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20th May 2020

The oldest survivor (so far) of Coronavirus is 113 year old Maria Branyas from Catalonia. Perhaps with age, comes wisdom. Recovering in her nursing home, she bemoaned, ‘we have no choice but to put up with politicians, they always do the same thing.’ As the aforementioned begin to assemble their panels of expert advisors, it appears that Sra.Branyas may have a point – there’s a depressingly familiar ring to the names and backgrounds of all those being tasked with returning the country to whatever used to pass for the status quo.  But let’s imagine, just for a moment, that this might even be possible. Why on earth would we choose to revive a system that has produced record levels of inequality right across society? Is that really our only option? With so many parts of the system either in cold storage or completely eviscerated by the effects of this pandemic, there could hardly be a better moment for our politicians to break away from ‘doing the same thing’. The same old experts will only produce with the same old answers.  Surely we need some big ideas, some new voices and politicians brave enough to set a new course for the country.

In the most recent briefing…

  • On the ground

    How to stay safe

    As we skirt around fellow pedestrians, accept lengthy queues at supermarkets and try to work out whether face masks actually do any good, there is a sense that we are slowly adjusting to a new set of behaviours that could be with us for some time. In similar fashion, the guidance on safe working practices has (all too slowly) worked its way through from front line hospital staff, to care homes and now, the welfare of many other key workers at risk of infection is beginning to receive attention. Important guidance just published for community groups and volunteer networks.

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  • On the ground

    Anchors to the rescue

    As lockdown took effect, Scottish Government wasted no time in making funds available to support those most likely to feel the brunt. Given the unprecedented nature of the crisis, it was only to be expected that the systems and procedures for distributing the money would take a while to settle down. One approach, identified at the outset, was to utilise the many hundreds of community anchor organisations that operate across Scotland. Trusting these local organisations to respond quickly to local needs makes a lot of sense. Important then, that everyone understands what a community anchor organisation is.

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  • On the ground

    A sadness without knowing

    One of the unintended consequences of writing this briefing, is that some of you who read it occasionally respond to the pieces that I include – sometimes to take issue with something I’ve written, occasionally to voice support but most of the time, in good spirit.  Although I rarely ever meet these correspondents, over time it can feel like a relationship of sorts is being struck. So it was with someone called Bob Hamilton whose views on community work always seemed closely aligned to my own.  Reading his obituary in Bella Caledonia recently, I felt an odd sense of loss. 

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  • On the ground

    Tide turning?

    The glass half full types are speculating openly that the speed and effectiveness with which community based organisations have responded to the multiple challenges of this crisis will finally have convinced the sceptics within Government that the future needs to be much more localised and community led. On the other hand, those of the glass half empty persuasion are predicting it will all be forgotten as soon as convenient to do so. That said, when establishment journals such as the Lancet start to advocate for community led approaches to health, maybe, just maybe, the tide is starting to turn. 

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  • Policy talk

    Learn from no blame 

    Although still at the stage of dealing with the immediate threat of this virus, our default instinct to review how key decisions were made and crucially, whether we could have made better decisions, is already beginning to reveal itself. Implicit in these post-crisis enquiries is the assumption that whoever made these decisions should be held accountable and this threat inevitably leads to defensiveness and a lack of transparency. If we want to learn anything from this experience perhaps we should take a leaf out of the book of the aviation industry.

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  • Policy talk

    What circular really means 

    Across the global economy we make a lot of stuff, and while we consume some of it, and recycle and reuse a fair amount, we throw most of it away. It has been estmated that within 6 months, more than 90% of all our purchases are discarded without any material being recovered. Even if that figure sounds somewhat exaggerated, our economic model is clearly unsustainable. Indeed a model of a circular economy that is genuinely sustainable has become a prerequisite if we are to have any chance of avoiding ecological breakdown. But first we need to understand what that actually means.

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  • Policy talk

    Hope for humankind

    Fundamentally, are humans predisposed to good or evil? It’s a question that lies at the heart of how we organise ourselves as a society. Can we be trusted to do what’s right or, left to our own devices will we resort to savagery and self-interest. William Golding’s classic Lord of the Flies must sow that seed of doubt in the mind of anyone who reads it – it did for me. In his new book – Humankind – Rutger Bregman offers us some hope alongside his research into a real-life story that flips Golding’s parable completely on its head. 

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  • Policy talk

    Dig for mental health

    Mental health services are reporting unprecedented numbers of people with no history of mental illness presenting with serious psychological problems as a result of the lockdown. Of course there are multiple contributing factors that lie behind this but one factor appears to be the restrictions on movement and access to the outdoors. Most people don’t own a garden, and even fewer have access to an allotment or community growing space. There is however significant evidence that gardening of any sort can be hugely therapeutic. In her book, The Well Gardened Mind, Sue Stuart-Smith describes the process.

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Featured anchor organisation:

South West Arts & Music Project

A forward-thinking community development trust, registered charity and SQA-approved organisation that took a dilapidated building within the community and redeveloped it into a dynamic creative media centre. SWAMP uses accredited training, outreach, film, music, digital technologies, gardening and other creative arts to support local residents – especially young people – to enable social change. The trust is proving that the arts, community involvement and provision of accredited training can be positive tools for change. SWAMP was one of the first organisations in Glasgow to use creative media, digital arts and new technologies as tools for community engagement, combining them with…

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