Wisdom From My Nanna

Last week, I was on the closing plenary panel at The Kings Fund, as we reflected on what we had learned together about ‘PopulationHealth’ across the UK. There were some really excellent contributions throughout the day.

 

Councillor Matthew Brown, leader of Preston City Council, talked powerfully about the new economic models they are using there and the incredible regeneration they are seeing. Councillor Becky Charlwood, spoke about the great work being done across the city of Leeds and how strong relationships enable them to flex around complex legislation. Mayor Andy Burnham spoke with humility and realism about the power of devolution and the challenges they face as a city in Manchester in giving kids a great start in life and ending homelessness. Liz Gaulton, Director of Public Health in Coventry, spoke about how the Marmot principles are radically shaping the future plans of the city in thinking about inequalities and how they face them together. Prof Kate Ardern, from Wigan, talked about how we need to change our relationship with power and work radically differently with our communities. Prof Dominic Harrison from Blackburn brought his wisdom on how we face up to multiple unhealthy risk factors. Perhaps the most important contributions from my perspective were from Carina Crawford-Khan, lead organiser of Citizens UK and Dr Charlotte Augst, CEO of National Voices who asked us to reflect on how “Powerlessness leads to ill health” – that’s a statement worthy of pause and much reflection. Power is the ability to act. Anger without power leads to rage. So, if we don’t radically change our relationship with power, we can never see true population health – rather we have disempowered people who feel angry and unable to be part of the change we need to see.

 

The reality is that all of the things we long to see in society will not happen unless we ourselves are willing to change. In all the uncertainties we face and admidst the brokenness of our political and economic models, how do we stand firm and find a new way through to a way of being together that is socially just for humanity and sustainable for the future? In reflecting on all of this in the final panel, I drew on the wisdom of my Nanna.

 

My Nanna, Joyce, who is 97 years old this year and who still wakes every morning to play Mozart and Chopin on her beloved piano, has always been one of the most important people in my life. In our family, we call her “Yoda”, because she is strong in the force and exceedingly wise! This 5ft tall lady, who taught me to bake, spent hours helping me with my music and can still whip my butt at scrabble and rummikub, is a truly remarkable woman.

 

When I was a boy, we used to talk to each other whilst making ginger biscuits. My Nanna is a deeply spiritual woman and she used to tell me about her favourite bible verses, one of which is from the book of the Prophet Micah, Chapter 6 and verse 8. That verse says – “God has shown you the best way to live – act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God”. I think those three statements hold profound and ancient wisdom that we need to draw on in the complexities of what we face together now. What does that actually mean for us in practice, as we try and transform culture, relationships and behaviours? I suppose I think it’s pretty simple.

 

Firstly, as leaders and as people who want to see change, we must act with justice. We must care deeply about issues of injustice in our society and be willing to challenge it whenever we see it. But we must not just care, we must act. We have to be willing to put justice into practice in what we build. We’re beginning to see this, and it’s exciting!

 

Secondly, we must love mercy. I think that means we have to love the principle of mercy and therefore we have to love people with mercy, or as I put it at The Kings Fund, with real kindness. I love what Prof Micheal West says, when he talks about looking at people with kind and fascinated eyes. We did a lot of thinking about the need for a different kind of power. I think we need to unashamedly talk much more about love and the transformative power it holds. MLK said that love on it’s own is anaemic – it certainly can be. Power alone is destructive. But power and love together is a force to be reckoned with! We need this kind of love in the power that we hold to keep mercy at the fore and kindness as our way of being.

 

Thirdly, we need to walk in humility WITH our communities. I replace the word God here, with communities, not because I don’t believe in God (I do), but then Nanna and I used to talk, she would tell me that walking humbly with God means walking humbly with other people – with your community. It is worked out in the practice of every day life and being willing to interact with and be changed by the person you most look down on or despise. Nanna isn’t a fan of people getting too big for their boots. She sticks her tongue out at arrogance and blows raspberries at pride. She’s not into titles or pretensions. As a true elder, she knows humility and walks in it. I have learned so much from her and it has shaped so much of who I am and how I choose to spend my time. We must learn to sit with, be with, learn with and create the future with our communities. We don’t have the right to dream up plans and do them to people. Together with, is the kind of humble, mercy-loving, justice-acting way that we so badly need. Without those under-girding, foundational truths, we will never see true population health. Our guiding principles and undergirding culture will shape what we become together.

