The importance of relationships – transforming lives, communities and nations
It’s proven: people with good friends and relationships live longer and more productive lives than those who are socially isolated. Not only that, they are happier at home and work, experience a greater sense of belonging, and require less support from social and health services.
This is the sort of profound evidence that Relationships Foundation wants policy makers and government to take into account when making decisions. Relationships Foundation believes that a good society is built on good relationships, and is celebrating its 25th anniversary this month. It explores different ways in which public policy, organisations, and individual behaviour shape the relationships that influence the wellbeing of individuals and communities.
We spoke to Relationships Foundation’s CEO Dr Robert Loe about what they have achieved over the last 25 years and their ambitions for the future. Based at Allia’s Future Business Centre in Cambridge, the organisation was in fact, the founder of Citylife back in 1999, which later changed its name to Allia.
Can you tell me about Relationships Foundation and what it aims to achieve?
Relationships Foundation is a charity that researches, measures and evidences the importance of relationships in the world.
There’s been so much research that proves relationships can predict whether people are happy, healthy and flourishing. Relationships give us psychological and physical resilience, and yet they aren’t considered when we conceive public policy, the way we organise ourselves, or what is taught in schools.
Relationships Foundation has become a world leader in measuring relationships; giving organisations the tools, processes and thought leadership to do their work differently, and ultimately transform communities, nations, and lives.
Our very first project was in a justice context. We were measuring human relationships in prisons, to understand how you can measure and understand prison culture so that you can predict rioting before it happens.
The Foundation then started working in lots of other areas including health care, peace building in South Africa around apartheid, post conflict Rwanda, the UN and the education sector.
There are so many places that we can apply our research, from what is quite a focused context, to something that has wider applicability into other sectors.
Could you tell me about some of the active projects you have going on at the moment?
We’re two years into our five year longitudinal study looking at recruitment and retention in teaching, particularly why young people are leaving so soon after beginning their teaching careers. Some young teachers are moved from their personal networks and sent away to places where they need teachers and recruiting is difficult. This is a great idea, but when you’re going into a challenging environment, and you’re miles away from the people who love you, it puts a big strain on that individual.
We’ve just published our first piece called ‘With a little help from your friends’ which is about the foundations of teacher stability. The teacher training provider we worked with now offer relational and personal training, and their training numbers have doubled in a climate where they are generally declining, so we know we can have a big impact.
We’re also working at a student level, looking into the relationship between high quality relationships in schools, and psychological health, wellbeing and loneliness. We’ve developed measurement tools where we can now identify loneliness in classrooms. We’ve worked with well over 50,000 children nationally and internationally, so those data sets are academically significant. What we know from that data is that irrespective of whatever you throw at that student, whatever socio-economic context they come from, their academic ability, or whatever their home life is like, if they have a really good relationship with just one peer in their year group, their wellbeing is likely to be protected.
We’ve developed measurement tools where we can now identify loneliness in classrooms
What do you hope to achieve in the next five years?
Unfortunately, we have far less significance and influence in England than we do in the rest of the world – and it’s difficult to engage schools unless we have external funding. However, in five years, I’d like to be in every single school in the UK, supporting them to think about their culture and environment. Because what we know is, if we get that right, they will then go on to build and recreate the societies that aren’t as fragmented, dislocated and characterised by loneliness – and I think that repair can start in schools.
Tell us about your annual conference this year
This year is extra special because we’re celebrating our 25th anniversary – the conference is on September 13th, where we’re aiming to get 100 people from all over the world to join us.
Our key note speaker is James Kerr, who is the author of the bestselling book ‘Legacy’ which delves into the New Zealand national rugby team to investigate how relationships are at the heart of team success.
There will be workshops for practitioners and thought leaders. One workshop will be led by our founder which looks at our efforts at peace building in Korea, and there will be another focusing on what makes for effective work room or staff room culture. We have a number of people from related organisations coming in to talk about their applied research in all sorts of amazing contexts, so it’s an opportunity to showcase new research, and for people to hear and learn how they might get involved, creating a giant social network of people from many professions.
Have you got anything new coming up that you’d like to share with us?
We launch our new system very soon, called ‘RView’. The way organisations usually measure the quality of relationships is to send out surveys to individuals, but the problem is that you cannot understand the quality of relationships between two people by asking only one side of it. It’s not just your view, it’s my view as well; it’s our view. This system will allow a range of different organisations internationally to use the metrics and do their own projects and should be game-changing.
Additionally, we continue with our emerging peace building work in Korea, plus our schools project which aims to work with the most marginalised and vulnerable people in society. We recognise that part of their vulnerability is the lack of high quality relationships around them, and our job is to transform that.
Relationship’s Foundations annual conference is being held on 13th September 2019 at The Møller Centre in Cambridge, and will explore how to drive change through relationships. Click here for more information and tickets
To find out more about Relationships Foundation and their work, visit their website