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As part of this Inquiry, we are looking into what helps and what hinders those doing social action in Scotland. But what exactly is social action? 

In this story, we are delving into what social action is, why it is beneficial to society and highlighting some examples of social action through the work of four of our partnering communities.

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What is social action? 

In the Inquiry we view social action as people creating positive change in their communities. The term social action covers a wide spectrum of activities and initiatives. Within the spectrum some forms of social action are commissioned by local authorities or supported by professionals, and other forms of social action are wholly community-led.

You may be familiar with the concept of social action but know aspects of it through different terms, for example, civil society, helping out in the community, campaigning for change, movement space, volunteering, peer-support, and activism.  

6 hands in fists coming together to make a circle.

Charles Zastrow created the Social Action Model and detailed the model as one that aims to shift power and resources to empower those furthest from power to take collective action to bring positive change in communities.  The Office of Civil Society’s policy paper on social action described social action as “people coming together to help improve their lives and solve the problems that are important in their communities.”

The Together We Help research into social action during the Covid-19 pandemic found that many of the 367 survey respondents emphasized that the social action they were involved in was in response to poverty and exclusion. 

Why is social action beneficial to society?  

It is clear that people coming together to create positive change in their communities is beneficial to society. But let’s cover some specific reasons why social action is seen as a benefit to society.  The Office for Civil Society’s discussion paper on social action outlines six reasons why social action is beneficial to society. Social action: 

  • Increases the resources available to achieve social goals. 
  • Gives public services access to new expertise and knowledge. 
  • Enables broader and better targeted support. 
  • Empowers local groups, enabling local solutions and building resilient communities.  
  • Create new models for how society can respond to challenges. 
  • Helps reduce demands on public services. 

During the Covid-19 pandemic, society saw the reactive social action carried out by individuals, collectives and organizations as people felt compelled to help those in isolation, shielding or to aid those working in the NHS. 

In the Together We Help Report, which carried out research into social action during the pandemic, it was highlighted that of the 367 respondents to the survey, one third were new to doing social action during the pandemic. This increase in people doing social action was very beneficial in scenarios like the pandemic, relieving pressures on public services and increasing community spirit, and may have encouraged those involved during this time to continue to pursue helping out in their communities. 

Examples of social action  

We are partnering with communities across Scotland who are doing social action. These four communities are some examples of the social action happening in Scotland, from peer-support groups to campaigning collectives. They are: 

  • Let the People Sing
  • People of Colour in Education 
  • Living Rent 
  • Aid & Abet 

These communities were nominated by our team and our Guides. We began our partnerships in August 2022 and have been gathering their stories of what helps and hinders their social action. 

Let the People Sing

How did they begin?

Let the People Sing is based in the Craigmillar and Niddrie areas of Edinburgh and was formed in 2022 by a small group of individuals local to the area. This group of individuals are all in recovery from addiction and have lost loved ones to addiction. Niddrie is within the most deprived 5% of all Scottish locations in 2020, according to the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation. The group behind Let the People Sing! highlighted that there has been a serious drug and alcohol problem within the local area for some time and life expectancy in the area is low. According to the National Records of Scotland 2019-2021 report on Life Expectancy, the major reduction in life expectancy across Scotland has been due to firstly, Covid-19 and secondly, drug use.  

Having seen the severe reduction in services in the area for those seeking help from addiction, the group decided on a three-pronged approach that would highlight the dearth of provision, utilise collective advocacy to bring pressure to bear on service providers (to return and enhance services), and create a recovery community centre. To do this they set up a Recovery Forum, a Collective Advocacy Group and The Bothy.

What social action do they do?

The main focus of Let the People Sing is to make recovery visible. The group opened ‘The Bothy’ in December 2022. The Bothy is a physical space where people can drop in and make use of the facilities. staffed mostly by volunteers who are themselves in recovery and family members, who are known throughout their community. It provides a welcoming space and a programme of activities to promote connection, practical assistance, and healing. The Bothy is located at one point of a triangle with the busiest health practice and the local council offices both less than a hundred metres away.

