Big society was never a government initiative

It was a label to put on the self-sufficient work that communities have always done, and the capacity for which, over many decades a series of governments have effectively eroded. As McKnight says

‘competent communities have been invaded, captured, and colonized by professionalized services’

and I would say seriously weakened as a consequence. Now that some debt needs paying off, and the ‘professional services’ are being withdrawn, the ask is that we pick up where we left off, as if all that capacity and capability could just be turned on and off like a tap.

And, that instead of focussing on real needs, we focus instead on how we can help these professionalised service providers to maintain their empires through ‘volunteering’.

Sadly many of us have been complicit in the professionalisation of services as we convert civic endeavours into social enterprises and re focus community development on state funded policy objectives – instead of having confidence to work on the priorities that we find at our own kitchen tables and at the places where, increasingly rarely, our neighbours meet.

So for me it is about re-discovering self-sufficiency, self-interest and association as the means through which we can build fair futures for as many as possible, with governments and their policies and procedures being seen increasingly as, at best, impotent.

For me Big Society was never an inspiring initiative but really just a political land grab. But the work of building our communities needs to be bought back inside our communities and we need to recognise that any form of dependence on our government as an investor needs to be handled with immense care. For they are often a fickle investor. Much of my work at the moment is helping a range of charities, social enterprises and other components of the beloved Big Society to re-build themselves in a world where the public money has simply disappeared.

Building a strategy for social change based on assumptions that the state will be a benevolent and consistent investor has always been risky.

This post was first published as a comment on, and inspired by Tessy Britton’s piece Big Society R.I.P.

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