Professor John McKendrick is firmly of the view that an organisation, or a community, only works with everyone doing their bit, feeling valued for doing so, and appreciating the contributions that others are making.
Such an outlook fits well with GCU’s Common Good mission and, having worked at the University for over 17 years, he really believes in this ethos.
“It’s what we’ve always been about,” he says. “I am very comfortable with our mission, so GCU has always been, and continues to be, the right place for me.”
The University’s new Strategy 2020 also sits well with John. “It seemed to validate the work that I do.” It is perhaps no surprise that his research interests in poverty and the role of environment on children’s wellbeing also strongly support his personal views on social justice.
Based in the Department of Social Sciences, Media and Journalism in Glasgow School for Business and Society, John had a secondment of two years to the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Research on Families and Relationships a few years’
ago, but was keen to return to GCU where he could balance research and teaching responsibilities.
“We were part of the consortium and it was a fixed-term Research Fellow post, which appealed to me,” he says. “But, if truth be told, I missed GCU. I am not an academic who just wants to do research.
“I love teaching, I tolerate the administration, and I am passionate about my research. That’s the balance that I need.”
John wants the research he does to have a real-world impact.
“My orientation tends to be more applied. While I am an academic and enjoy contributing to conceptual and theoretical debates, I am a firm believer that the knowledge we generate should have a useful life or purpose beyond the academic and that motivates me.
“I spend a lot of time giving advice to councils and organisations such as Barnardo’s and they are keen to listen.”
Outside of work, John also has plenty of knowledge to share as a Category 1 Scottish FA Referee, father of three, grandfather of one, and Chair of the St. Andrew’s Orienteering Club (Glasgow).
John completed a BA and a PhD in geography at Strathclyde and Glasgow Universities, before moving to the University of Manchester for four years.
His work at GCU has always involved working with diverse groups.
“I still see myself as a human geographer but I am not teaching this discipline. Initially, my teaching involved demonstrating the value of geographical perspectives to social science students; now I’m more concerned to showcase the importance to our business degree students of appreciating the wider context within which their professional practice will take place.
“It’s very much consistent with GCU’s concern to promote global citizenship.”
John has worked closely with Gill Scott, Emeritus Professor, who led the now defunct Scottish Poverty Information Unit at GCU, to publish a series of Poverty in Scotland books.
The publication is a collaboration between the Child Poverty Action Group, the Open University, GCU and the Poverty Alliance.
John explains: “The series started a long time ago when there was a dearth of information about poverty and conditions in Scotland.
“In time, these books have developed to place the issue of poverty at the heart of political debate, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Jackie Baillie MSP speaking at the launch of the last edition.”
The last edition was published before the 2014 referendum, setting out principles for a fairer Scotland, whatever the outcome. The next will be pre-Scottish election 2016. John says that although there is much concern about the impact of welfare reform on the most vulnerable and the adverse impact of reduced resources for councils, there are also grounds for optimism in that the referendum reinvigorated a national debate about what had to be done to realise a “socially just Scotland”.
Another area of interest for John is children’s play and the role of environments on children, which may be challenged by poverty and lack of opportunity.
This work has seen him invited to speak in March to the Scottish Government’s play strategy group (led by Minister for Children and Young People, Aileen Campbell), on behalf of Play Scotland.
A current topic of focus is the future of Glasgow’s Children’s Wood, which is subject to a battle between developers and the community groups which use the space.
John says: “There is no one out there that doesn’t want children to have nice places to play.
“But we need to start making decisions that protect community spaces.”
John says there is hope that infrastructure investment from the City Deal, an agreement between the UK Government, Scottish Government and the eight Glasgow and Clyde Valley councils, might lead to significant revitalisation with a positive impact on urban environments.
However, he warns: “There is a risk that the benefits are not shared as widely as they could be, and that the investment works to the favour of some, but not for the majority.
“That is a particular issue in Glasgow, which has far more than its fair share of poverty and deprivation.
“Although ours is an exciting and vibrant city, there are also a lot of hidden problems.
“Making Glasgow work better for its most disadvantaged is a common weal that GCU researchers and graduates should work toward achieving in the years’ ahead.”