Shane has some thoughts on the Big Society out where he lives in Bradford on Avon, they’re worth a read. He argues that the Big Society is:
Local people taking control of their local facilities and making them work. The swimming pool as we know it will close. We need to choose if, we as a town, want to keep it. It needs to become our swimming pool, not the council’s. Big Society isn’t about closing council run facilities. They are going to close anyway. We can’t afford them. Big Society is a way of keeping them open.
For swimming pools in Bradford read libraries across Lewisham. On which, Antonio Rizzo (a manager in the library service) in response to the post about the proposal to close Blackheath library calls for the service and its users to:
1.build on what counts the most, that is the energy and passion you have for your library service,
2.ditch anything that is stopping us from growing and developing better services for residents, and
3.make the most of the common drive to engage with the local community that other agents share with us.
Shane’s call for social activism, for community take-over of services, seems more in tune with how these things can be given a hope of life than a return to the approaches that worked in 1999.
What worries me is less the transfer of assets – admittedly tricky in Blackheath’s case as the library is rented rather than owned – but whether our civic society is geared up for the slog of running services week in week out. Shane’s right that passionate people do all the time, my son’s cricket club has those people at its heart, but we’re asking or expecting a big change if this is to be replicated in what have previously been mainstream services.
I’m reminded of a paper that Demos wrote a few years ago which estimated that there are about 1% of the population who are committed social activists. For the Big Society to have a chance of saving swimming pools or libraries I think we may need a few more people.