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 »
The town of Arundel West Sussex is using the spirit of the Big Society to help preserve and teach the town’s history:
In Arundel West Sussex the Big Society is alive and well, with over 90 volunteers working tirelessly over a period of 5 years to raise funding (including a successful Heritage Lottery bid) to build a new Museum to keep alive the rich history of this fascinating town.
A total of £1.5m was raised and the new building looks resplendent on the banks of the River Arun and opposite the entrance to Arundel Castle, seat of the Duke of Norfolk. The artefacts are now out of storage and Arundel Museum is open for business.
The museum is a place of living history and community building. You can read more here.
Highlighting three very different organizations that have recently received the Prime Minister’s Big Society Award:
1. British Gas Pools 4. Schools:
A partnership programme between British Gas, the Amateur Swimming Association and Total Swimming, British Gas Pools 4 Schools aims to get more children swimming and has already helped 30,000 youngsters across the country learn since its launch in 2009.
The initiative constructs temporary mobile swimming pools for up to 12 weeks, often in schools that do not have access to pools. After school hours, the pools are open to the community so that as many people as possible in the local area benefit.
2. British Paraorchestra:
Prime Minister David Cameron said: “The talented musicians of Paraorchestra inspired a worldwide audience when they performed alongside Coldplay at the closing ceremony of the Paralympic Games. Paraorchestra is providing opportunities, challenging perceptions and entertaining audiences. This Big Society Award celebrates a phenomenal 2012 for the orchestra and looks forward to an exciting future for everyone involved.”
3. Smart Works:
Smart Works, a charity helping unemployed women, has been recognised by Prime Minister David Cameron with a Big Society Award.
As London Fashion Week hits the capital, the Prime Minister has commended a London-based charity whose patron is top UK designer Betty Jackson. Smart Works has been singled out for its innovative work helping unemployed women prepare for job interviews, providing them with business clothes to boost their confidence and giving them the interview skills and advice they need to feel work-ready.
More than 50% of Smart Works clients secure a job within a month of their visit to the charity. A team of more than 70 dedicated volunteers offer fashion and styling advice followed by one-to-one interview training and confidence building support.
InstructAbility, which offers free fitness industry, including qualification and help with job placement, to disabled people has received the Prime Minister’s Big Society Award:
The InstructAbility programme, providing free fitness industry training for disabled people, offers participants the chance to gain a Level 2 gym instructor qualification and gives support to find employment within the fitness industry. More than 40% of graduates have gone on to get jobs as fitness professionals. Once qualified, instructors undertake a voluntary placement in the industry where they work to encourage more disabled people to get active, making them feel welcome in gyms and sports clubs.
Successful graduates of the programme include individuals with spinal cord injury, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, limb loss, visual impairment, post-traumatic stress, depression and loss of function caused by stroke, brain injury, osteoarthritis and other conditions affecting skeletal and neuromuscular function.
You can read more here.
A new program seeks to promote Civic-mindedness in Great Britain by taking the Spirit of the Olympics to celebrate personal achievement:
This project, delivered by the Society Network Foundation – the charitable arm of the Big Society Network – with funding from the Big Lottery Fund, will capture that extraordinary social energy unleashed by the London Olympic and Paralympic Games 2012 by encouraging charities, schools, community organisations and members of the public across the nation to take part in the first ever Britain’s Personal Best Weekend on 4 to 6 October 2013, striving to achieve their own personal bests, whether in sports, arts, education or enterprise.
During the games, the recording of competitors’ personal bests, or PBs, became commonplace as athletes secured lifetime achievements. The idea behind Britain’s Personal Best was simple – to take the notion of the personal best and move it from its current association with elite athletic accomplishment and instead invite everyone in the UK to achieve a PB as part of a new annual national celebration of personal achievement.
You can read more here.
Sir Stuart Etherington, Chief Executive of NCVO looks at how approaches to funding are changing in the Big Society:
the government and some other funders are taking a high-risk, “venture capital” approach to grants nowadays; scattering seed funding among lots of new organisations and projects in the hope that a few of them will fly.
Sir Stuart said the government and the Big Lottery Fund in particular seemed to be pursuing a strategy of disinvesting from established organisations and awarding funds to new organisations and new projects.
NCVO was one of dozens of Cabinet Office strategic partners that lost funding when the government decided to pare down and eventually phase out its strategic partner programme.