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We have been putting sustainability at the forefront of our conversations this year, and recently developed our own Sustainability Policy, with thanks to our Sustainability Intern Anna Barrett from Durham University.

Anna has contributed a guest post to our Directors Blog, to illustrate what has been going on behind the (green) scenes!

Over the past five months whist completing an MSc at Durham University I have had the opportunity to become a sustainability intern at Changing Relations. I’ve loved this opportunity and found it a really rewarding experience.

As sustainability intern, my work centred around trying to better the sustainability of the organisation and ensure environmentally focused thinking became the norm in every aspect of Changing Relations’ work. In order to do this, I began carrying out research into sustainability in general, looking at large organisations that are leading the way in terms of sustainability, and then seeing how these steps translate into the work of smaller organisations that are more of a similar size to Changing Relations. I spent time with Artistic Director Polly, going through the sustainable steps she already takes, and we talked a lot about how to make sure that these became standard practice throughout the team rather than just steps that she does. This also involved assessing the work environment in the office, and reviewing the resources and materials regularly used to see whether we could swap out options for more sustainable alternatives.

It was also really important to Polly and Lisa that we made sure sustainability became a central value of the organisation rather than just something added on, so I spent time working on ways to embed sustainability throughout the whole organisation. This involved work such as drafting sections for artists contracts focusing on sustainability, and drafting text that could be included in art packs which discussed the sustainable nature of the products and encouraged the recipient to recycle, reuse and repurpose the contents where possible. By the end of my project, I had created a Sustainability Policy and other work to support this including a Sustainable Induction for new starters and current team members to demonstrate the importance of sustainability to the organisation. Through this work not only were my research skills considerably strengthened, but I also gained further appreciation for the importance of sustainable thinking and the steps that we can all take to do our part.

One of the personal objectives I hoped to accomplish whilst undertaking my internship was to improve my confidence in communication skills, particularly presenting. I was given the chance to present my work at a Board Meeting at the end of my internship and despite initial nerves I accepted the invitation and received positive feedback which definitely boosted my confidence.

Overall I just want to say thank you to the team at Changing Relations and to the Careers and Enterprise team at the University for setting up such a positive and valuable experience for me. To be able to develop my employability at such a thriving and socially aware organisation only bettered the experience, and I felt welcomed, supported and empowered by the team at Changing Relations.

Thank you, Anna! Your work was fantastic and we enjoyed having you as a part of our team.

If you're interested to know HOW sustainability has been weaved through our organisation, take a look at our highlights video.

Mental Health Week, Loneliness and Domestic Abuse

9th to 15th May 2022 was Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK and the theme was loneliness. If you have been championing this within your workplace, have you also considered domestic abuse in the conversation?

In this blog, how mental health, loneliness and domestic abuse intersect is going to lead us to consider what we can do to make things better for those who we might encounter in the workplace who are affected.

Let’s start by considering how the experience of domestic abuse could be a trigger for mental health difficulties such as depression and anxiety.

I’d like to share a couple of clips with you that were gathered from domestic abuse survivors who shared testimony of their experiences with us for the making of our soundscape Us Too, which is one of the artworks we use in our workplace training. Us Too is a piece of music interwoven with real survivor testimony designed to show the breadth and diversity of people affected by domestic abuse.

As you listen, think about how domestic abuse might be a causal factor for mental health difficulties:

 

In hearing these stories from Victoria and Alma, of constant put downs chipping away at a person’s self-confidence or the helpless feeling of there being no way out, we can see that this statistic from the mental health foundation indicates a strong causal relationship between domestic abuse and mental health difficulty:

30-60% of women with a mental health problem have experienced domestic violence

I’m going to turn for a moment to a report produced by the Vodafone Foundation in 2017 that focused on domestic abuse in relation to the workplace and, we can see that whilst a fantastic:

  • 86% of HR leads agree employers have a duty of care to support employees with regards to domestic abuse
  • ONLY 5% of employers had a specific policy in place to cover domestic abuse among their workforce
  • COMPARED TO 68% with a specific wellbeing policy
  • OR 41% with a mental health policy

To me, these figures suggest that employers tend to think that if they’re addressing mental health and / or wellbeing, they’ve implicitly ticked off domestic abuse as well. But is this right?

Now as we know the theme for mental health awareness week this year was loneliness and I’m really interested in the graphic (left) used as part of the MHAW campaign, which very much suggests that mental health is something to do with the individual and something they themselves have to deal with. Now clearly our personal wellbeing is an individual matter, but where we’re talking about domestic abuse, this isn’t just something we’re going through as an individual – there’s another party involved.

I’ve got a couple more examples from Us Too for you to have a listen to: two more from Victoria, describing events that happened before the point at which she described herself as suicidal in the clip you have already heard and then we additionally have a clip from L.

(For reference, whilst the voices you are hearing are real survivors sharing their stories, all of the names are pseudonyms to protect the anonymity of those who bravely shared their stories with us)

As you listen to these clips, consider how you think each of their partner’s behaviour contributed to each of these individuals’ experiencing loneliness, which could in turn have contributed to mental health difficulties.

