I’ve been spending quite a bit of time recently (in a professional capacity) travelling around the country doing some field research in the area of community service delivery.
Although Mr. Cameron will say that the “Big Society” is all his idea (or if it fails, Steve Hilton’s), community supported services have been delivered by talented and dedicated people for a long, long time beneath everyone’s radar and with only limited support from any central or local government agency.
I could go on forever about the current situation and how the government’s focus on trying to build new capacity by selling the idea of volunteering to the masses is missing the point that there is already huge amounts of effort already being expended – and making a hugely positive impact. Well they would be if they weren’t being completely choked by the current funding environment (or lack thereof). Indeed if the government spent a little more time directing local authorities to use their newly decentralised powers to support the local initiatives that are already in place and delivering valuable and well needed services, then the Big Society (which I believe is a great idea that is worth supporting) may actually have a chance.
Don’t get me wrong – I do think that there are still a huge number of efficiency savings that can be made but I don’t think that this is best achieved by stopping all funding to everyone, which is effectively what has happened whether it was the intention or not. There is definitely something wrong with the current implementation strategy – and it needs to be fixed. Quickly!
Rant over for now… the purpose of this post is to draw your attention to some outputs from some of these Big Society initiatives that are already in place. I have over the past couple of weeks been to a number of local community centres that support mental health issues in different parts of the country. In every location there is one thing that strikes you – and that is the amount of artwork that adorns the walls throughout the communal areas. And it is not only the quantity of art – but also the quality. Some of it, like these two pieces pictured here from Sevenoaks (artist unknown – which is a real shame) and Manchester have both been created by people with serious mental health issues not currently being directly supported in any way by the local authorities but instead dependent on the voluntary sector organisations (in this case Mind and St.Lukes).
I think both works have real value in their own right – and it is satisfying to know that the process of developing them is also aiding the artist directly in terms of managing their own health issues. Truly inspirational!