Monday 9 January 2012

Building The Big Society

The idea of The Big Society is great - in concept. It's the Blitz Spirit writ large. Everyone does their bit, and together we forge a Britain that's a more compassionate and productive place.
The problem is that no-one can quite figure out how it's supposed to be done. Since the Coalition came to power, the Big Society concept has been relaunched four times. No-one seems sure what it is, what it means for us, and how it's supposed to work out there in the real world.
The problem, at least according to a Royal Society Of Arts study, is that of education. For the Big Society to work as more than an abstract concept, there needs to be a major push to make people aware not just of what they're expected to do under the scheme, but also what it can do for them. It's a tricky job to get right. It involves signing up and taking part in activities that the majority of the population don't believe are their responsibility.
David Cameron has tasked a workgroup to look into the problem. One of the first recommendations is a trench of formal and informal education that will help teach us about notions of solidarity and responsibility. Citizen school, in other words. It's not such a bad idea to my mind, but you do have to wonder where the money for it is coming from.
In fact, it's very easy to pick holes in what is after all an early working document. But it's clear what needs to happen. The Big Society concept has to be nudged away from a purely economic "we have to pull together because if we don't the country's going down the pan" argument, to a more social "it's fun and everyone benefits" strategy. We see ad hoc community efforts springing up all over the place, and the Big Society will be a success if it can figure out where they come from and replicate them on a country-wide scale. I still find it interesting that the RSA, rather than the charity and voluntary sectors are so heavily involved at this stage in proceedings. We'll see what the new workgroup comes up with. Who knows? Fourth time could be the charm.

(Side note: hello and Happy New 2012 to you all. The New Year resolution from The Blog At The End Of The Pier is an expansion of remit. I will be writing more often about the charity and voluntary sector, especially as this year would seem to be the one where Cameron's Big Society plans are more likely to impact upon them, and therefore on Pier 32 as a whole. It should be interesting to see what happens, and I hope you'll join me in finding out.)

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