The Big Society, Part 2 – Volunteering and My Local Area

Church Green and St. Stephen's Church in centr...

Church Green and St. Stephen’s Church in central Redditch (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Part 1 I shard my responses to the massobs spring directive on the Big Society questions on the Big Society itself and ‘Community’. In this part the questions are about voluntary work and my local area, here are my responses…

Voluntary Work

Do you do any voluntary work? Yes, I am currently volunteering in my local British Heart Foundation (BHF) charity shop and I have done a variety of other voluntary work in the past.

Or perhaps you help someone out in an informal way? No

Please describe the work that you do. As above, I was also a volunteer charity trustee for a small organisation called Link-Upp which provided networking and support to parent/carer support groups for parent of children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) or disabilities until July 2012 when the charity merged with another and I stepped down as I no longer live in Birmingham where the charity is based and provides its services.

How did you find out about this opportunity? I found out about volunteering in the BHF shop by seeing a poster in the window of the store asking for new volunteers. I found out about Link-Upp through attending a parent carer support group due to my own children having disabilities and my son having SEN.

How long have you been doing it? I started at BHF in April 2012. I started with Link-Upp in November 2005 and helped with administrative tasks until November 2006, but I went back in February 2008 as a trustee instead. On and off I have been doing voluntary work since 1996, when I was 19.

How is the voluntary work you do arranged (e.g. through a formal organisation, or is it done informally through groups of friends and neighbours)? Volunteering at BHF is organised by the charity.  At Link-Upp two larger organisations, Contact and Family and Birmingham Carer’s Support Initiative initially had the idea for setting up the charity and support groups, parent’s and carers were invited to a meeting about it and people volunteered to form a steering group of parents, carers and representatives from the two organisations who would support the volunteers in establishing the charity and its work.

Why do you do it? I have always enjoyed volunteering, wanting to be part of something that helps people that I find interesting and get’s me out of the house for a bit while I am not working in paid employment. It also looks good on your CV!

How does volunteering make you feel? It makes me feel like I am doing a small bit to help others and contributing something back to my community.

Do you feel that you could do more voluntary work? I guess I probably could do more, but at the same time I need to be looking for paid work, volunteering doesn’t pay the bills!

What about our society? Do we do enough/too much voluntary work? Realistically it would be nice to think that we shouldn’t need to have people volunteering for any work as we should get paid for the work we do, but at the same time it’s clear that will never happen and it would be nice if more people felt that volunteering was a good use of their time, especially if they are not in paid work.

Are there certain jobs that should only be carried out by the State or some other body? If so, what jobs are these? Tough one, it made me think about things like the Territorial Army (although they do get paid) and voluntary police (Specials) and fire officers etc. I don’t think ‘who’ carries out certain jobs is necessarily the important thing, so long as the people doing it are given proper training to do the job properly and looked after well by whoever is responsible for them. Of course, again, getting paid would be nice…

If these are not carried out by the State, who should carry them out? Properly trained people, regardless of whether it is the State or someone else carrying out the work.

Who should fund these jobs? The government/State should fund any work that is not related to a private business, where the work is linked to such an organisation they should take on responsibility for funding the jobs themselves. Are there certain tasks that are best left to voluntary organisations rather than the State or the market? Why do you think this is so? I don’t think so, I suppose that local or specialist knowledge may help mean certain tasks are handled better by groups that understand the needs and requirements of the customers/clients for the services or products they provide  is important but that doesn’t mean the State should not, ultimately, have overall responsibility.

You and your local area

Can you describe the area that you live in? I live in a suburb of a small town called Redditch, just south of Birmingham. Dual carriageways, trees and open, green spaces make the area stand out as more rural than its larger neighbour. Industrial estates are situated alongside almost every housing estate, along with supermarkets. In the town centre the Kingfisher Shopping Centre hosts the majority of the shops, with just a few on the streets outside. It is a fairly quiet area in comparison to where I lived when I lived in Birmingham. Transport links are reasonable with the M42 close by and half hourly train connection to Birmingham, but bus services are weak compared to Birmingham. Leisure facilities are limited with only one cinema, one theatre, no bowling alley, two nightclubs (which are only open Thursday to Saturday) and a few sporting facilities, such as the Abbey Stadium and the Skatepark. Places of interest are also minimal; Forge Mill Needle Museum, Bordersley Abbey being the two main places along with Arrow Valley Country Park and Morton Stanley Park.

