In mid-September, nearly fifty community activists and wellbeing enthusiasts came together at Hawkwood in Stroud for the Network of Wellbeing (NOW’s) second Building Wellbeing Together weekend. NOW’s Director, Roger Higman was there.

What links people with a passion for wellbeing? And how can we build wellbeing together? Those were the questions at the forefront of our minds as we came together at Building Wellbeing Together – a weekend of wellbeing related activities and discussions.

The need has never seemed greater. Public debate has become polarised, millions of people across the world are demanding urgent action against climate change and austerity continues to hit hard. Bitter divisions have deflated us, even in sunny Devon. So many people seem angry; so many more have stopped listening and all too few seem keen on compromise.

It’s hard not to feel sad for the state of the world. And for many of us that sadness is keenly felt.

So what can we do in times like these? The answer, we believe, is to come together. By meeting each other and sharing our concerns we realise the common values that so many of us share. We can feel each other’s pain; begin to heal and move forward with positivity and hope.

Building Wellbeing Together was an opportunity to connect with one another. An opportunity to face today’s challenges together. And it did not disappoint. We reconnected with old friends and met new ones. We shared our feelings, reflected on the state of the world and imagined a different future. All in the magnificent surroundings of Hawkwood.

Inspiring Positive Change

The biggest inspiration was hearing from wellbeing pioneers. People who are already taking positive action in the world.

Mark Williamson of Action for Happiness positioned his organisation at the heart of a movement that helps people to build wellbeing together and shift culture to prioritise wellbeing.

Although he saw several worrying trends – including bad leaders, disconnect and the threat of climate catastrophe – he also noted reasons to be hopeful – such as new leaders coming forward, greater awareness of mental health and a rising interest in mindfulness and movements for change such as Extinction Rebellion.

Mark was able to show what Action for Happiness had achieved. A tiny organisation with an enormous reach, its website and resources have been accessed by over nine million people. It has an online community of over a million followers, and its volunteers have led courses in over 250 communities. These courses have made a huge impact on participants reducing depression and increasing life satisfaction and social trust.

Through online communication and regular get-togethers, Action For Happiness have built a movement that’s changing the world.

Jennifer Wallace, Head of Policy at the Carnegie UK Trust, spoke about the Trust’s work in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Work that has sprung from dissatisfaction about the way the welfare state has treated people.

She saw signs for hope in the growing movement of community-led projects to promote health and wellbeing, and Carnegie’s own work on kindness.

Jennifer noted:

“As individuals we flourish when we are listened to, believed in and given opportunity to make our contribution. As communities we are energised when people are encouraged to come together, to look out for each other, to belong. As a society we thrive when individuals and communities are valued, and when we invest in both.”

Kindness was identified as the touchstone to guide public authorities. At present, it is squeezed by a macro-economic and political environment and by harmful processes and cultures. There is pressure on spending, the mainstream media and public hostility to ‘inadequate’ public services. There is also a culture of blame, high levels of scrutiny and a fear of risk. The result is a service provision that is hostile when it should be kind.

Like Mark, she emphasised the benefits of working together:

“Individuals gain from being in a network. It’s a tough journey and traveling with others makes it easier. Collectively, we are better placed to tackle systemic barriers. This cannot be done through single organisations or individual leadership.”

Jennifer also outlined eight principles of a better way:

  • Prevention is better than cure.
  • Building on strengths is better than focusing on weaknesses.
  • Relationships are better than transactions.
  • Collaboration is better than competition.
  • Mass participation is better than centralised power.
  • Local is better than national.
  • Principles are better than targets.
  • Changing ourselves is better than demanding change from others.

She ended on a hopeful note:

“A common narrative is needed to drive that change, with examples and stories that make it real. A hopeful and authentic approach counters pessimism and energises. Purposeful energising spaces, where unexpected encounters take place, can drive progress.”

Chris Johnstone of the College of Wellbeing built on this theme of collective resilience. He pointed out that resilience is the foundation from which wellbeing can built. Taken from his book “Seven Ways to Build Resilience”, he offered tools to help us face the challenges that daunt us.

Storyboarding was one, where we can map our current position and plot a way forward. This helps to take us from “here’s me, facing this” to “specific achievable steps I can take in the next seven days to move forward are…”. The Penn perspective check was another tool he shared where we use our five fingers to consider “What’s the worst that can happen? What’s the best? And what’s in between?”. “Usually”, he said “what’s in between is what happens”.

The themes of practical individual action, group development and social change featured heavily in workshops from:

From the opening address by Satish Kumar to the close of Sunday afternoon, it was clear that by working together we can meet the challenges the world throws at us and build a better world for all.