   
“He would accuse me of having relationships at work or flirting with the boss, none of which was the case. It was the lever he used to say, “Well, if you were that bothered about my feelings, you would just leave.” And he made it so difficult. He would turn up at work & meet me from work & take me to work & turn up at lunchtime; made it so difficult to actually hold down a job that the easiest thing became to just give it up.”
 

Hopefully you picked up on the way in which the survivors we spoke to were being isolated from friends, family, work colleagues and social events through the behaviour of their partners. And given these behaviours, it’s worth noting some statistics, again taken from the Vodafone report:

  • 16% of the companies had shared that domestic abuse had led to employees leaving their roles
  • 25% said harassment occurred within the workplace
  • 17% said it had caused security issues for other employees
  • Whilst a phenomenal 75% of employed partner violence victims are affected by interference tactics that can be used to exert control over the victim’s employment or job opportunities

So we can see that whilst there’s a powerful connection between domestic abuse, loneliness and mental health, the dynamics of domestic abuse add in an extra complexity and specificity that we need to take into account if we’re going to create a workplace supportive of domestic abuse survivors, as well as those experiencing mental health challenges where domestic abuse has not been a causal factor.

And we’re going to extend our thinking about this for a moment…

When we think about the loneliness and isolation that Victoria and L experienced as a result of their partners’ behaviour, we need to ask ourselves why the perpetrators in question would be doing that? What were they hoping to achieve?

Fundamentally, domestic abuse is about power and control, and the abuse a victim experiences can take a range of different forms depending on the chosen tactics an abuser thinks will help them get control. We don’t tend to use the term domestic violence within our work for this reason – whilst many still think of domestic abuse as including physical violence, it may not, in reality, feature, if the controlling partner doesn’t “need” to use this to get their way.

We have already seen a few of the ways in which control may be used to isolate a partner in the examples we’ve heard. But let’s have a look at a clip from our film Make Do and Mend – what additional controlling tactics you can see being used here that contribute to Dorothy’s isolation?

   

I’m sure you will have picked up on the way in which financial abuse contributed to Dorothy’s experience of isolation, but the aspect of geographical location is really pertinent as well, as there was an important report published by the National Rural Crime Network in 2019. Here’s a little extract from a BBC news article that covered the report:

“Rural victims were half as likely to report their abuse to others, and experienced abuse for 25% longer… rural isolation is often used as a weapon by abusers… Physical isolation is arguably the best weapon an abuser has and has a profound impact on making the victim feel quite literally captive… abusers move victims to rural settings to further isolate them or systematically use isolation to their advantage if they already live in an isolated place. This not only helped abusers control their victims while in the relationship, but made it harder for victims to escape that abuse.”

So we can see that in a range of different ways it is absolutely not an accident that a domestic abuse victim would experience loneliness and isolation. And we need to bring this awareness to the way we might reach out to a colleague who’s struggling.

What we also then need to consider is how our responses as bystanders intersect with what victims are experiencing, including how this might add to their loneliness and isolation. We’ve got another quotation from Victoria, as well as clips from Ester and Elizabeth to help us explore this.

What it is about the bystander responses in each case that might contribute towards the loneliness experienced by each of the victims?

     

“My Mum was like, “But he’s so lovely and he’s so good looking and he clearly idolises you, you know, what’s your problem?””

 

The implication is that many of us in our unthinking responses might unwittingly be making a domestic abuse victim’s experience of loneliness worse through ignoring, denying, or disbelieving their experience – effectively giving the message that we don’t want to hear it which is going to feel like we’re telling the person they need to go off and suffer it alone.

And this brings us to start thinking about what it is that we can do in our workplace context.

Going back to the Vodafone report, we can see that, of the 200+ companies surveyed, there was an average of 0.5 disclosures of abuse made in each organisation in the preceding 12 months. 0.5! That’s less than a whole person.

From the examples we’ve heard so far, what do you think could be the reasons that so few people come forward to say what is going on?

Listen back to the clip we shared of L, above. What does L’s description suggest about the fundamental experience of domestic abuse that might affect our willingness to come forward?

For me, what we can see from this example is that hiding what is going on is part of the victim’s experience of coercive control. They have been intimidated into doing what their controlling partner says and are conscious that their partner would not want them to share their internal relationship dynamics. There may be fear at play of what they would do if they found out they’d shared anything.

     

What was really nice amidst the sadness of many of the stories gathered in the making of Us Too was when we heard the aspect of Victoria’s story depicted here in this illustration (left).

After the experience above, where we saw Victoria having been harassed into leaving her job, she was isolated in her flat, with no financial capability to escape. Her neighbours had heard sounds that made them concerned and notified the landlord, who decided to take action to support her into a separate, safe flat without a deposit. She didn’t come forward. But nonetheless someone noticed and took action.

Let’s turn to consider an example from Kit about why it was hard for them to come forward but also what might be the key to enabling our colleagues to feel it would be ok to disclose what was going on?

 

For me, this points to a circular problem for companies and we have some interesting examples to back this up. In 2021, we collaborated with Durham University academic, Dr Stephen Burrell, on a survey exploring gender equality in the north-east business sector, following the first year of the pandemic, during which multiple reports indicated the incidence of domestic abuse had been exacerbated.

