Friday, September 3, 2010

Building the Big Society in Bury

One of the best bits about the Councillor role is that it puts you in the middle of community-life. You get to meet the movers-and-shakers locally. By that I don't mean the Lord Lieutenant or the Mayor but those people in every neighbourhood who quietly make the place tick. People who I wouldn't meet in the course of work.

These people are relatively uncommon, though they often don't realise it. They think broadly, they are ambitious for their area and they are prepared to act. Although many of them would laugh if I told them, I consider to be social entrepreneurs. Not in the Tim Smit sense, but people who are able to use the resources at their disposal for the common good.

I spent a morning and an afternoon this week with two such groups. One is led by a chap called Bob, the other by a bloke called Ernie. They live in opposite area in my patch. Bob is charing a new trust which will probably take over and re-develop a council-owned community centre next year. Bob used to manage our local hospital and is a key member of the main church on the patch. Bob is leading talks with our LA, the Development Trusts Association and will co-ordinate the project as it develops, all for no pay.

Ernie is the Chair of Residents in another area where we are hoping to get a patch of land for a new community centre. Ernie is working with Tony and Mike from a church group who will put 20% of building costs. My job is to secure the freehold for a peppercorn from the County Council. No small task but I will try! Also involved is the school on which the land sits and whose Head is full-square behind us.

What is my role in all of this? Well, as you can see, it isn't to provide the drive for all of this. This should and does come from the Bob's and Ernie's. But where I have been useful, I think is in three ways. The first has been bringing people together. The Councillor role is kind of accepted as a legitimate broker. It is somehow easier to get people round the table when asking them from a position of elected authority.

The second is a bit more subtle. Both of these groups have a kind of fear of officialdom and have, in the past, been deterred by the grey bureaucracy of public bodies. I have, I think, been able to give them the assuranc that I'll deal with any problems for them at that end. Interestingly, no such problems have arisen and now they actually know the people from the council rather well I very much doubt I will ever be called upon.

The final one, again almost intangible, is the `confidence-giving' role. By getting alongside community-action as a Councillor people tend to feel more like they are going to succeed. Which has a good effect on motivation.

While I love my work and my business, I get massive pleasure from being a Councillor. And it is perhaps this side of it, alongside Bob and Ernie, that I love the most. It reminds me that, when it all comes down to it, it is they not the names we all know that will build the Big Society to which we all aspire, whatever our political colour.

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