When one talks about the Big Society, at the heart of it, the concern is to improve people’s quality of life: the environment they live in and the social fabric they’re part of. Making that happen is the job of local residents, and the surrounding businesses that serve these communities. Places of worship and youth groups also play a part in this.
How does the community keep doing this work with reduced resources, ensuring that businesses support the local community (for example, by working with local social enterprises and trading with local suppliers) and encouraging voluntary action? In that context it isn’t surprising that when ideas of user-led public services, social action and neighbourhood involvement are articulated by government under the banner of Big Society, they tend to be greeted with scepticism and hostility.
Combining experiences from the past, telling stories from the present and mapping out future opportunities and threats in order to move forward and build on the community-led spirit should be what lies on the road ahead. Traditionally this has happened through groups that compete as often as they collaborate, and through individuals who often struggle to make an impact in an arena where the big, bland consultancies grab all the strategic advisory roles. What do we need to turn this into reality? We need doers and thinkers, and innovators who understand the diversity and richness of social action, and who are prepared to share their knowledge with each other. We need people who are prepared to invest modest amounts of time and resources.