Here you'll find a resource for keeping up-to-date on the highlights of the ideas, programs and controversies surrounding British Prime Minister David Cameron's "Big Society" agenda. His plan to de-centralize services to the local level of government and supplement government service provision with citizen engagement activities is ambitious. Can it also be successful? What does the success or failure of the Big Society in Great Britain imply for civic engagement efforts and local government programs in the USA?

These questions are of particular interest to the Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership as we seek to help solve public problems by promoting self governance.

New to Big Society? Check out our foundational documents »

Room for Small Charities in Big Society?

A recent piece in politics.co.uk raises some interesting concerns about how privatization can favor large charities or for-profit companies.  Are the concerns legitimate? Are there ways to promote involvement from smaller, more local groups as well?

Even the Centre for Social Justice, which typically is rather in favour of this sort of thing, is voicing concerns. Its research found English charities with annual incomes of under £100,000 now receive 3.5% of total voluntary sector income, down from 5.4% in 2006. Mega-charities with over £5 million a year and constituting just 1.2% of sector organisations currently attract 69% of total income.

You can read more here.

Big Society Award: Swaledale Festival

The Swaledale Festival, a charity focused on community art, recently received the Prime Minister’s Big Society Award:

The Swaledale Festival is a charity, run by two part-time staff and an army of local volunteers, works with communities in Richmond and the surrounding area throughout the year to develop a variety of arts projects for local people.

The Swaledale Festival Percussion project inspired 100 children in five Richmondshire schools. The children worked with a local woodwork experts to make instruments while learning technical, manual and communication skills as well as learning about local heritage. The five-month project ended in March with all the children performing with professional Samba band Forro Porro to a sell-out audience in a local church, playing the instruments they had helped to make.

You can read more here.

Community Rights and Community Empowerment

Co-Operative news recently ran a piece detailing whether coalition policies have been successful in empowering communities to make – and implement – local decisions:

DCLG provided over £60m in the form of advice, support and grants (available until 2015) and works closely with community enterprise network Locality (formed in 2011), Social Investment Business and other partners, including the Plunkett Foundation, Social Enterprise UK and Urban Forum.

We have spoken to nine individuals associated within the co-operative movement to see what the scheme has achieved, what the failures are – and what the hope is for future policy.

You can read the interviews here.

Partnerships for difficult times

A recent article in the Chester Chronicle looks at an event promoting partnerships between faith groups and civic agencies:

Lord Mayor of Chester Bob Rudd was among 180 people to attend Link Up’s Faith in the Community event with key speakers including Cheshire West and Chester Council chief executive Steve Robinson, Bishop of Birkenhead Keith Sinclair and Matt Bird, chair of the Cinnamon Network, who helps organisations build relationships

Performing was Fallen Angels Dance Theatre, a Chester-based group who work with people recovering from drug and alcohol dependencies.

The promotional flyer for the event, where 25 groups also exhibited, read: “In times of economic and social change, communities have time and again demonstrated extraordinary hope and resilience.

You can read more here.

Big Society Award: CRASH

The homelessness charity CRASH recently received the Prime Minister’s Big Society Award for their role in rebuilding a West Dorset Shelter:

Partners EC Harris and BAM Construction LTD recently rebuilt accommodation and community rooms for the Pilson Community.

The shelter recently unveiled its new facilities after a £1.3million makeover, as reported by the Bridport News.

Mr Cameron said: “The innovative approach CRASH takes harnesses the world-class skills and products of our construction industry to tackle the issue of homelessness.

You can read more here.