We found that:

  • 45% of respondents were unsure whether their business does a good job of addressing domestic abuse

whilst a further

  • 19% disagreed or strongly disagreed that their business was doing a good job of addressing domestic abuse

Our participants told us

“I’ve seen a lot of work being done on wellbeing but no mention of domestic abuse.” “My organisation have not done anything to address the possibility a member of staff could be suffering domestic abuse…the opportunity of support has not been shared for a impacted member of staff to have the opportunity to reach out.” “It’s never been mentioned in any company awareness campaign.” “Domestic abuse has never been discussed, mentioned, nor is it in a policy now or during the pandemic.” “I’m not sure any of the team would know what to look out for and what to do if they suspected it.”

These comments hint at the circular problem – if a company doesn’t receive disclosures, perhaps in part due to the dynamics of abuse described by L, they assume there is no problem. But the positive examples we received in our report in contrast really reinforce what Kit shared with us…

“Our work environment is open enough that people can discuss personal things and we have 2 mental health trained staff as well so staff feel they would not be judged.” “We have a member of staff who was in an abusive relationship. We were able to support them and ultimately helped them to move on. This demonstrates to all staff members that our organisation is supportive in deeds not just words. Stress levels and stress management techniques are thought about and part of the routine here. It makes for a more productive workforce.”

…emphasising that if we don’t make it ok to raise domestic abuse within our company culture, those whose confidence has been diminished by an abusive partner are unlikely to feel comfortable to come forward and make a disclosure. Whereas if we create an open and supportive company culture, we might find someone builds the confidence to come forward.

We have seen this happen with one of our training clients. Shortly after we had delivered our training at Believe Housing, one of their staff members came forward to disclose that she was experiencing domestic abuse and it had pushed her to the point of not being able to cope any more. She was ready to hand in her notice. But our client was so committed to their duty of care, and aware that if she left her role, her options to leave her partner would be greatly reduced as she would lose her financial independence, so they looked at a range of ways they could support this staff member. She remained in post and later told them,

“I can’t tell you the difference you have made to my life.”

They created the conditions for her to speak out and this enabled them to help her.

So we can see that we have the potential to ensure someone who is experiencing domestic abuse does not have the loneliness of that experience compounded by an organisational culture that avoids the topic, doesn’t make a space for them to feel safe and confident enough bring it forward, and doesn’t receive the disclosure with disbelief. Rather the loneliness can be relieved.

I love this quotation from an audience member who saw Make Do and Mend when it was originally staged as a play in Northeast theatres.

“I’m not crazy. I’m not alone and there is a future”

It really shows the impact we can achieve by making it okay to bring domestic abuse into the open as a topic.

But there’s one more angle I would like for us to consider with regards to workplace disclosures. Have a read and a listen to this additional example of Elizabeth’s story from our Us Too soundscape, and consider what you think this has to do with the rate of workplace disclosures.

 
“There’s an assumption when you talk about coercive control, you can always see that people are thinking, “That would never happen to me; I would be cleverer than that.” So there’s an assumption that, if you are a victim, “You must be very naïve or you must be not very bright.” So if you look at some educated women in quite powerful middle class jobs, accountants, doctors, women who are seen as intelligent, that’s another reason why people would think they can’t possibly be a victim of coercive control, because they think they would be too clever to let that happen to them. And there’s not an understanding of really how subversive that is and cleverly manipulative that is.”
 

Going back to the Vodafone report, HR Leads estimated fairly accurately the proportions of those in the general public affected by domestic abuse, saying…

  • 26% of women
  • 15% of men were likely to be affected

But only estimated that

  • 4% of their own workforce were affected.

We could see this as a hangover of class-based prejudice about domestic abuse as a working class issue, the NIMBYism of, “it couldn’t possibly be happening to people like us” – whether by this we mean professional, well-educated, or middle class.

If we recall the clip we heard from Kit earlier through this lens of diversity and representation, and bear in mind that Kit is a non binary person in a lesbian relationship, what else does this indicate about what we need to share in the open inclusive workplace culture we want to create?

 

The key message here is that we need to challenge the idea that domestic abuse only happens to certain people and only at the hands of certain people.

Let’s summarise then, from the examples we have explored, from the survivors featuring in our soundscape, to our survey respondents and our client’s employee, what else we can do in our workplace setting to support those affected and perhaps alleviate some of the loneliness they may be experiencing:

  1. Make space to listen to survivors
  2. Create a culture where it is ok to talk about domestic abuse
  3. Don’t assume that not disclosing means everything is fine – ask if you aren’t sure someone is ok
  4. Pay attention to subtle factors like whether someone has stopped engaging in workplace social activities

What’s more, we need to share the kinds of specialist support that are available to all the different kinds of people experiencing different kinds of abuse. This spread comes from the personal learning journal that accompanies the e-learning version of our training:

  The Vodafone report we have referenced within this blog cites the key barriers that stand in the way of companies taking concerted action on domestic abuse as part of their commitment to the mental health of their employees:
  • Low awareness of the issue
  • Lack of training
  • Lack of policy
  • Unwillingness of staff to discuss the issues
  • Lack of skills to help someone affected
  • Lack of clarity about the external support available

You’ve already increased your awareness of this issue and the external support available by reading this blog.

