRF this has meant that we have been able to meet in person once more, both with our own team and our research partners – we have been glad of virtual communication but it is very good to be in the same room again.

Since the Easter Newsletter, I would like to highlight our Communication Report: The Impact of Technology in the Home.  Our work, both through our 2021 publication  The Home in the Digital Age and this recent report, has allowed reflection on how the fundamental values of the home are being challenged by technology. The testimonies of experts, academics, engineers, teachers and parents have helped us to shed real light on the incorporation of technologies into our lives.

Related to this, earlier this month HRF participated in an event hosted by the Family Watch Foundation in which we were asked to share the main ideas of our work in this area. It is a great joy to serve as an inspiration to other associations with concern for the life of the home.

Also in June, HRF was represented at the UN Experts Meeting in Cairo by our patron Professor Mohammed Gamal Abdelmonem,  Chair in Architecture at the School of Architecture, Design and Built Environment at Nottingham Trent University. The meeting in preparation for the 30th anniversary of the International Day of Families was an opportunity to share our vision and to connect with experts from the Middle East and North Africa. It is important for HRF to have a seat at the table where decisions affecting homes and families across the world are made. I would like to thank Professor Abdelmonem for his generous contribution in terms of time and expertise on behalf of HRF.

Our activities continue; our new publication Happiness and Domestic Life will be published by Routledge this autumn (available for pre-order on July 29, 2022, item will ship after August 19, 2022) and our next Experts Meeting The Home and Displaced People will take place in Washington DC this September. More information to follow soon.

As summer begins I hope that you will be able to find time for rest and for family, and to also take time to enjoy and treasure all that our homes mean to us.

Bryan K. Sanderson

Summer Reflections (I)

Back to the summer of our childhood
How happy we were in summer when we were little. In Spain, school ended at the end of June and we had two and a half months ahead to do everything that winter wouldn’t allow.

Eating ice cream, riding your bike, spending afternoons in the pool, playing cards, recreating characters from our favourite television series, making bridges with sticks in the river, building houses with cardboard and towels, looking for blackberries, catching snails when it rained… In short, feeling totally free.

I spent the summers in a housing complex in the middle of the countryside in northern Spain, away from any coastal or city dangers. We would see the shepherd walking the sheep in the afternoons and we would run with the dogs so that the flock would not get lost. Sometimes we would cough from the clouds of dust raised from the road, but nothing seemed to matter other than helping the shepherd. And when we got back in September with cuts and grazes, they were the trophies that proved our bravery and made us feel very proud.

But despite all this activity, we also needed to relieve the boredom and created the most fun games. We invented new competitions, played hide and seek and adapted sports to the number of children taking part. Of course, we were not all the same age and leadership roles were shared without egos getting in the way.

I was one of the little ones and I always felt cared for by the older ones. When we went out on our bikes along the road to fetch water from the source, our parents always entrusted the care of the little ones to the adolescents, and they assumed that responsibility without question.

We never watched television because after lunch, most of us did homework before going out to play, and in the evenings we loved being outside in the communal garden, telling scary stories or just gazing at the stars. It was never too late to go to bed.

How happy we were all summer. During the last few days of August, we felt the pain of it coming to an end, with afternoons spent running errands and buying uniforms needed for the new school term that was about to begin. We knew that we wouldn’t see each other again until the following summer but could look forward to the month of July arriving and continuing our adventures out in the streets and surrounding countryside once again.

That’s how my summers were in the ’90s. What do you remember about your childhood summers?