Relishing change -
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Space

January 26, 2015 @ 12:00 pm

Recently I’ve been reflecting on space. How do we conceptualise space? Boundaries around space and spaces have been gradually eroded; the office is shared and usually there will not be enough desks for every worker. This is a deliberate policy.The idea that we use space to symbolise our identity and make our desks our safe working base has been removed from many workplaces. Space in which professionals see people has become a premium; patients are left on trolleys in corridors in hospitals; offices no longer have interview or play spaces for children and their families. The idea of neutral space in which to perform professional tasks is being gradually lost. Schools struggle to find spaces to offer parents or professionals meetings or have smaller groups of children. Training spaces have gone and been replaced with multi-functional rooms in which children and families may have contact as well as professional meetings being held including supervision. All of these bookable functions mean that there is never quite enough space for the people requiring it and the different functions of the task are not so easily accommodated. A room suitable for families to have contact in is not performing the same function as a meeting room or a training room or even a safe space for supervision. It also means everything has to be planned and booked in advance. Yet we know that in health, education and social care there is a need to be prepared for and responsive to the unexpected. Not having space to deal with the sudden disruptions that arise is problematic and causes additional and unnecessary stress.

Physical space has a price tag attached. There is little public acknowledgement about the need for emotional space that also encompasses physical space sometimes. Robin Murray, a leading psychiatrist once passed a comment during exploration of his life scientific (Radio 4) that has stayed with me, that if the housing situation was better in cities there would be a much lower rate of schizophrenia. Our mental health is improved when we have sufficient physical and emotional space. At a time when empty houses in London are increasingly under scrutiny is it time to ask questions about space and how it is used? Who has access to space and what is a fair distribution of space; according to need rather than only according to income?

Two observations have struck me in the last week; firstly the bafflement of a manager of a home saying we only have 4 beds why do I keep being asked to fill them with 5 bodies. To her the beds are peopled, to the commissioners they are commodities. This is a central paradox is space personal or is it merely a commodity. Secondly observing that the car parks of public buildings are full before 8.30 so people can get a parking space and have first option on the limited number of desks. Latecomers to training days explain that having travelled miles to unfamiliar venues they then struggle to get parked. It has become impossible to cater for everyone. Survival of the fittest indeed. Another experience of a similar phenomenon is trying to get onto the M3 from the M25. One of the downsides of life as a trainer is frequent travel. Currently there are roadworks at the junction for the M3 from either side of the M25. On one occasion it took me 2 hours to negotiate the last mile to the turn off. Essentially this is a space issue; too many cars wanting to use the same space at the same time. Of course there are solutions such as queue jumping and not being saintly I am sure I’ll be tempted to do that. However as with all forms of queue jumping some will pay more of a cost than others. Who is getting queue jumped over in our rush to space? Certainly those with caring responsibilities are not in a position to get into the office before 7.30 to offset the anxiety of space – parking/desk.

Space and access to it has become a major stressor in the way we live today.The extent to which we have control over the space, we individually feel we need, to live and work in really affects our sense of emotional well-being.

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