What the Big Society concept means to you?
Big Society to me ultimately means giving people the power to change communities for the better. It means to me that communities can come together in resident groups, neighbourhood watch groups and talk with the ‘experts’ but put forward their views.
It basically means that we have the chance to shape our community. For example residents in Southend know what our local area needs more so than people in Whitehall.
For example one council along with some residents, took over abandoned high street shops, and then let the young people wander in, play on the dance machine, sit on the sofa, hang out with their friends, take part in music workshops, and if they want, and only if they want, strike up conversations with various folk from the PCT, listen in on talks about alcohol or drugs, and sign up for sexual health tests.
David Cameron mentioned about volunteers potentially running post offices, libraries, transport services and housing projects. What projects have you been involved with in your ward?
On a personal level, I am not so concerned about the big ticket things like running of post offices. I want to promote projects that everyone wants to and can get involved with.
Myself and my colleague Blaine have organised resident’s groups in the ward. These meetings are held in local pubs, chip shops, internet cafes. We have also held meetings where we have invited the residents as well as key people in the community such as street scene officers, Citizen’s Advice Bureau, Turning Tides, the Member of Parliament. We ultimately do not want to run them, the idea is that the resident’s will then take the lead. These meetings have been met with a positive reaction with a good number of resident’s at each meeting
I have organised alleyway clearing projects where the local residents have been invited to help clear an alleyway near them (Southend has sooo many!!)
I am the current chair of the Kursaal People Foundation where we have our own football team made up of local residents.
On 28th August I am running an educational clinic in St John’s church for children and parents/carers. As a teacher I am putting on this taster session where they will come along and ask for help, with say maths, or their parents may want advice with helping with homework. The idea is that I will run these every two weeks in different parts of the ward.
On 20th August Blaine is running a football clinic for children to train and ultimately to start a youngsters football team.
Back in January myself and Blaine cleared some of the walkways on the Woodgrange Estate of snow and ice, the residents came to help. These residents gave up their own time to help their fellow neighbours. I hope and believe the Big Society will promote more of this type of behaviour.
I have been involved in a recent sponsored walk, a local resident orangised this and wanted to become involved following the election.
I have organised petitions with residents – these are great because they allow residents to get to know their neighbours and involves them in the demorcratic process.
And how far-reaching can you see the Big Society idea become in the future?
If David Cameron can see this community idea through then, I think this could be massive, potentially revolutionising the way local services are provided.
Critics say the Coalition is trying to get volunteers to do things for free which the government should do themselves. What do you say to this?
I don’t think this is an accurate view of the Big Society, though I do think the budgetary restraints the Government has inherited provide the opportunity to launch it.
I often have people complain that they do not have a say in their local area but I believe this could change that. David Cameron is a strong believer in localism, and this is a key aspect to that belief and the real reason for the Big Society.
How much state support should there be?
It is not about the government letting go, its about the government helping people to create the Big Society. The Government should help facilitate the access to the expertise that the “man in the street” needs to set his project up. That’s the kind of support I envisage in the long term.
And where will the money come from to fund some of these projects?
As far as I am aware, much of the funding with come from the Big Society Investment Bank, which in turn is using funds from dormant bank accounts. The UK has a large number of social enterprises providing services to residents up and down the country. These enterprises generate their own incomes and if successful can often become self funding.
The above comments formed part of a feature on the Big Society in the Evening Echo See article.