In terms of training and skills, this is something we can support you with via our training, the e-learning variant of our training if it is easier to roll this knowledge with large numbers of your staff digitally, or via the train-the-trainer variant we can deliver to companies who already have some knowledgeable staff members who would like the opportunity to use our creative tools to share more widely with colleagues using our live training model.

If you would be interested to learn more, have a look at our website, or get in touch to find out about how we could help you in your organisation.

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Breaking the bias this International Women’s Day

Switching the Stereotype Main Image (Twitter)

Switching the Stereotypes Part 1: In the first of two Director’s Blogs for International Women’s Day 2022, our Managing Director Lisa Charlotte Davis considers parenting and organisational culture. How does your workplace compare?

This International Women's Day invited us to focus on the theme of breaking the bias. This led us to dig back through some interesting research findings which we gathered during the pandemic, together with Dr Stephen Burrell and presented in our Gender Equality in the North East Workplace report.

Of the 72 professionals who participated, 84% felt that their workplace culture encourages gender equality & inclusion. That sounds incredibly positive.

But there are some statistics on specific issues under the umbrella of gender equality that prompt us to ask if everything really is as positive as that headline figure suggests.

Parenting

Let's start with a piece of artwork from our Who Wears the Trousers zine & animation. When you see this image and you think about the pandemic, and in particular lockdown, what comes into your mind?

How did home-schooling work out for people?

It was pretty exhausting right?

But was it equally exhausting for men and women?

Our report revealed that 57% of respondents felt women were affected worse by the pandemic compared to 3% who thought men were affected worse.

Zooming out to a nationwide study conducted by the University of Sussex:

  • 67% of women with work commitments described themselves as the default parent during lockdown
  • 70% reported being completely / mostly responsible for home schooling

 

 

Let’s have a look at some of the comments our survey respondents actually made.

The first very much chimes with that opening statistic that suggests there isn’t really a gender equality issue for us to get vexed about!

“I have had both men and women struggling to come into work when their children have been sent home due to a Covid bubble. I see no difference that it affected women or men differently.”

But the majority of comments on this theme chime with the statistics about women having been disproportionately affected.

“Mothers with kids have been absent from team meetings much more than those without – or even dads.”

“I don’t know of any men that did home-schooling. It was left to the female to juggle both.”

“Unfortunately, women are still expected to take on the lion’s share of the caring burden.”

“Women seemed to be the lead on all childcare & homeschooling therefore their work was impacted more due to these added responsibilities & pressures.”

How does this add up?

Going back to that initial 84% of people telling us their workplace encourages gender equality, this calls us to ask how this belief marries with 57% of the same group of people telling us women were disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

Is it because we’re seeing parenting as a private family issues and not the business of the workplace? 

It may be fair to say that the pandemic was very much an extreme, extraordinary period of time, but it could also be useful for us to see it as a magnifying glass to draw attention to some of the tendencies anyway around us within our culture.

This comment from Alison Lacey in the University of Sussex’s research team makes it sound as if the increased juggle for women is a private family decision:

“Because men tend to earn more, their jobs have more often taken priority with women more likely to be left providing the childcare.”

But is that right?

If we look at some of the additional figures from our report:

  • 35% felt women’s productivity was worse affected by the pandemic (vis-à-vis 5% for men)
  • 28% felt women’s career progression was worse affected (vis-à-vis 0% for men)

…they suggest there is a double bind for women in the workplace – how can they earn more if their productivity and progression is more affected?

What if it were bigger than a private family decision?

   

This is artwork that came from 2 sequential projects – Men’s Voices and Stepping Out of the Box, involving professional artists, groups of men and groups of boys & girls in County Durham Secondary schools.

What do they make you think of in terms of the situation for women and how this actually could be a workplace issue rather than a purely private family matter to be resolved at home?

For me, this artwork takes me back to the concept of gender roles:

Who do we expect to be doing the caring?

Who do we see as nurturers?

How is this reflected in our organisational culture, in the policies but also in the banter and the underlying expectations of men and women?

Let's have a look at a few more contributions here that point to the way in which we might need to interrogate our organisational cultures to see if there any lingering old-fashioned societal gender norms still being reinforced, perhaps without us realising!

In 2018-19, 17% of people said they disapproved of mothers with children under 3 working full-time, while 4% expressed this view when asked about fathers.

British Social Attitudes report, National Centre for Social Research

“There is an underlying assumption care is women’s work even when they are the primary earner. To tackle that we need to examine what happens when children are born.”

Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson, Director, the Women’s Budget Group

“Fathers are vital to progressing gender equality for mothers.”

Ann Francke, Chief Executive, Chartered Management Institute

“Women are given much more leeway when it comes to phoning in sick or needing time off – men are expected to get on with it and come in.”

Survey participant, our Gender equality in the NE workplace report

It’s wonderful if lots of our North East businesses are being proactive about gender equality in the workplace… but this final comment from our survey is interesting in that it points to behaviours within workplaces that employers might think are making the workplace more inclusive for women, but which may be backfiring if they are not part of a bigger, concerted effort to challenge some of the gendered expectations within our culture. Expectations that will also be playing out in the workplace unless we pay attention and ensure otherwise.

