Remember the Big Society’? It was David Cameron’s Big Idea trumpeted by the Prime Minister in July 2010 as the “biggest redistribution of power from elites in Whitehall to the man and woman on the street”. Keen to present alternatives to talk about cuts, the Tory leader went on to talk about the liberation of volunteers and activists to help their own communities.
Fast forward four and a half years and, in a short article on the theory and practice of the Big Society concept, Rodney Schwartz, CEO of social investors Clearly So, suggests that it was pubic suspicion that the Big Society was itself a smokescreen for budget cuts that made it difficult to have a debate free from the politics.
If Big Society is dead, what about ‘Small Society’?
The phrase – small society – comes from a recent piece on BBC Radio 4 in which writer Martin Wroe talked about getting his news from the local shop – not in print, but in person from the shop owner. As Wroe observed “the best kind [of local shop owners] show how the small society is often more significant than the big society, adding value to a community that can never be measured.”
Amid the clutter of social media – I’m a late convert to Twitter, Facebook and, er, blogging – I realise that my ‘small society’ is what goes on in our road (a narrow but relatively busy bus route across town) when I’m washing the car.
Surprisingly often, a fellow choir member will drive past in her bus – she’s the driver not the owner – with a smile and the odd comment as she carefully manoeuvres her 12-ton machine past the parked cars (including mine!) I say ‘hello’ to neighbours coming in and out on both sides of the house and over the road – they’re an active lot. I even got an offer of two pallets from the ridiculously-young-looking-couple two doors up who are completely gutting their house!
Talking of pallets, my Small Society Spring Project is to make a Little Free Library from reclaimed wood to go outside our house. We’re on the route to the station for trains into London and Cambridge. Passengers walk by in good numbers and offering them a free and changing supply of books is an alternative to taking them (the books, not the passengers) to the charity shops and it will hardly threaten our wonderful local library.
If all goes to plan, I’m also hoping we’ll be making pallet-wood Little Free Libraries for others at The Repair Shed where I work. If you fancy the idea, keep an eye out at www.communityactiondacorum.org/the-repair-shed or drop me a line – we’d be happy to make one for you!
Little Free Libraries – http://littlefreelibrary.org