From public buildings to public policy – 100 years of wellbeing

August 5, 2019

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by Lauren Pennycook, Senior Policy and Development Officer, Carnegie UK Trust

This Sunday, 11 August, marks 100 years since the death of our founder, the great Scottish-American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. In recognition of this historical landmark we are publishing a special blog series this week, with a new article every day, explaining how the Trust is continuing Carnegie’s legacy, 100 years since his passing. Today Lauren Pennycook writes about our work on wellbeing.


What do public libraries, playing fields, public services, and procurement all have in common? The answer: philanthropy – specifically, that of the Carnegie UK Trust over the last 100 years, as our Trustees have sought to interpret our remit to improve the wellbeing of people across the UK and Ireland.

Wellbeing, to us, put simply, means living well. Societal wellbeing means everyone having what they need to live well now and in the future. More than health and wealth, it includes longer-term considerations such as the environment as well as things that matter most directly to people in the here and now, like having friends and loved ones; the ability to contribute meaningfully to society; and the ability to make choices about our own lives. It is measured internationally, nationally and locally through the three pillars of material conditions, quality of life, and environmental sustainability.

It is this strategic, societal, refusal to sit in silos understanding of wellbeing in public policy which has formed a core strand of our work since 2010. We are leading advocates for wellbeing frameworks that allow governments to measure social progress for citizens in a meaningful way – beyond GDP. And when these are in place, we provide support on the ways of working required to embed them in policy and practice – most recently, in our Embedding Wellbeing in Northern Ireland project. As a core part of our projects, we look for ‘unusual friends’ and encourage the sharing of learning, of evidence, policy and practice, across silos, sectors and states to help solve intractable issues.

But we do not forget the individual. In the development of wellbeing frameworks, we advocate for public services designed to improve personal agency, control and relationships. In a fundamental shift of power, we advocate for the move from top down to bottom up; from representation to participation; and from citizens as recipients of services to co-producers. And as technology transforms the way we live, work and interact, we advocate that public policies place equal weight on emotional intelligence and artificial intelligence, and facilitate kinder communities and public services.

So, our understanding of what improves wellbeing now compared to 100 years ago is less structural, more strategic; less public buildings, more public policy. To stand the test of time – 100 years after Andrew Carnegie’s death – the Trust will continue to respond to the key public policy issues of the twenty-first century; be bold; be ambitious; and leave a legacy – and remain loyal to our remit.