In my opinion, no-one talks about David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ any more, not even him.
For the cynics, the idea of the coalition government creating a ‘Big Society’ was about reducing or hiding the worst effects of their austerity measures on public services and to fill the gap left by central and local government cuts by encouraging the community and voluntary sector to pick up the slack… for nothing or, at least, very cheaply.
For those of a more positive disposition, the Big Society was about celebrating the huge contribution of the voluntary sector in the UK and encouraging more people to become volunteers or to become active in their local communities.
What’s actually happened since the Big Society was, in my view, quietly shelved by the Government, is that it has continued to happen anyway, just as it always has done, in spite, not because of Government policy.
Almost 11 million people volunteer in England at least once a month and many local communities benefit from the services they deliver.
From church groups, food banks (like the one based at the volunteer bureau in Eastwood), parent and toddler groups, community cafes, training projects, credit unions, swimming and football clubs, charity shops and visiting and befriending schemes, to local members of big national charities such as Oxfam, Amnesty International, Macmillan Cancer Support and Save the Children, volunteers are the lifeblood of many organisations that local people value and depend on.
Many of these still receive some support from local government in the form of grants but funding for most of them has been vastly reduced over the past four years. Those that survive have done so by using their ingenuity and creativity and by adapting to a harsher economic environment. But they have also survived because of the commitment, dedication and hard work of their volunteers and by the generosity of those who support them.
So the Big Society is alive and kicking, just as it’s always been but we don’t call it that.
It’s there because local people want it, value it and contribute to it.