If society is Big, then what's the view from the bottom? Ben Page touched on this at Solace 2010, something I didn't attend but I watched in Twittertime. He's sent me some fab stats on this, unfortunately and annoyingly, they're not in my inbox because my domain forwarding is broken and no one seems able to tell me why.
Anyway, Ben from Ipsos Mori touched on the barriers in front of the 'working class' in engaging with the big society. I'm putting it in lower case instead of upper case for a reason. Big Society is a call to arms, big society is what is actually happening on the ground, or at least that's the way I see it. But barriers. He identified that the challenges weren't apathy, that there were issues instead with possibilities, opportunities and expectations. But we knew that. Surely we all knew that?
I don't suppose I am working class any more. I have no idea. I sit in the middle in all things, and perhaps this is just another example. Bridge. One foot in one world, and one in another. But the view from the bottom, I think I can speak for.
I volunteered to do something in the traditional terms of the word this year for the first time ever. I stood on top of a windswept Bowland moor top for 3 hours. I stood in a car parking space and made sure no one parked where the judges needed to park for the King of the Mountain mini race inside the first Stage of the Tour of Britain. I got shouted at by a dick of a motorhome driver. I didn't mind. I got blown to hell. I didn't mind. I watched the cloud we sat inside clear and a panorama of West Lancashire open up before me and smiled happily. The judges arrived, parked their car, waited. We watched the helicopters rise and then fall in the distance. Every police motorbike culled from a 100 mile radius swept past us. First the breakaway passed us and faded off into the downhill distance. Then the peloton arrived and the wind around me blew the other way, temporarily, as the combined force, energy, fire and passion of 70 men blew past me, barely out of breath after the Category 2 climb. I smiled. I smiled and smiled and smiled. I wasn't paid to be there. I wasn't paid to wait. I wasn't paid to break down the barriers afterwards and help the men and women who were to remove all traces of the Tour of Britain for this year. Instead, I found a reason to get out of bed at 8am on a Sunday morning. A sense of teamwork. A clearing of the cobwebs and some soul food which will lead inevitably to me purchasing a road bike with the express intention of one day being fit enough to ride that same stage they rode, all by myself. I volunteered ostensibly to do nothing more than stand on a hill. My reward was a new found love.
Is that the big society?
It wasn't when I volunteered. It never crossed my mind. I didn't think 'oh I'm supposed to be trying to be some bright young thing and it's important to do something instead of just sitting here typing frantically and oh look, a big society opportunity, excellent'.
I thought 'I love bikes, love riding my bike, lets go help some other people put on a race where people who love bikes far more than I do can push themselves to the absolute physical limit through wind and rain, up hills and down'.
Selling the big society is pointless. It's not about the sell. Don't sell it to me. Just tell me, in some coheisve, easy to use, non patronising and non accusatory way how I can give my time to do something useful with a spare few hours. I've got time. I've got plenty of time. I've not always got health but I've got a net connection. I'd offer to help kids read without a second thought but I work so that's out. I can type damn fast - does anyone need that? I can stand on a hill for 3 hours, anyone want me? I can sew a bit, talk a bit, put together nifty presentations, teach you the basics of tech, interpret legalese for you, I can explain the basics of group dynamics......just tell me how to put this in the right place for the right people at the right time and I will be happy. If you build it, we will come, well those of us who are digital. And, frankly, if you can't work out the benefits of ensuring everyone is digital by now, nothing I can say will make you realise.
You've got an army on the end of the network. Point us in the right direction, use the right tone of voice to do it, communicate with us regularly, and we will build it. But we will need a little bit of funding for expenses and training each other how to pick it up and pass it on and we'll need reminding every now and again exactly why we're doing this. The rest, we'll pick up and do ourselves.
The view from the bottom? Enable me, don't lecture me.