 

In a time of so much uncertainty and complexity, we do well to stop and draw on the wisdom of the elders. And so I offer that of my lovely Nanna – in all you do, make sure you act with justice, love with kindness and walk in humility with your community. 

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Building Healthy Towns and Regions

The other week, I was phoned by a BBC producer to ask if I would take part in a discussion on the Victoria Derbyshire show about how we can build healthy towns. It’s partly due to the work we’re doing here in Morecambe Bay with our communities around being more healthy and well, especially working with schools. Unfortunately, I was away on holiday and missed the call and so didn’t get on the show! But it did get me old grey cells thinking about this whole idea. Here at Lancaster University, we have the Health Innovation Campus, which is helping to design a new ‘healthy town’ in Lancashire. The “Imagination Team” are also hosting a conference this week called “Does Design Care?” But what do we mean by a healthy town and what ingredients might we need to see in our cities in order to say that they are, or are becoming “healthy”?

 

We must get beyond thinking that a healthy town is simply one where there is clean air to breathe and everyone is out jogging, smiling at each other and eating quinoa salads for lunch – it’s all a bit middle class! I would like to make some fairly radical suggestions of what it might mean for a town to be truly healthy, especially having been so inspired by the amazing ‘Doughnut Economics’ by Kate Raworth. I think if we don’t have a vision for what we want our future towns, cities and regions to be like in 50 years, we will not build them! I am often told that you cannot eat an elephant in one go, and we must focus on the small things we can do – eating it one bit at a time – true enough, but we need to hold both things in tension. We need a vision big enough to inspire us to change and then we need to pick up the knives and forks and begin the process of eating it!

 

So, what might healthy towns of the future be like?

In healthy towns:

There are no homeless, not because of social cleansing, but because everyone has a home in which to live.

Design cares enough to ensure that spaces are built which encourage communities to spend time with each other, connecting and collaborating, breaking down isolation and loneliness and facilitating new political space.

There is a creative commons, with plenty of space that belongs to all.

The economy of the town/region is designed to ensure that resources (including land) are redistributed, breaking cycles of poverty and enabling all to flourish. This increases the happiness and health of all and allows a society in which the wellbeing of all matters to all.

The economy of the town/region is designed to ensure regeneration, thus taking care of the environment for future generations. Towns like this will not only be carbon neutral, they will in fact, as Kate Raworth says, become generous in their approach to humanity, other towns and the planet itself.

Children will be nurtured, as part of communities, not as fodder for the economic machine, educated as socially adaptable human beings, understanding their place within the ecosystem of which they are a part.

There will be a culture of positive peace, made possible through non-violence, in which architecture is used to enable communities to live well in the midst of and celebrate difference. Facilitation and mediation will be normative practices when relationships become strained or difficult and the lust for competition and war will be quelled.

There will be a culture of love, in which all are welcome and accepted for who they are. This does not encourage selfishness, nor does it mean that there is no challenge. In fact, love, at its best, is self-giving and others-empowering (Thomas Jay Oord).

There will be a culture of kindness, displayed through humility and respect.

There will be a culture of joy in which people know that they belong and are trusted.

Justice will be restorative, rather than retributive, something which does not negate the need for discipline, but hopes for a better future through grace.

Refugees are welcomed, cared for and also allowed to flourish.

Equality and diversity is celebrated as a norm.

Farming practices are kind to the land.

Business is changing it’s goal, becoming agnostic about growth, but obsessed with how it plays it’s part in improving the wellbeing of all through regeneration, redistribution, repair, reuse, refurbishment, recycling and restoration.

People are valued in their work place and the workplace is a healthy place to be in.

Physical activity and healthy eating are a normal part of every day life. (Thought I’d better add that one in!).

Wherever possible, people die well, surrounded by community who love them.

 

Wouldn’t you love to live in a happy, healthy, wholesome town?! It’s not beyond our grasp. We simply need to adapt the ones we have and build the ones we want! Building together a future that is good for all. Which bit shall we eat first?!

 

 

 

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