A blog profile introducing Lewis Hou and the importance of The Ideas Fund in the Scottish Highlands and Islands
Lewis comes from a neuroscience research and community engagement background and is the founder of social enterprise Science Ceilidh – an award-winning Scottish organisation supporting creativity, curiosity and wellbeing that’s working in partnership with The Ideas Fund in the Scottish Highlands and Islands.
He has been working on programmes that promote science engagement within communities for the past twelve years, including a programme funded by Wellcome in the Highlands and Islands that looked at linking rural communities with biomedical research related to mental wellbeing through traditional arts.
A professional fiddle player and ceilidh-caller (a traditional social event featuring folk music, singing, dancing and storytelling), Lewis and his organisation take inspiration from the Gaelic definition of “cèilidh” in their work – ‘bringing people together’. Partnership working with libraries, and in particular mobile libraries in the Western Isles, have been one of the focuses of their work during the Covid pandemic, looking at social isolation and ways to bring people together to share views and ideas and link them to research.
Lewis also runs Scotland’s Culture & Wellbeing Community Network and is also a country-wide ambassador for an action research project on cultural democracy with the Fun Palaces campaign, working with communities across Scotland.
How would you describe mental wellbeing overall in the Scottish Highlands and Islands? What are the challenges and opportunities?
“The Highlands and Islands make up such a large and diverse geographical area that I’m always wary of generalising. From conversations from our partners and research, there are of course well-documented challenges connected to rurality and access in the region – especially for marginalised groups. That said, we also know there is really good practice and expertise that exists in response to these challenges, with many programmes and activities already in place to support mental wellbeing.”
“The move to on-line during the pandemic has also provided a real opportunity. In many cases, it has made our work more accessible for rural communities who wouldn’t necessarily be able to join workshops in person. However, it’s important to acknowledge there remains lots of inequality around digital access across the region - with some areas having better access that others”
What makes the Highlands and Islands a good fit for The Ideas Fund – are there specific characteristics that mean it is likely that local people will be keen to get involved and put forward ideas?
“The Highlands and Islands haven’t benefited from public engagement funding from Wellcome specifically in the past. So The Ideas Fund offers a real opportunity to connect with previously underserved communities and to explore how to support people in very different and diverse settings – from the larger towns, the islands, to smaller, more remote villages.”
“Rural communities are much closer than those in big cities which has implications around wellbeing. Whilst it’s important not to over-generalise or romanticise – in some cases this can lead to negative social pressures – there’s a real sense of neighbourliness and collaboration, which we experience ourselves both in working with communities and our partners, and this plays out with generally higher levels of reported trust and kindness for example”
What difference could The Ideas Fund make in the Highlands and Islands?
“For me, The Ideas Fund is about building long-term capacity in the most meaningful way. There is so much good work already being done across the Highlands and Islands through community groups, local social enterprises, organisations and services. The Fund offers a chance to work with local partners and build on the excellent work that is already happening, while connecting with researchers and supporting communities who might not normally get the opportunity to be involved in projects like this to take the lead.”
“I very much hope that the learning from this communities-based approach in the Highlands and Islands will be enriching for the rest of Scotland and for other rural areas. We are already seeing strong interest from programmes that are focused on or led by young people, which is really exciting, and we’re keen to support ideas from people with diverse backgrounds across the whole area”
How to get in touch
Call Lewis on 07813743662 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org