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 »

Big Society Award: EE Tech Tea Parties

The British internet service provider and mobile operator EE is the latest recipient of the Prime Minister’s Big Society Award: 

Guests from Age UK and local charities are given the opportunity to spend around 2 hours, 1-to-1, with an EE Digital Champion who helps them with tech challenges such as teaching them how to text, use an iPad or set up an email account.

Guests to the tea parties bring kit they want to learn more about and EE champions bring additional devices so they can demonstrate what technology can do. Since its 2013 launch, EE has held 68 Techy Tea Parties, with over 565 of their employees volunteering to improve the digital skills of 861 people. Techy Tea Parties have been held in 28 different locations across the UK and there are plans to further expand the project this year. EE employees don’t need to be tech experts – it’s about spending time with someone from their local community.

You can read more here.

Support for Mobile Youth Project

In the Boston area of Lincolnshire, local Big Society funds are being used to support a creative mobile youth program: 

The RoadHog Bus works with churches in the Boston area, and was visited by more than 4,000 young people last year.

Staffed by volunteers, it visits several rural locations, providing young people with a safe place to go and meet others. They can take part in games and activities, or benefit from the chance to use the quiet space upstairs to talk to supportive adult volunteers.

Coun Austin said: “I’ve chosen to give all my awards to support young people in the south Boston area including this donation to the RoadHog Bus to help with their running costs. They provide a fantastic service to young people, many of whom live in fairly isolated locations, plus it gives them a place to meet friends in a supportive environment.”

You can read more here.

Big Society Award: GoodGym

GoodGym, an organization that combines fitness and neighborliness, is the latest recipient of the Prime Minister’s Big Society Award: 

“GoodGym came from a frustration with all of this energy being wasted in gyms; we’re trying to make it easy for people to direct this into doing good. We’re helping people get fit by lifting things that need to be lifted and giving them a reason to get out for a run. It helps to keep people motivated and ensures that many older people get the support they need,” said Gormley in a statement.

GoodGym also organizes local weekly group runs for people of all fitness levels which always combine fitness and supporting local community projects.

You can read more here.

Big Society Debt Counselling?

The Guardian highlights the Christians Against Poverty, and how the volunteer-run debt charity is busier than ever: 

In addition to the helpline, the charity has 239 debt centres working out of churches, 71 church-based job clubs and a money course designed to prevent people from getting into debt. It has around 7,000 volunteers and 250 paid staff working across the UK.

Barlow says that CAP keeps no official record of how many staff are practising Christians but believes that most are. He makes no bones about the role faith plays in his leadership of the charity. “I couldn’t run a setup such as this without it,” he says. But he emphasises that it is “absolutely not a requirement” for clients seeking help to share the faith. Choosing his words carefully, he adds: “We make a sensitive invitation [to visit church] at the appropriate time, but there is no pressure whatsoever.”

CAP is one of an increasing number of Christian organisations working in the field of social welfare. The Trussell Trust – the leading provider of food banks across the country – is another, and the two have close ties, with the trust’s 400-odd food banks often running alongside CAP’s centres. Barlow says it is not unusual when visiting a client to find that they also have empty kitchen cupboards.

You can read more here.


Volunteer Elder Care

Big Society Capital is helping to fund the administrative, recruiting, and training costs for an initiative launched by DERiC to provide support for elderly people across Britain: 

The plan aims to improve the quality of life for older people in need through the recruitment and training of volunteers. Not only will volunteers be meeting basic material needs, such as cleaning the house and preparing lunch and dinner, but they will also provide valuable psychological help, by spending time chatting, accompanying people to church on Sundays or going for walks in the park. According to the project’s leaders, this could generate savings of £1 billion in terms of services and costs, due to an increase in well-being, independence and home care, and also due to a lower rate of admissions to hospitals and nursing homes and less expense on medication.

You can read more here.