Community leisure activities are a great asset to society, especially during times of austerity
What do bingo and the coalition’s big society have in common? Why should you care as you fire-fight debilitating budget cuts? These two questions are addressed in the latest Respublica report, Clubbing together: the hidden wealth of communities, which examines the value of social activities for which people regularly congregate. Informal pursuits from bingo to knitting bring people together in a particularly beneficial way. Such activities help grow the big society as springboards for voluntary and charitable giving.
Group leisure pursuits also bring far broader and more tangible benefits to communities suffering under austerity measures. Clubs and activities which emulate them help tackle looming problems in society, the report suggests. They are tried and trusted methods for combating loneliness, improving well-being and building resilience against civil disorders by improving community cohesion. These are not baseless claims, they are backed by research.
The official inquiry into the August riots found that 71 per cent of disturbances were in areas ranked the worst 10 per cent for official measures of social cohesion. A well-being review carried out in 2008 by the Government Office for Science ranked ‘connecting with others’ as the top of five well-being equivalents to the five fruit and vegetables we’re prescribed to stay physically well.
Social landlords’ role in growing ‘social capital’ - a term which captures the worth of our relationship with others - has been recognised by Respublica and others. Our report urges landlords to consider how to encourage a ‘hot housing’ of club culture. How can you help bring together your residents? What kind of physical space can you provide? In these days of austerity, we should seek out any way to benefit our communities. We must club together.
Keith Cooper is a freelance researcher, writer and Respublica associate