Author: Nick Booth

What is the loop of generosity?

I often use the phrase ‘loop of generosity’ to describe the good stuff I see happen in communities.  It sits at the root of the most enjoyable work we get to do.

But what is it?

I think it is elegantly described by Terry Pratchett in A Hat Full of Sky:

“Filling what’s empty and emptying what’s full”

Tiffany couldn’t quite work out how Miss Level got paid.  Certainly the basket she carried filled up more than it emptied. They’d walk past a cottage and a woman would come scurrying out with a fresh-baked loaf or a jar of pickles, even though Miss Level hadn’t stopped there.  But they’d spend an hour somewhere else, stitching up the leg of a farmer who’d been careless with an axe, and get a cup of tea and a stale biscuit. It didn’t seem fair.

“Oh, it evens out,’ said Miss Level, as they walked on through the woods. ‘You do what you can, people give what they can. Old Slapwich there with the leg, he’s as mean as a cat, but there’ll be a big cut of beef on my doorstep before the week’s end, you can bet on it. His wife will see to it. And pretty soon people will be killing their pigs for the winter, and I’ll get more brawn, ham, bacon and sausages turning up than a family could eat in a year.”

‘You do? What do you do with all that food?’

‘Store it,” said Miss Level

‘But you -‘

“I store it in other people. It’s amazing what you can store in other people.’ Miss Level laughed at Tiffany’s expression. ‘I mean, I take what I don’t need round to those who don’t have a pig, or who’re going through a bad patch, or who don’t have anyone to remember them.’

‘But that means they’ owe you a favour!’

‘Right! And so it just keeps on going round. It all works out.’

The best public and social services do what is needed and they do their best to do it in collaboration with people.  To recognise that what we are creating together is part of the loop.

At CoLab Dudley – where we’re currently working – everything involves some part of the loop of generosity.  Whether it is a trade school where the learners bring something to say thank you,  a crafting circle that exchanges materials and skills or the pay it forward stash in the Gather Cafe that allows people to receive a drink or food when they can’t pay.  As Miss Level says,’You do what you can, people give what they can”. (even though some are more generous than others).

This generosity is commonly found in the stories we and others captured through the Community Lovers Guides (Birmingham here, full of others who get the loop) and forms the basis of the Particpatory City movement Tessy Britton has built out of those who generously told and shared stories.

It is core to organisations like Gateway Family Services and Grapevine Coventry who may be delivering services, but do so with a mind to being generous and creating space for the people they help to close the loop and be generous in turn.

The social media surgeries are an exchange of time and skills, they are a kindness that gets passed on and passed round. It’s through watching those that I first started talking about the loop of generosity.  It has led to more than 5000 small and local charities and community groups receiving help and passing it on.  Generosity can make tangible things happen, at scale.  Indeed, the loop is almost always found in peer to peer programmes.

It is also key to good help.  The sort of support that Nesta and Osca are now encouraging public services to embrace. The sort of help that organisations measure through our Impact App – which records ‘helps”

Primarily though the loop of generosity is found in people. How they think and feel and act. Not in formal contracts.

It often thrives in community groups and is often broken by large businesses with large contracts.

Why?

I’m not sure.

Perhaps to work it requires kindness and a memory of a kindness. Miss Level’s trust that she can store food in people.

This is recorded in communities but not so well in institutions. In a community a  kindness is seen as an asset.

To a corporation a kindness might look like a liability. Worse: a memory of a kindness is accounting for a liability! High liabilities lead to a lower share price. If you forget the kindness you lose the liability from your books, but at the same time you break the loop of generosity.

Notes from the #Locality17 session on: Community Health and Wellbeing – what works

These are just notes from a session at the Locality Convention 2017.

Meena Bharadwa introduced the session and explained that locality has a place to link real community groups into the academic research on this subject and translate between the two. She briefly reminded us that Community Wellbeing is Complex.

Andy Pennington – University of Liverpool

The point of the programme is to provide state of the art evidence to help allocate resources.  The focus is on people, place and power.  research is being shared here:  https://www.whatworkswellbeing.org

Andy outlined some of the key ways in which issues around the quality of places and power within places can either lead to better or worse community health.

There is so much evidence that decision makers are becoming overwhelmed.

Key things it shows….

1: In the workplace environment (Marmot’s work on civil service) showing that those with more control have better health.  Cardio-vascular heath and life expectancy.  In health institutions those who can share in decision making fare better health wise..

2: In the living environment (in our communities) –  Is there joint decision makaing (by which they mean “the meaningful involvement of people in decisions that affect their environment…”.  Positive outcomes of being involved are..

Depression, self-esteem, sense of mastery

Sense of community, creation of social capital

New skills,  learning, better employment, personal empowerment

Also wider impact for those not directly involved in decision making.  So they also receive the benefits of improving community resources.