If we are expecting women to take greater childcare responsibility, is this unwittingly accompanied by a "Man Up!" style assumption that the male members of the workforce are workaholics for whom it would be odd to take a day off for one's own health - or perhaps that of a child?

Calling for culture change

The tricky thing about cultural norms is that they often lie just beneath the surface. They can be subtle and seem so normal we might not notice that they are even making a difference to our behvaiour.

Culture change isn’t easy! But if we can start to notice the messages we are creating, what we are implicitly encouraging or reinforcing, what it might be possible for us to challenge….maybe the pandemic can be a prompt for us to seize the moment and break down some of our biases!

In arguing for female inclusion in the government's pandemic recovery slogan Build Back Better, MP Caroline Nokes, Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, argues that:

“It is not good enough to look at policies in the round when we know women need even more help to just get back to where they were.”

Let's make sure that workplace practice around gender equality and inclusion takes into account the gender norms lingering within our culture. There is more we need to celebrate and challenge if we are  to break the biases surrounding women and caring responsibilities.

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Writer Bridget Hamilton discusses her work on book Sometimes It Hurts

‘We wanted the stories to feel authentic to the people who were taking part’ 

 

Writer Bridget Hamilton discusses what it was like to work on Changing Relations’ Sometimes It Hurts book project, which has given voices to children who have been affected by issues such as domestic violence and neglect via powerful story telling.

‘Sometimes It Hurts features six stories which were written with the help of a group of young writers, some of whom had experienced domestic abuse. We wanted the stories to feel authentic to the people who were taking part in the project rather than an adult working for them. We held writing workshops with the group in Bensham and they brought words or poems about different aspects of unhealthy relationships, from violence to coercive control. From there, we started to get an inkling of the characters we would create for our book and that was very much shaped by the young people. Changing Relations had done some verbatim work before using testimonies but the nice thing about this project was that by creating fictional characters, they weren’t always expressing their own lives and you could ask questions such as what would this character do now? What happens if they behave like this?  

Once I’d written the stories, we shared them with another group in Horden so we could get some really good constructive feedback, such as how realistic they thought the characters’ experiences were and the sorts of language used. We started to take the book into schools and Bishop Auckland College where we piloted the kind of workshops and activities people wanted from the book. It was a great opportunity for them to give feedback to us and also start to have those conversations about healthy relationships. We would say, does the content go far enough? Is this stuff you already know? They had some really strong emotional responses and became quite political about what’s been done to tackle issues such as domestic violence. We worked hard to make sure that the process was always informed by young people, so we never second guessed them, we always asked and listened. Even people who found the content quite difficult because they had experienced it still reiterated how important it was. You could tell they were going to go off and have conversations with themselves and with their tutors. 

One of my goals with Sometimes It Hurts was to always bring some literature in with me because I never knew how much they were getting the opportunity to read or be read to and that was lovely. The experience had some nice learning moments as a writer too in co-producing this work. It was really rewarding. All of my work with young people is rewarding. To be able to give these young people a book and say ‘you’ve directly influenced this’, and you show how important their opinions and suggestions were, is really nice. Everyone loves getting a book or a piece of art – it’s something concrete they can take away with them, a lasting legacy, which is lovely. 

As told to Lindsay Parker

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Designing for Changing Relations by Elitsa Atanasova

Partnering with Lancaster University has provided our team at Changing Relations with skilled individuals to aid our work, whilst offering students the opportunity to experience work within the creative industry and third sector. Recent Design Intern, Elitsa, writes about her work with us.

My name is Elitsa Atanasova, and I began my internship with Changing Relations at the end of July 2021. I had recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Design at Lancaster University and I am happy to have had the opportunity to work as an intern with Changing Relations.

Throughout my studies, I got to work on numerous design projects addressing topics that are relevant today. Some of these projects focused on environmental issues and sustainability, gender equality, and feminism. The aim of these projects was to provoke, inform people, and challenge their pre-existing ideas on these topics using creativity and originality. That is how my passion to use design as a tool to bring awareness began. I like to help people through my passion.

I was very pleased when I was given the opportunity to work with Changing Relations on their new e-learning programme – Demystifying Domestic Abuse as a workplace issue. My role was to design the layout of the Personal Learning Journal booklet to support the digital e-learning programme. I was working closely with the director Lisa Davis, who guided me though the topic and the materials for the Learning Journal. I started off by watching their film – Make Do and Mend and listening to the digital soundscape – Us Too, which I found deeply touching and it made me expand my knowledge of further issues related to domestic abuse. Then, in collaboration with Lisa, the Artistic Director Polly, and the Digital Media Coordinator Alice, we came up with ideas to unify the two projects (Make Do and Mend and Us Too) and make the final outcome consistent and visually appealing.

I got the chance to design posts for Changing Relation’s social media platforms. I had a lot of fun coming up with different versions of the original design for booklet, to create diversity for the social media assets. I also helped the web developers Lee and Andreea from Foresight eLearning and Creative Limited, for the creation of backdrops for the digital e-learning programme. We experimented with different ideas until we found an appealing visual style that worked well with the design of the Personal Learning Journal.

