Posted by: Lydia Stockdale10/12/2010
The government’s telling people to do things for themselves, but it won’t provide the staff or the money to help them along the way – so how is the Big Society going to work?
This is the question that ran throughout Octavia Housing’s annual lecture ‘Big Society? – a long term perspective’, held last Wednesday at the Leighton House Museum in west London.
Judging by what Dame Fiona Reynolds, director general of The National Trust, which has 60,000 volunteers across the UK, had to say, the creating a Big Society isn’t going to be easy.
In order to work, the Big Society’s going to rely on individuals working for free for the greater good. In Ms Reynolds’ experience, ‘People do things because it comes from the heart’.
‘They like being part of something bigger. They absolutely want to feel they are doing something that makes them feel they are contributing in a big way,’ she explained.
Encouraging volunteering ‘is about being sensitive to those motivations,’ she added, before questioning whether it was something the ‘government can come along and make happen’.
‘The idea that the government can orchestrate Big Society is something a bit risky.’
Another speaker at the lecture was Anne Power, a professor of social policy at the London School of Economics whose work focuses on difficult-to-manage housing estates. She says that although people living in low income communities may not volunteer for organisations like The National Trust, they give up plenty of time to ‘community anchors’ like schools.
Unlike the type of self conscious involvement described by Ms Reynolds people living in the communities Ms Power has studied might not recognise that they’re contributing to the Big Society. ‘They want everything cleaned up, everything safe, everything safe – not fancy things,’ she said.
There are already thousands of people out there giving their time for causes they believe in – but is it fair to thrust great amounts of responsibility upon them? Won’t that be offputting for many?
‘We’re in big danger of forgetting that we do need organisation – we are a complex society,’ concluded Ms Power. ‘At the time we’re trying to create a Big Society, the government is taking away the money. It’s all very silly.’
If you’d like to hear The Octavia Housing Lecture 2010 for yourself, it is available in audio here: http://octaviahousing.org.uk/about-us/news/view.php?Id=394
I’m interested in finding out what Inside Housing’s readers think about the Big Society – is it realistic? Please post or comments or email me at email@example.com
From Out of office
What the Inside Housing writers have been up to when they’ve been prised away from their desks