People need to be able to shape and control the world around them – Andrew Magowan

Source: The Scotsman / / By Andrew Magowan /
Scotland’s first Social Renewal Advisory Board can set us on the path to a fairer, healthier future, says Andrew Magowan

How we shape and control the world around us is the primary means by which we develop and express our place and role in this world. If we are unable to exercise this control, it undermines the essence of who we are and can be. This is the true nature of inequality and it is personal.

Julie Crawford, a Link Up Worker in Muirhouse, Edinburgh, enjoys a chat

For millions of people, the current crisis has diminished their ability to exercise choice and control, serving to weaken an already precarious existence. For some in this group, the threshold between just getting by and life-shattering emotional, financial and health change has been breached. And for others, Covid-19 has hastened an unrelenting spiral to the margins of society. In this sense, the current situation is not only a public health crisis, it is a humanitarian one.

“Building back” will not be enough. We need to do better if we are not to fail people. However, we start with hope: “not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out” (Vaclav Havel).

Andrew Magowan is Programme Manager for Inspiring Scotland’s Link Up programme.

What makes sense is to foster the conditions in which people can comprehend and manage their life in a way that has meaning and is worthwhile. To afford them the opportunity to exercise control over the circumstances that influence their life. The consequences of the removal of this control reverberated through our society long before this crisis broke.

We need to imagine, design and implement structures, systems and practice that build from the person upwards, not top down as has for so long been the way. As social creatures, the bedrock for this human-centric approach is unquestionably our connection to others …

a shared passion for similar interests, a shoulder to cry on, sharing a meal, celebrating success, a hug that says it’s going to be ok, accepting and coming to terms with differences, our solidarity with others, to feel wanted and needed, to love and be loved

…these are what shape us and make a life.

For many however, such interactions are not part of their daily lives. For others, the nature of their interactions is singularly destructive. For both, life is diminished, and their path becomes one of retreat or chaos.

Inspiring Scotland’s Link Up programme has for nearly a decade sought to enable local people, many amongst the most vulnerable, to exercise control over their lives and alter this path. This begins by creating a safe space for social activities; a space where trust and reciprocity grow, and the fundamentals of supportive relationships, confidence and self-esteem are established.

These positively redefine the person’s view of their self and the role they play in family and community life. In turn, this leads them to reimagine their future and exercise choice and control over its realisation: improving health and wellbeing; creating a brighter financial future; and, becoming active citizens looking out for others and addressing tough local issues.

Nurturing these fundamentals is a role community-based organisations are uniquely placed to undertake because it is in their DNA. Unfortunately, such work is not always recognised and rarely funded. This needs to change.

What’s more, we must understand that when this can be done at scale, we set the foundations for and catalyse a process of societal renewal. This is possible because we create conditions in which peoples’ lives pivot from retreat/chaos to stabilisation, recovery and ultimately, personal renewal. For many, this self-managed change is accompanied by a growing activism.

If this can be fostered at a collective level, a second phase of transformation can proceed; one in which local people and organisations (public, social and commercial) collaborate to identify and develop their path to an effectively functioning community that is resilient and regenerative.

Scotland’s first ever Social Renewal Advisory Board offers a powerful vehicle to do so. But it needs to go beyond careful listening and set us on a course to the fairer, healthier and environmentally sustainable future we seek.

There is a wealth of evidence to guide this course, but it must start with the understanding that people can only make progress in life when they are able to shape and control the world around them.

Andrew Magowan is Programme Manager for Inspiring Scotland’s Link Up programme.