This internship was a perfect blend between individual and collaborative work. I was mainly working independently on the design for the Personal Learning Journal, and I was strongly encouraged to express my own creative point of view. However, I never lacked support and guidance throughout the process. The whole team of Changing Relations was extremely welcoming, and their positive attitude I found really inspiring. I gained so much new knowledge from this hand-on experience not only in terms of designing, but also about my own future interests. I couldn’t have wished for a better opportunity.

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Creating our Learning Policy with Jo Chandler from our Steering Group

As an arts-based education organisation, it was important for us to lay out our Creative Learning Policy and be able to share it with those we work with. We invited Jo to blog about her experience and how the CLP was devised.

I’m Jo Chandler, a member of Changing Relations’ Steering Group. I’m interested in socially engaged art, which is what initially got me involved with the organisation. I’ve been studying Modern and Contemporary Art Theory at Edinburgh College of Art for the past year and, as part of my dissertation, was able to do a work placement with Changing Relations contributing to my research into social practice. As part of this placement I wrote the new Creative Learning Policy, which looks at how and why Changing Relations uses creative learning methods.

The placement gave me the opportunity to talk to academics with links to Changing Relations – Stephen Burrell, Will McInerney and Ladan Cockshut – who helped to direct me in exploring what has been written about the intersection between arts, creativity and learning. It has been great to dig deeper into the concurrent trends from both the educational angle and the arts perspective: whilst educational fields are increasingly emphasising the importance of creativity in learning, the ‘social turn’ and ‘educational turn’ in contemporary art have brought the value of art being used as an educational tool into the mainstream. Pablo Helguera’s conceptualisation of the relationship between art and education was particularly helpful in articulating Changing Relations’ pedagogical approach: he uses the term transpedagogy to refer to practices which blend processes of art-making and learning. At the end of this post I’ve attached a list of sources which would be interesting to anyone keen to read around this area.

Working with Changing Relations has helped me to understand the processes and structure of a community interest arts company, and given me valuable insight into how Changing Relations have developed a model which meets its aims at the same time as maximising its resources and being sustainable. As part of developing the Learning Policy, I mapped out how learning is layered into Changing Relations’ processes, both in the projects that they carry out (see flow chart which shows the different stages of CR’s creative projects, each of which offers learning opportunities to different groups), but also within the organisation itself.

Changing Relations is doing really exciting work. It was great to be able to contextualise their use of creativity and art for attitude change through looking at the academic literature on the benefits of arts-based methodologies. This study offered a consideration of a broad range of projects using the arts to promote gender equality around the globe, and highlights the ways in which art can be used to encourage a deeper level of empathy and expression compared to other more didactic approaches to learning. These sorts of ideas, along with insights offered by a consideration of Paolo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, were helpful in developing my understanding of how arts-based practice can create meaningful spaces for dialogue and learning which have real impact on the challenges facing society and the problems which Changing Relations is addressing.

The Learning Model below shows the process that Changing Relations’ projects follow, with each stage offering its own creative learning opportunities.

Suggestions for further reading on education & socially engaged art:

* Felicity Allen, EDUCATION: Documents of Contemporary Learning, (London: MIT Press)

* Claire Bishop, Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship, (London: Verso)

* Alain de Botton, Art as Therapy, (New York: Phaidon)

* Paolo Friere, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, (London: Penguin)

* Pablo Helguera, Education for Socially Engaged Art, (Jorge Pinto Books)

* Grant Kester, Conversation Pieces: Community and Communication, (London: University of California Press)

* Nicolas Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics

* Nina Felshin, But is it art? The Spirit of Art Activism, (Seattle: Bay Press)

* Suzanne Lacy, Mapping the Terrain: New Genre Public Art, (Seattle: Bay Press)

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Domestic abuse is everyone’s business – which is why workplaces should do more

Media coverage has pointed to increased numbers of domestic abuse incidents during the past 18 months of the pandemic. But has this translated into increased action in support of those affected, asks Lisa Davis?

Earlier this year, Changing Relations collaborated with Dr Stephen Burrell, deputy director of Durham University’s Centre for Research into Violence and Abuse, on a piece of research exploring how businesses in the north east of England were addressing gender equality issues and whether this had been affected by the Covid-19 crisis. While the vast majority of respondents felt that their organisations had a workplace culture that encouraged gender equality, when it came to domestic abuse, the responses were troubling: 45% of respondents were unsure whether their business did a good job of addressing domestic abuse, with 19% disagreeing – or even strongly disagreeing – that their company did a good job. Furthermore, although we know that the pandemic intensified victims’ experiences of domestic abuse, a further 41% of survey respondents were unsure whether their organisation had taken more steps to address domestic abuse since the pandemic, with 33% disagreeing and 9% strongly disagreeing. One respondent said domestic abuse had “never been discussed, mentioned, nor is it in a policy” nor “in any company awareness campaign.” Continue to article published 10th December 2021.

