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.

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

Far from Home

Images of families fleeing their homes are sadly not that rare on our screens – from  Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan to name only a few from recent years. The events of the last week in Ukraine have brought the reality and the horror of such images much closer to home for many of us who live in the West.

It is hard to watch crying, frightened children and their desperate parents gathering all can they transport as they leave their beloved homes. Homes where it is now too dangerous to stay. It is hard to watch as older people mourn while the young seize weapons to defend their homeland. The fear and urgency felt by far away refugees now feels close at hand.

Being forced to flee one’s home is not only a crisis of this current moment but the crisis of our century. The causes vary – war, oppression, economic deprivation, natural disasters – but all result in people on the move. People often in great fear and without anywhere to go, and always displaced from the places they called home.

It was reflecting on this world crisis that prompted HRF to plan our next Expert Meeting, supported by the Social Trends Institute. The Home and Displaced People takes place in Washington DC this coming September. HRF Director and academic leader of the meeting, Professor Sophia Aguirre, has put together a prestigious international panel of contributors to address how people generate a home in the midst of unstable circumstances caused by displacement. Experts will share material relevant to understanding the role of home for displaced people, and be able to respond to this input in study and policy development in this area.

Meeting rooms and expert discussions can also feel very far away from the suffering we see on our screens. The aim of the meeting, and the continuing vision of HRF, is for the home to be at the heart of the global policies which affect each individual and wider society. Meeting, thinking and talking now can make the actions that follow of genuine benefit to the most disadvantaged – and displaced – in our world.

As we posted earlier this week: Home Renaissance Foundation wants to send a message of solidarity to all those driven from their homes and who are living in fear in their homes as a result of this war in Ukraine. We believe that the right to a secure home is a human right and cherishing the home is a sign of our humanity.