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Rethinking the definition of ‘Essential Worker’ in Drumchapel and Maryhill…

In February we took our first trip to Glasgow as part of the Essential Mix project. Our aim was to immerse ourselves in the local context of our research locations - Drumchapel and Maryhill. We spent several days touring the areas, meeting with residents and local organisations to understand what life is like in these places. The people we met were, unsurprisingly, warm and welcoming Scots who went out of their way to make time for us. We hypothesised at the outset of this research that the kinds of micro-interactions we want to promote with this research would be more common amongst Glasweigians vs their London counterparts, and this was certainly true from our observations there… neighbours saying hello to one another on the bus, customers stopping to chat with the checkout staff in the supermarket, a big smile and wave from the postman as he does his rounds. Whilst these interactions were not initiated by all of the residents that we observed, it made us excited to see these tangible examples of interaction and made us consider how we might promote further interaction amongst those less engaged.

However, our most transformative learning from our time in Glasgow was a reminder of the importance of context in thinking about behaviour change - something that makes sense and is impactful in one context may not be in another. Here we are specifically referring to our definition of “Essential Workers” which focuses on those more traditional service roles - transport, supermarkets/shops, refuse, repairs…etc. When we shared this definition with residents and organisations in this area they challenged us to consider the value of others in the community who are vital for the lifeblood of the place - the local youth workers who keep young people off the streets at night, the helpful mum at school who delivered food parcels to those in need, the local nursery where the staff welcome families back for a chat even years after their child has moved on to school… The focus for these residents was less on “Essential Workers” and more on “essential people”.

A video created by Bash Art Creative during the pandemic features individuals who were nominated as “essential to the community” during the pandemic - watch here. This less conventional definition of “essential workers” is an extremely valuable and important nuance in these contexts which will be vital for us to consider in our project development. Watch this space for how our thinking evolves…


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