About to enter a new phase in its existence, the Royal Foundation of St Katharine was in search of a solid foundation of knowledge about the community that surrounds it. That was how I came to know The Foundation, hired by Queen Mary University of London to undertake research on Limehouse for St Katharine's, and report back on my findings.
You can download a PDF of the final report 'A Tradition of Hospitality and Service: Developing the Role of the Royal Foundation of St Katharine in London's East End' here. A huge thanks to Wired Canvas for the beautiful design of the report itself and the graphics, that form part of the summary below.
The original research remit was to
…help the Royal Foundation of St Katharine develop a stronger presence in the local community, particularly with a focus on well-being services as part of their plans to extend and develop their existing site. The goals of the research were to:
Explore the work that the Foundation can best do to develop relationships with, and meet the needs of, the local community;
Support strategic thinking about the local community incorporating those who travel to the site/area and/or visit the Foundation;
Help develop a programme of activity that builds on the Foundation’s commitment to promoting well-being and can be sustained for the long term.
This is what emerged thanks to the contributions of everyone who took the time to talk to me about the issues they are facing and the work they are doing in area. Despite the challenges we are face here, this was such an inspiring project because of the ways that so many different people have risen to these challenges.
The interviews consisted of a set of fairly open ended questions, starting with what people considered to be the major challenges faced by the community. When asked directly, people came up with two or three things, as you would imagine, but through the discussion that arose around the questions that followed a number of other issues emerged as being important to think about and address. They are both captured in the chart below:
This, of course, corresponded to what people might like to see, also slightly geared towards what people thought St Katharine's might reasonably provide:
Many of these suggestions are being incorporated into our plans for St Katharine's Precint — the meanwhile project we are now building on the northern site which will include community space as well as a cafe, space for gardening, a space for reflection and what we hope will be an exciting programme of events.
For me, however, my favourite part of the interview was the question about what community wellbeing might mean. For most of us, wellbeing isn't a term we use often if at all, so a number of people had to think quickly and come up with something. What they came up with was quite moving, however, especially when all of them were put together.
It became clear that for wellbeing to exist, people need to know their neighbours, have networks of trust and mutual support, and be able to navigate, even celebrate, difference. There were differing levels of comfort in how you then manage to keep a sense of privacy, find a place and time to be alone, retain mutual respect and minimise gossip. But for most people, these were things that should be brought into balance. Some of the responses are below:
- People not isolated and suffering mental health issues because of that, satisfaction in daily life through work or something to do, getting through the day happy from beginning to end
- A community that has no barriers
- Mutuality – we can't reach equality, we should strive towards it but we won't get there – so we need mutuality, a shared sense of being in it together. Awareness and sensitivity and compassion extended to each other, regardless of differences, a sense of shared humanity … I don’t like the term 'looking out for' but a common sense that we are all here living, need to look for your neighbour, need active engagement not passive. This needs to be a give and take, shouldn't facilitate dependency or be paternalistic.
- Where people can communicate and respect each other, and people can feel at ease living where they are living. Safe.
- When members of the community feel at ease and comfortable, and this is reflected in their minds and health and how they feel towards others. It is a good sign to see children making a way for themselves, finding employment, getting education rather than doing nothing, hanging out bored.
- Feeling secure where you live, environment is very important, difference between walking somewhere that looks cruddy and rundown and somewhere that makes you feel good, need to be connected with neighbours and have a sense of community, not just focused on the individual. This requires work, proactive work. For folks with families it means access to schools, health care. Those things that enhance the quality of life, like local groceries, affordable gym, easy access to facilities and transport. These very basic things.
- Where everyone feels safe and comfortable where they live, not threatened, secure, happy wandering around and can access everything, there are no no-go areas and they feel it is theirs, investment and pride in it.
- There are opportunities for communication, participation, participation in decision-making. Things are running so people feel that it's for them, relevant to them, they can be part of it.
- Really it is this continuum and the relationship of the individual to the community, one in which the individual can thrive, everyone can be seen and heard.
- There are glimmers of it here already, like in Frank's where everyone comes together, all different kinds of people.
- Everybody getting on with one another, helping each other, getting to know people.
- Need to increase social consciousness and cohesion – a larger sense comes from immediate family, neighbours, greater levels of cohesion… We always had a tradition that if you have a cup of sugar and a neighbour needs half you give it to them. We need a cohesion based on something deeper than interest, people bound together through ongoing argument around harder issues, not needing to agree, but remaining in a non-hierarchical dialogue…
- People are involved, it's somewhere they live not just somewhere they stay…. It's knowing your neighbours, having a local shop where the staff know where things are because they can afford to live in the community — not to the extreme of East Enders of course where everything happens on the square, but some level of that, a sense of engagement. … Community caring makes it work, community as those you commune with.
- When there's understanding of each other, you know who they are … feeling safe, neighbours knowing each other, feeling protective of each other, looking after each other, family cooking together — a lot based on family values, eating together, praying together, food co-ops etc
- Where people feel safe, included, like they belong. Community also not necessarily where you live, could be where you work, hang out, volunteer.
- Integration between people and groups, a breakdown of fear, land and space being used for the community and used well.
- Not about believing everything is fine, it is more about having confidence and information about the reality of life here, believing that there are channels of responsibility and change that works.
- To be leading a dignified life.
- An inclusivity of people which takes responsibility for others, not just in it for themselves but also for others, have a sense of pride in place and a certain level of control over it – things are not done to them. Unity and oneness.
- Trust, building that definite concept of community where people care. Where I live I know that if I became ill people would take care of me, sheets would be changed, cooking done etc. Building a compassionate community, through being a role model not talking about Christianity but on Christian principles of forgiveness, compassion — non-judgmental, kind, laid back.
This echoes much of what Jonathan Smith found in his community-based research report for the Hurtado Centre in Wapping, and is what we are looking to build here through our work at St Katharine's.
There is much more to be found in the report, a summary of current conditions, fears about the growing housing crisis, growing inequalities, lack of jobs and opportunities. Possibilities for work to address some of these things, barriers to overcome in ensuring any development is open to all communities in the area.
This report is really a beginning, not an end, to research on what our communities need and what we can do together to address those needs…
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