About the Relationships Project

The Relationships Project was conceived by David Robinson after 40 years of working on the causes and consequences of various social problems including youth crime, unemployment and social isolation. Read David’s latest thinking.

I am a community worker. I helped set up and lead Community Links for 40 odd years. Here I worked with many different groups – homeless people, people leaving prison, lots of children in, or on the brink of, care. Repeatedly unpeeling these problems has revealed relationships that have either broken down or never existed to a meaningful degree and, equally consistently, the building or rebuilding of good and meaningful relationships has been a big part of the answer.

Whilst relationship building in different forms and contexts has been a consistent thread in my own working life, relational poverty has become more widespread and acute across society. As a society we network and transact more than ever but meaningful connection is increasingly designed out of the services we use and the places where we live and work. This has implications for us all, but especially for those who are already most disadvantaged.  

I established the Relationships Project to tackle the question: how do we build a better society by building better relationships? Or in specific application, how do we build a better school, a better health service, business, criminal justice system – and so forth?

David Robinson, Founder of The Relationships Project

The team

We’re a small core team based at Shift, a charity that uses a user-centred, design-led approach to tackle tricky social problems.

David Robinson

David is a community worker based in east London. He has been involved in lots of social innovations and has helped to set up several organisations including Shift, Children’s Discovery Centre and Community Links


Sam Firman

Sam is a researcher based in Canada. He completed Year Here and worked for a social enterprises including Tech for Good and tbd*. He’s also working on a guidebook on Greece and slowly converting a camper van. 


Immy Robinson

Immy (no relation to David!) is an Innovation Lead at Shift and co-lead of the Relationships Project. Outside of work she’s a keen amateur jockey and can often be found hurtling around muddy fields on horseback.


Zahra Davidson

Zahra is a Service Designer and entrepreneur based in South London. She co-founded and directs Enrol Yourself, a social enterprise which facilitates lifelong learning through the power of peer groups. 


The case for investing in better relationships

The power of hello

The doctor sits on the bed, takes an elderly man’s hand between her own, looks him in the eye and says “Good morning, Dennis.” He looks up. He listens. He smiles. Most of all he takes notice, he co-operates in his own care. Not an hour later a nurse appears, lifts his arm and takes his blood pressure. Not a word. “I’m not dead yet,” he says without moving. He refuses lunch.

All data, no heart

I realise on Sunday that my credit card is missing. I search everywhere for two days before beginning the tedious business of cancelling and ordering a new one. Suddenly I remember going to Morrisons last week. Sure enough, my card was found five days ago. I’ve done the weekly family shop in the same store for 20 years. I know from the mail shots how much they know about me – not least where I live, my phone number, my email address and how much they “value our relationship”. Yet no one called. Next week I’ll go to Tesco instead.

Sound familiar?

As a society, we network and transact more than ever but meaningful connection has been increasingly designed out of the services we use and the places where we live and work.

Now imagine a place that is designed around strong and meaningful relationships. How would it be different?

Longitudinal research shows that social relationships are crucial to our health and happiness. Indeed, evidence for the importance of relationships to our health is now compelling and astonishing. Relationships are life-changing on a collective level, too. There are many profound links between neighbourly relationships, for example, and socioeconomic outcomes such as happiness, productivity, crime and social cohesion. Good relationships are also essential to effective public services, especially for particularly vulnerable people who rely on them most. Good relationships provide us with assurance, purpose, health, support, and happiness. 


Research shows that interacting with people at the periphery of our daily lives – ‘weak ties’ – improves our wellbeing


Research also finds that strong, connected communities lead to significant cost savings across the economy


Our own research shows that investing in relationships pays off in a range of different contexts

Joining the dots

To help grow the evidence base for relationship-centred practice, we’re curating an open, collaborative blog series called Joining the Dots. Contributors to date include Iona Lawrence, Michael Little, Rufus Olins, Radhika Bynon, Ray Shostak, Nick Stanhope, Clare Wightman and Steve Wyler. If you’d like to contribute your own thoughts to this series, please contact David.

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We're grateful to our funders and partners for their continued support. If you're interested in supporting the Relationships Project, we'd love to hear from you. Please get in touch with David.