Bryan Hutchinson, chief executive at Voluntary Action Swindon (VAS) in John Street, Swindon, the charity that provides the town’s voluntary and community organisations with knowledge, training and resources, gives his take on the idea.
The Big Society, in my view, is one in which individuals feel big: big in terms of being supported and enabled, being capable of creating change in their neighbourhood.
And Big Society is very much alive in Swindon with between 1,000 and 2,000 groups of all sizes working on a multitude of projects and in most neighbourhoods.
At VAS we are delighted with the contribution of many individuals in Swindon who make the town a better place to live, and I want to say thank you for your contribution. Without your work Swindon could not function.
There is also micro volunteering, teams of work colleagues who do everything from painting and gardening to tidying a street of litter.
Nick Hurd MP, Minister for Civil Society, said recently: “Our country faces a huge challenge in reducing the public sector deficit. Everyone has a role to play in addressing this.”
The danger for ‘volunteering’ is that public services are cut and there may be an expectation that the public can start doing these activities for free. Fortunately Swindon Council realises we need help and VAS continues to receive financial support from them and the Big Lottery. Voluntary effort does cost: individuals need to be trained in the same way as paid staff, people need specialist advice about a wide range of issues from safety to first aid, and recruitment. They need help with somewhere to meet, and practical things like printing leaflets and creating web sites.
Finally I do feel inspired by the idea of ‘your square mile’ where a few local individuals get together, decide what needs changing locally and just get on and do it!
Clearly government can help by minimizing red tape and giving us permission to make things happen. Also business can help by encouraging and helping staff to volunteer.
What next? If you can help think what needs to be done, get together with others and make it happen. VAS can help with advice on where to look for funds, printing leaflets and publicising your activities. See what we do at: www.vas-swindon.org
We’re also close partners with Swindon Volunteers. If you need ideas on how you can contribute your time and skills to an organisation in 2011, contact them via www.swindonvolunteers.org.uk