Let the People Sing intend to reduce the stigma of those suffering from addiction, regain self esteem and show they are worthy of respect in their local community. Let the People Sing recently became a registered charity (SCIO: SC052436).


People of Colour in Education

How did they begin? 

People of Colour in Education began in 2021 as a group of parents and carers of colour who came together to campaign against the injustice treatment of people of colour within the education system. After a group member’s child was racially attacked within the school setting, they experienced the short fallings and navigated the loopholes to see only a minor resolve.

The Coalition for Race Equality and Rights report on Racially Motivated Bullying revealed that across schools in Scotland only 17% of schools recorded one or more racially motivated bullying incidents over 2020-2021. 83% did not record any incidents, indicating that these racist attacks are not being addressed. The group was originally called Campaign Against Racism in Scotland but has recently had a restructure and is now known as People of Colour in Education (POCE). 

What social action do they do?

POCE are fighting for people of colour to reach their full potential within the education system. They are conducting research by collecting stories from individuals who have experienced racism within school, college and university settings in Scotland.  POCE plan to share these findings in a national event and campaign to raise awareness and to instigate changes to how racism is dealt within the education system in Scotland. Currently, POCE are involved in engagement within communities in Glasgow through community groups and networking events to spread the word about POCE and to collect stories. 


Living Rent

How did they begin?

Living Rent is a union formed of members fighting for improved housing conditions and policies in the private and social rented sector. Living Rent formed in 2014 as The Living Rent Campaign to respond to the Scottish Government’s housing consultations and to campaign against short leases. Living Rent is part of Acorn International and has 8 grassroots branches across the central belt of Scotland. The branches are usually formed around neighbourhoods and are made up of local individuals who have joined the union to campaign and act collectively about local housing and place issues. Collectively, the branches coordinate campaigns and actions about national housing issues, such as campaigning for long term rent caps due to the cost of living crisis.  

What social action do they do?

At its core Living Rent is fighting for the human right of decent, affordable and secure housing. Living Rent’s social action addresses members housing human rights as well as wider place-based and national issues.

They have member defence teams who fight specific members cases against poor living conditions, repairs and rent hikes. In one case by taking action and protesting outside a member’s housing agency, the team successfully managed to have repairs to damp and mouldy conditions addressed the next day for the housing agency. [Source: Living Rent May 2023 newsletter]. In Gorgie, Edinburgh the local branch is campaigning for more public toilets in the area. In the Highlands and across Scotland, Living Rent are campaigning against short term, holiday lets due to the increase in rent and property prices in addition to a severe lack of residential homes to rent in the region. 


Aid & Abet

How did they begin?

Aid & Abet began in 2014 as a group who came together to support those who have been in custody.  Having themselves either experienced prison together, or been on similar addiction recovery journeys, this group wanted to use their experiences to support those coming out of prison. Aid & Abet offer support to those in Edinburgh and the Lothians and is a registered charity (SCIO: SC046322). 

What social action do they do?

Aid & Abet’s vision is ‘once someone has been in prison, they need never go back’. A Scottish Government report on Reconvention Rates in 2018-2019 showed that 3 in 10 ex-offenders were reconvicted within the first 12 months of being released.  Aid & Abet recognise that the readjusting to life outside of prison is difficult, especially in the first few days.

Aid & Abet have a mentor scheme that offers peer support to help participants reflect on their experiences and allow them to make steps in their lives away from criminal activity.  With the mentors having experienced life in prison themselves, they can relate to the struggles and offer support to individuals who are being released from prison. The mentors are present from the prison gates to help those being released to readjust back to life outside of prison and to support them throughout their readjustment to help them stay out of prison.  


Change is happening

Social action happens because of people coming together to make positive changes to their communities. The four communities doing social action in this story show some of the depth and breadth of social action happening across in Scotland.

Change is happening in Scotland. The Inquiry is connecting with more communities doing social action.  We are documenting our learnings from these communities about what helps and hinders their social action.

Are you doing social action? Join our journey and engage with the stories of what helps and hinders social action to let us know if these resonate with your community.