I’ve lost count of the number of government initiatives and funding regimes that I’ve seen during my time in the voluntary sector.
And that's it really. The reason why the idea of a 'Big Society' isn't understood by those who earn their living working in the voluntary sector. For them - and this is borne out by any conversation with any of them - it's all about 'government initiatives and funding regimes'. I know they'll talk the talk about citizen engagement and 'helping people to help themselves' but their daily effort is more often directed to those 'funding regimes' and 'government initiatives' (and to moaning about how they aren't big enough or specific enough or properly targeted).
'Big Society' isn't about those funding regimes. It's about real voluntary action, about people doing things because they love the place they live and want to make it a better place. Or people helping poor people because they think those people merit help. And the involvement ranges from baking a cake for a fundraisers right through to running - entirely voluntarily - big organisations. At no point is it about getting a wage, recovering expenses, let alone having a career. The voluntary sector professional simply cannot get his or her head around the idea that someone might just do it because they want to do it - without payment, without needing their 'professional' input.
Now these voluntary sector professionals (metaphorically sucking their teeth) will then - in that uniquely patronising manner of such folk - explain that all this is fine in a place like Cullingworth, filled as it is with all that lovely social capital. But out there in those deprived areas (so often celebrated by people - I still inwardly cringe remembering the former leader of Bradford Council who wallowed in "I represent one of the 100 most deprived wards in the country" as if this was a good thing) there isn't any of this social capital so those voluntary sector professionals have to go in there and help. Give the community a great big cuddly hug and tell them it will all be alright once the right 'funding regimes' and 'government initiatives' are identified.
'Big Society' isn't about programmes or grand schemes, it's not about offices filled with paid workers (although all of these can and do play their part). It's about the bloke who, instead of moaning to all and sundry about the trough that isn't planted up, blags some compost and a few bedding plants and does it himself. Or the woman who pops in to see if the old lady next door wants a lift into town to do some shopping. A thousand different, small and simple acts of caring make up the big society. Some of them end up growing into fantastic nationally-significant voluntary efforts but most remain as simple and easy acts of kindness done just because it's the right thing to do.
It's this initiative - the real voluntary sector - that makes up the 'Big Society' which is why those making a career out of those 'funding regimes' and 'government initiatives' are blind to the idea. If people did those simple things - had permission to care - then a lot of the stuff the 'voluntary sector' employs people to do wouldn't be needed. And, rather than paid professionals using volunteers we'd have volunteers making use of paid professionals.