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Grace Stubbings: My time as Creative Assistant for Changing Relations

Following a successful Kickstart placement, coordinated via government gateway provider, Durham Works, Grace Stubbings, also a musician in the up and coming all-girl rock band, Venus Grrrls, blogs about her experience working as Changing Relations’ Creative Assistant.

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Over the past six months I have worked as a Creative Assistant for Changing Relations. Throughout this role, I have had the opportunity to work on a variety of informative and exciting projects.

During my time here, I have learnt a lot about what Changing Relations’ missions are and put them to practice; from harmful sexual attitudes to gender stereotypes and relationship behaviours. This knowledge has been implemented in work I have done here, supporting the Artistic Director, Polly Turner, in planning and delivering workshops, and in helping to shape the vast number of projects Changing Relations are working on. This has given me an insight into the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes which has been crucial for my development and understanding of the third sector, alongside developing my organisational and communication skills.

Alongside working on projects, I assisted the Managing Director, Lisa Davis, day to day with administration tasks, which ranged from organising the office and warehouse, to creating their Demystifying Domestic Abuse ‘Train-the-Trainer’ manuals, gathering feedback, and emailing partners and other businesses. It was lovely working at strategy days with other companies, learning about the hard work they are also doing to put their values forward to support their local communities.

It was a pleasure to assist the development of the sustainability policy with our intern, Anna, work alongside associate artists on projects ‘Sometimes It Hurts,’ ‘Let’s Talk about Sex’ and ‘Who Wears the Trousers’, meet and chat to the board of directors, steering group, partners, and people who engaged with the projects; all of which help run this wonderful art enterprise.

Some of my objectives for this placement were to gain confidence and implement this into my every day. As a socially-engaged artist myself, it was great to work for a company, whose values align with mine; it has allowed me to reflect and question myself when it comes to harmful stereotypes.

I am very grateful for the past six months. Lisa and Polly were always extremely understanding, welcoming and supportive. They were such a great energy to be around. I am excited to go forward and implement all the skills and knowledge that I have picked up on this placement into my freelance work. Thank you, Lisa and Polly, for listening to me and supporting me. Thank you to Durham Works for making this placement possible and helping to broaden my knowledge and understanding of the third sector.

I will miss spending time with Lisa and Polly during the week and going to them for support and general chatter (I will also miss Lisa’s wonderful home cooking).

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Putting sustainability at the forefront of our organisation

This year we have been putting sustainability at the forefront of our conversations and recently developed our own Sustainability Policy, with thanks to our Sustainability Intern Anna Barrett from Durham University.

Anna has contributed a guest post to our Directors Blog, to illustrate what has been going on behind the (green) scenes!

Over the past five months whist completing an MSc at Durham University I have had the opportunity to become a sustainability intern at Changing Relations. I’ve loved this opportunity and found it a really rewarding experience.

As sustainability intern, my work centred around trying to better the sustainability of the organisation and ensure environmentally focused thinking became the norm in every aspect of Changing Relations’ work. In order to do this, I began carrying out research into sustainability in general, looking at large organisations that are leading the way in terms of sustainability, and then seeing how these steps translate into the work of smaller organisations that are more of a similar size to Changing Relations. I spent time with Artistic Director Polly, going through the sustainable steps she already takes, and we talked a lot about how to make sure that these became standard practice throughout the team rather than just steps that she does. This also involved assessing the work environment in the office, and reviewing the resources and materials regularly used to see whether we could swap out options for more sustainable alternatives.

It was also really important to Polly and Lisa that we made sure sustainability became a central value of the organisation rather than just something added on, so I spent time working on ways to embed sustainability throughout the whole organisation. This involved work such as drafting sections for artists contracts focusing on sustainability, and drafting text that could be included in art packs which discussed the sustainable nature of the products and encouraged the recipient to recycle, reuse and repurpose the contents where possible. By the end of my project, I had created a Sustainability Policy and other work to support this including a Sustainable Induction for new starters and current team members to demonstrate the importance of sustainability to the organisation. Through this work not only were my research skills considerably strengthened, but I also gained further appreciation for the importance of sustainable thinking and the steps that we can all take to do our part.

One of the personal objectives I hoped to accomplish whilst undertaking my internship was to improve my confidence in communication skills, particularly presenting. I was given the chance to present my work at a Board Meeting at the end of my internship and despite initial nerves I accepted the invitation and received positive feedback which definitely boosted my confidence.

Overall I just want to say thank you to the team at Changing Relations and to the Careers and Enterprise team at the University for setting up such a positive and valuable experience for me. To be able to develop my employability at such a thriving and socially aware organisation only bettered the experience, and I felt welcomed, supported and empowered by the team at Changing Relations.

 

 

Thank you, Anna! Your work was fantastic and we enjoyed having you as a part of our team.

If you’re interested to know HOW sustainability has been weaved through our organisation, take a look at our highlights video.

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We need to place more attention on gender equality in the workplace during times of crisis, not less

Written by our Steering Group Co-chair, Dr Stephen Burrell

Today we are launching a new report which discusses the findings from a survey we conducted with members of the North East business sector between 25th November 2020 and 1st February 2021. This research highlighted a range of fascinating – in some cases concerning – findings, about addressing gender equality issues in the North East business sector during the ongoing Covid-19 crisis.

