Last night, as I was woken up by a drunk housemate coming back from her Christmas party in the wee small hours, I was struck by the oddity of the pre-Christmas indulgence culture.
There are two parts to this issue I found myself considering at 3am this morning. The first is our acceptance of excessive alcohol consumption: something that my colleagues in the West Kent Recovery Team explore. The second is the plausibility of one individual to make a difference to society without sacrificing their enjoyment of the season.
It’s tricky to know how to navigate the plethora of opportunities to do good effectively. So in an attempt to summarise my (somewhat sleep-deprived) thoughts, I’ve categorised opportunities into: Give generously; don’t change your lifestyle, change your supplier; and everything changes.
Historically, buying socially good gifts means giving via (the excellent) Oxfam Unwrapped or similar - but this year, I've spotted the emergence of #buysocial – buying gifts that support socially good ventures. Social Enterprise UK has created a handy list of some top suppliers, including projects like Harry Specters Chocolates - which both offers delicious chocolates in beautiful boxes, and gives people on the Autistic Spectrum employment opportunities in a safe and supportive environment.
The list by Social Enterprise UK is useful for last-minute present-buying, but only scratches the surface of the 70,000+ social enterprises in the UK. My colleague Carys has also written a recent blog about supporting indie shops this Christmas. And buying from ethical suppliers can go beyond Christmas presents.
Don’t change your lifestyle, change your supplier
The overwhelming success of the Fairtrade movement is that it doesn’t rely on you to drastically change what you consume to give people a better life - only how and where you buy it. There are so many excellent projects that adopt this model, both supported through the RSA and not, which deserve attention: the below list is just a brief introduction (and, hopefully, inspiration).
Who made your pants? Makes underwear with a difference. It’s a Southampton-based campaigning lingerie brand concerned with two things: amazing pants and amazing women. They create jobs for women who’ve had a hard time, primarily refugees, by producing beautiful underwear from reclaimed materials. Get your hands on these gorgeous pants here.
Auntie Daisy is an incredible project operating a very simple model. Run by Fellow Matthew Lill, it conveniently delivers your sanitary products each month in the post – like a Graze box for tampons – and 100% profits go to Camfed to support girls’ education in rural Africa. To me, it epitomises social enterprise through doing something that’s both innovative and ethical.
Parkholme Supper Club: in the bloated supper club movement (especially in London), FRSA Alicia Weston has created her unique selling point by putting a positive spin on an already-social event. As well as getting a good, home-cooked meal in the comfort of the founder’s home, profits from the Parkholme Supper Club go towards Médecins Sans Frontières, and the founders teach cooking skills to homeless people via Crisis, too.
Taking time out can help you reassess what you hold to be true and challenge your assumptions, to go into the new year with a fresh start.
Taking that time to refocus your head can be very valuable. We’ve been fortunate in having Mindfulness sessions run at the RSA recently by a colleague – and participants have found them to improve their wellbeing. If you’re looking at workplace resolutions, I would highly recommend it – read more on our blog.
New year is a good time to learn new things. Sunday Assembly, run by magnetic FRSA Sanderson Jones, is a non-religious church, supporting people to live better, help often, and wonder more. Taking the best bits of church (community, singing, interesting talks and social benefit), it’s grown on a tremendous scale since its inception just over a year ago. Find out about Sunday Assembly near you, or how to set one up.
Do you struggle with the "oh yes, obviously I support this but I don't want it near me" mindset? My colleague Jack recently wrote a fantastic blog about the negative effects of NIMBYism in drug and alcohol recovery – an area we are exploring in research and action in the RSA through the previously-mentioned West Kent project.
A few years ago (and again this year) I volunteered at Crisis at Christmas. I found it a fascinating experience. It’s worth doing – not just for the warm fuzzy feeling you get, but for the change in perspective and deeper understanding it gives you of homelessness. Crisis isn’t the only way to volunteer at Christmas – Google will provide a range of other options.
I definitely don’t mean to imply that indulgent behaviour is a bad thing - I’m just as happy to partake in this tradition as the next person (which anybody who had the misfortune of seeing me at our Christmas party can attest to). I also don’t mean to imply that this is somehow a new tradition. Only that, if you're non-religious, there can be more to this season than mulled wine and mince pies.
Joanna Massie is Project Engagement Manager, bringing Fellows into the RSA’s research around public services and communities. Follow her on Twitter @joannacmassie or contact her on Joanna.firstname.lastname@example.org.
RSA Fellowship support social enterprises through our Catalyst fund: find out more on our blog. We also run a Social Enterprise network – get in touch.