Do you think of it as a ‘poor’ or ‘rich’ area? Or is it a mixture of both? I wouldn’t say it is ‘poor’ although there is quite a lot of unemployment there are lots of areas that are much worse around the UK. Properties vary in condition from poor and unkempt to quite posh (in the Astwood Bank and Hunt’s End areas) but most are in reasonable condition. I would class it as a mainly lower/working class region with a limited amount of people at each end of the ‘rich’ ‘poor’ scale.

What sorts of communities live/belong in your area? Errm I’m not entirely sure what is meant by this question, although I suspect it is probably about the groups of people who live here?… It is predominantly populated by white Brits, and I think (from what I have seen) that the Polish community may be the next largest group, the remaining population being a mixture of ethnicities. As for age groups I think there is a good spread across all ages, from young to old.

How well do you know the people who live around you? Not very well, I haven’t lived in my house very long and prefer to keep to myself a bit when it comes to neighbours. I don’t know their names but will say hello and have a limited polite conversation if we bump into each other outside.

Is there a sense of ‘community spirit?’ If so, please describe what this is like. I don’t think there is a strong, prominent one on my street. It’s not like people organise street parties or spend a huge amount of time with each other, but I get the feeling there is a kind of unspoken sense that people would help each other out and rally together if it was needed.

What kinds of things do you think your local area might need in the future? I don’t know, I suppose there is already a need for things such as community education and employability skills which are limited in availability. Sports, leisure and youth facilities, clubs and activities are also low and where they do exist the ongoing maintenance of them would be needed.

The government is in the process of reducing the amount of money it is making available to local councils. If there is no money available, how will your local area meet those needs? To be honest I think a lot of what it already available is mainly down to groups in the local area taking on the responsibility for setting up, organising and running them with limited help, support and funding from the local council, so things will probably continue that way.

Do you think local people will work together to make something happen? Yes, there will always be those who won’t lift a finger or join in, but the majority will muck in and do something when things need to happen.

Will this be achieved by people volunteering? Or do you think your local area will need to raise money to buy in a service to meet its needs? Most likely the majority of it will be volunteering, as it is now, and raising money or battling for funding from limited sources to buy in services (which has always been a challenge for community organisations) will remain a secondary source of meeting the needs of the project.

Do you think that your local area has got the resources – in terms of people, skills, or finances – to meet its own needs? Difficult to say, I guess so long as the people with the skills are willing to come forward then yes, everyone has so much more to offer than even they think. Financial resources are probably less likely to be enough to meet demand.

Perhaps your community might set up a charity as part of this process? Setting up a charity might help with certain types of community needs, where funding may be available to charitable organisations, but it may not always be the most suitable thing or provide any advantage.

What will happen to your local area if it does not have the resources? The effects could vary greatly depending on how severe the problem becomes and which resources are not able to be accessed/ provided. Deprivation, increased crime, skills shortages along with impacts on health are among the many possible things that could happen if resources are scarce.

Perhaps you have already witnessed changes in your local area since the Big Society was launched in 2010? If so, please give details and share any comments about the impacts of these changes. Nothing that I am aware of, The Abbey Stadium recently finished a big refurbishment program but as I far as I am aware this was not related to the Big Society.

If relevant, it would be useful if you could give any details about any national organisations or larger communities that you belong to and think, might be affected by similar issues. I guess most them could be affected really, everything can be such a postcode lottery as it is, with regard to accessing services and funding anyway. If your organisation does not fit the limited ‘criteria’ specified for a funding body or it is not in the right location then there will be little to no help, support or funding other than what you can get from your volunteers and own fund raising efforts.

After reading these posts what do you think of the ‘Big Society’ and the Localism Act 2011?

Do you do any volunteering or community work in your local area?

How do you think these will be affected by the Big Society and the Localism Act?