Firstly, it was notable that almost all the 72 people who took part in the survey felt that an equal and inclusive workplace culture has a big impact on both employee wellbeing and organisational effectiveness. This demonstrates why work to build gender equality is so valuable and important – not only is it the right thing to do, but it is in the best interests of both the people working within businesses, and businesses themselves. It was also encouraging that many respondents and their organisations were undertaking a range of steps to promote gender equality both before and during the pandemic; from tackling sexual harassment (which has moved online in many cases), to prioritising employee welfare, to seeking to ensure that women are strongly represented in leadership positions.

However, in some cases there did appear to be a degree of complacency too, with some respondents believing their business was already doing enough about gender equality. This may partly be because lots of people are simply unaware of the range of different ways in which gender issues can manifest themselves in the workplace; for example, staff experiences of domestic abuse, or men’s struggles with talking about mental health problems (both of which are likely to have been exacerbated by Covid-19). This was underlined by the fact that many of the survey respondents expressed uncertainty about issues we asked about. Meanwhile, numerous participants felt it was vital for there to be more education and awareness-raising within the business sector about gender equality issues and how to tackle them.

The survey highlighted that it is particularly crucial for businesses to address gender inequality during times of crisis such as the current pandemic, rather than letting this fall off the agenda. This is because Covid-19 is making many of these problems worse, and there is a risk that this could lead to longer-term backward steps unless we take action. Most respondents felt that women had been particularly badly affected by closures of schools and childcare facilities, and were having to do the bulk of caring responsibilities this had created. In turn, there was much concern that this was holding women back at work, placing substantial stress on them, and could have consequences for their career progression and job retention. Nationwide, research has shown that women have been more likely to be furloughed or reduce their hours during the pandemic, and have been particularly badly hit by job losses. These inequalities show how influential gender norms continue to be in society, when women are frequently still expected to take on most caregiving for example, even if they are working just as much as their partners. Many of the factors contributing to the gender pay gap (which is highest in the North of England) are therefore being exacerbated at a time when the government has said it does not need to be monitored.

However, Covid-19 has forced employers to become more flexible with people instructed to work from home where possible, and has also led to many fathers becoming more actively involved in caregiving. It is important that businesses embrace these changes in the longer term, and do whatever they can to help all staff, but especially women, to manage both work and home pressures. For example, by taking into account that many mothers’ productivity may have been hampered in promotion and recruitment decisions, and encouraging fathers to take up paternity and parental leave.

Indeed, many respondents emphasised the importance of engaging men in the workplace in understanding gender equality issues and the powerful role they can play in creating change. Men themselves have much to benefit from getting more involved in these conversations, both in terms of being part of happier, more inclusive organisations, and exploring the ways in which gender impacts on their own lives; for example in putting some men off from asking for help for fear of being seen as ‘weak’. When it comes to the duty of care businesses have in relation to staff wellbeing then, it is important to consider how these issues can be affected by gender. For instance, members of staff may be experiencing domestic abuse at home, and this is particularly likely to affect women.

It is not just businesses that have work to do. The government often does not appear to have taken into account the gendered impacts of different aspects of its Covid-19 response, nor has it modelled equal involvement of women in decision-making. National and local government has a key role to play in promoting gender equality in the wake of the pandemic; for example, in helping businesses to understand the importance of these issues, promoting women’s leadership and entrepreneurship, and ensuring that sectors of the economy where women are more likely to work are supported rather than neglected in Covid-recovery schemes.

This research has underlined to me just how important the work of organisations such as Changing Relations is, in helping organisations and communities in the North East to understand how gender norms affect different parts of our lives, such as our workplaces, and how each of us can play a part in creating the gender equal future we all need in the wake of Covid-19.

You can download the full 39-page research report, including the 3-page executive summary, here.

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Celebrating our new Steering Group

Last week we shared the news of our 2 fab new Board members. This week we are celebrating our new Steering Group members. We also want to take a moment to explain why we have a Steering Group and a Board of Directors.

Our majority Non-Executive Board shape the strategic direction of our social enterprise in line with our vision, mission and values. The Directors have legal responsibility for the company. This means checking that Managing Director Lisa and Artistic Director Polly are implementing our mission in their day-to-day company activity.

The Steering Group is all about keeping the Board in touch with local community needs and concerns. This is because it’s really important to us that the work we develop feels valuable to our community. It includes people who feel strongly about the issues we tackle and represents a diverse voice, including young people.

Our Steering Group is co-chaired by Billie Jenkins (whose work for PNE involves empowering people to overcome barriers to employment) and Dr Stephen Burrell (whose research focuses on the prevention of gender-based violence).

We were so pleased that public health data analyst Helen Leake, criminology lecturer Dr Kelly Stockdale and HR consultant Jo Cameron stuck with us to form our new Steering Group.

And we’re absolutely delighted that they have been joined by 5 brand new Steering Group members. We welcome: Angela Thomas, Hope Simpson, Jo Chandler, Lucie Hall and Luke Allan Holmes.

 

 

 

 

 

Take a look at the Governance section of our website if you’d like to find out more about any of our super new Steering Group members!

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