Bridget welcomed the Future of Citizenship report which addresses the relationship between the citizen and the state – and which challenges government to do better to bring both sides together. She spoke of the report’s findings that people are more than happy to engage in horizontal citizenship (engagement between neighbours, behaving morally and with good manners) but that there is little vertical interaction with authority – either through engagement with public services, in voting or in holding elected officials to account.
Bridget acknowledged the importance of creating a new dialogue around citizenship and of government listening more. She spoke about a range of projects where young people have (for example) become more involved in governance of their school or where they have used internet radio to engage in dialogue with local politicians about local issues of importance to them – and suggested that more activities of this type are essential to re-engage citizens.
In the final part of her speech, Bridget pointed out that, once citizens begin to re-engage with the democratic process, government will need to do everything it can to keep the conversation going and to nurture and maintain the connection. She was particularly hopeful that projects using new technology – such as the Love Lewisham project and the Digital Dialogues initiative – will help achieve this. She finished by suggesting that there is plenty of scope for further innovative thinking to ensure that participation and democracy are strengthened – and that government must listen to the report’s findings that it needs to do more to engage citizens.
Elsewhere in the news one of the themes to emerge has been family. We know that strong relationships are an important part of successful parenting and that marriage represents the pinnacle of a strong relationship. But that doesn’t mean that other family structures can’t thrive and it doesn’t mean that all children in traditional families benefit. When a marriage is troubled, children often suffer. I think issues surrounding the family have come a long way since the days of Conservative MPs attacking single mothers and that the last ten years have had a civilising effect on the debate.
In Lewisham itself I had the privilege of visiting the Downham Health & Leisure Centre (check my photo gallery!). It’s a fantastic development which will serve the whole community. As well as an activity room, a wonderful pool and a community hall, there are also GP surgeries, IT facilities, a fitness suite and – after all that – a café in which to relax. It opens on the 12th March and if you join before then you’ll enjoy a 20% discount. I’ll be mentioning the Health & Leisure Centre a lot over the next few weeks and I want to know what you think about it. Maybe your feedback will feature in my next column.