Adverse

Psychological strain from being involbed

Some groups are over consulted leading to stress and frustration (although not convinced about methods used for these studies)

David Wilford , Royds Community Association in Bradford

The community Association focuses on getting people into work.   They say they found a lack of investment from CCG’s – they called the residents:  Buttershaw men and Buttershaw women and thought of them as drinking to much and needing fixing.   We studied what people were doing in their communites.  Foudnt hat to get thing going

People needed a little help at the beginning

Proper co-design (not the council working up most of it)

Community anchor orgs featured well (hospitals and GP’;s can be intimidating) – so community centres/setting important

Invited GP’s to decamp from their surgeries and come to local orgs.

So we’re building up social capital around health.  There’s a lot of talk of pooling budgets – but people not willing to put theirs into the pool.

Voluntary sector assets need to be resourced

The money needs to follow the patient into the third sector (as it would to a physiotherapist)

System says VCS are not evidenced, clinical interventions also not evidenced (often)

The voluntary sector needs to steadily and deliberately re-train the public sector rather than hope for a radical change.

We need to convince that the VCS is value for money.

“We drop 10 million pound balls regularly in the NHS – what could the VCS do with £10 million!”.

 

Hurricane Sandy and the Trump Tornado  #locality17

 

The Donald Disaster from melissa AAse
The Donald Disaster from Melissa Aase (who is speaking on the right of the picture)

She calls it “The Donald Disaster”.    Melissa Asse of University Settlement in New York  (a community organisation/housing for 350000 New Yorkers) has just finished speaking to the Locality Convention in Manchester. 

During Hurricane (Superstorm) Sandy Melissa recognised that, although they were poorly prepared, some of the best first responders  were recent migrants. Especially those  who had been learning or teaching english.

They had two key things: trust and languages.  [ trust grown through learning together – which is also what happened at the Stagehuis Schilderswijk in The  Hague and what is happening at Co-Lab Dudley, indeed happens all over the place. ]

She says she can see that they are now facing another disaster. Trump is a storm heading for their communities…  “disorienting and fever pitched and reminds us of other disasters” 

These are the lessons from Hurricane Sandy that Melissa belives community organisations can apply to political hurricanes.

  • Get people together. In a disaster people want to come together and they naturally do,  anchor organisations can be that, can bring them together. get spaces and staff ready to open up.  Be explicit about your intention to be a safe space.
  • Tackle racism: Inequity and racism makes things worse in a disaster – poor and communities of colour are hit hardest but rarely part of the planning.  Tackle white supremacy head on. 
  • Make the most of immediate relationships: Social ties might save your life – in the current storm or right wing hatred and xenophobia, the skills of community, story telling, improvisation, social capital can help us respond to attacks on immigrants, LGBQT people, mysogny
  • Keep your organising skills sharp: Local activism has morphed a little into providing transactional services. It’s time to brush up on skills of community organsiation and civic engagement.
  • Be careful with yourself:  self care matters –  find inspiration from each other. Avoid disaster porn, read the history of movement  read “Hope ion the dark”
  • Wire the network in many ways:  In disaster there can never be enough forms of communication., Things change quickly and we have to change responses quickly, even if the decisions are imperfect.  Find community, find partners.
  • Exploit the disruption.  In No Is Not Enough,  Naomi Klein, expands on how she sees capitalist engineering shocks to create disruption they can exploit.   Melissa says disasters can be opportunities for local organisations, creating new ways of working and unexpected alliances.  Be ready to take advantage.
  • Use it to strengthen:  Intentionally build human relationships build resilience.  We already do that and need to keep doing that. 

Social Prescribing

We work with hundreds of voluntary organisations whose efforts help people feel better. It comes in many forms, whether that is improving fitness, finding purpose, finding friendships –  they routinely record the difference through our tools, including the Impact Assessment App.

I just been learning a little more about social prescribing from Locality, as part of their Health and Wellbeing network.

The government (or rather NHS and Public Health England) define social prescribing as referring patients to a link worker who will help them find non-medical ways to improve their life.

Through the Patient Empowerment Project local charity Barca Leeds saw 1400 people in the first two years and now are getting about 100 people referred each month.

This is how things have turned out

and

They sum up their work in a simple way:

“The activities are social – the impact is medical.”

The government is currently looking to encourage the development of social prescribing with partnerships between local charities and local CCG’s or Local authorities:

 
They are looking to provide up to £300k in the first year to create a social prescribing mechanism which involves gp’s referring to link workers who will then provide non-medical interventions to improve health. 
They will only fund year 1 and need partners to have a commitment from ccg or similar to agree to fund after that. 

Issues outstanding are:

  • It’s key to integrate social prescribing into the current health systems
  • CCG’s need to be on board for this funding
  • At the moment there isn’t funding for the people who provide the social prescribing – even though the outcome is medical.