Between Kith and Kin and Formal Services: Everyday help and support in the ‘middle layer’

S. Anderson, J. Brownlie, EJ Milne

    Research output: Book/ReportOther reportpeer-review


    This report forms part of the Liveable Lives study, a largescale qualitative research project examining views and experiences of everyday help and support – low-level, ordinary and often unnoticed acts and relationships that can help us to manage the practical and emotional challenges of our daily lives. Everyday help and support – low-level, ordinary and often routine acts and relationships that help us to manage the practical and emotional challenges of our daily lives – is little noticed, studied or understood. Much of this takes place in the realm of the wholly interpersonal. But there is also a ‘middle layer’, between the interpersonal and the world of formal service provision. This consists of diverse groups, associations and organisations which typically lack any formal remit for help and support but which nevertheless make an important contribution to an overarching ‘infrastructure of kindness’. The main report from the Liveable Lives study focused on experiences of everyday help and support involving family, friends, neighbours, acquaintances and even strangers. This supplementary paper looks at the related issue of the wide range of local ‘middle layer’ groups, organisations and associations and at the role these play in enabling, sustaining or constraining such relations. Specific settings examined included a supermarket, a library and a group working to create a community garden. The middle layer has an important role to play in creating the conditions for ‘ordinary kindness’ simply by encouraging social interaction. Groups, organisations and associations in this realm draw people together through shared interest or purpose; they provide spaces within which interaction can happen, and sometimes actively facilitate access to those spaces. As such, they serve as junction boxes, connecting diverse strands of community and social networks. But spaces and opportunities in this layer are experienced differently by different people and in different social and economic contexts. For example, the research suggests that those from middle class, professional backgrounds may feel more confident about engaging with self-organised groups and associations, such as ramblers, book groups or other interest-based activity. Those in a predominantly working class area like Maryhill can set greater store by known, informal connections; and there is a greater role for ‘provided’ spaces and activities, such as those based in local community centres. While there may be an apparent fit between the not-for-profit sector (such as the library) and notions of everyday help and support, ‘ordinary kindnesses’ are evident in corporate or commercial settings too – whether a supermarket, café or corner shop. The significance of all these middle layer settings varies from one community to another, depending on what other facilities are available and the extent to which people live highly local or more geographically extended lives. Within the more formal organisational settings of the middle layer, it is often when individuals transcend their formal or scripted roles that there is the greatest scope for small acts and relationships of help and support to emerge. While this might carry some risks for organisations – if for example, staff in a library or supermarket are distracted from the core tasks of lending books or selling groceries – it can also be seen as congruent with good customer service and as part of what attracts people to those particular settings in the first place. Groups, organisations and associations at this level can also learn something from the way that everyday help and support is navigated and negotiated between individuals – for example, about the difficulty that people have in acknowledging vulnerability and asking for help; the way that help and support often happens most easily ‘in passing’; and the scope to derive benefits that are mutual from participation and engagement in community settings. A sense of achievement and social connection reported by members of the community garden is an example here. Abstract from Between Kith and Kin and Formal Services: Everyday help and support in the ‘middle layer’ by Anderson, S. , Brownlie, J. and Milne, E, published in 2015 by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Reproduced by permission of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
    Original languageEnglish
    PublisherJoseph Rowntree Foundation
    ISBN (Print)9781909586987
    Publication statusPublished - 2015

    Bibliographical note

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    • informal support


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