Volunteering: People to People Localism
Localism should start from the citizen and the community, and from the assumption that each can be active – creative – in meeting their needs and achieving their aspirations. In resilient communities, citizens are able and willing to share resources - including help and support. The role of local public services – themselves a collective community benefit – should be to enable and encourage these exchanges and safeguard equity, not cut across or reproduce them.
In this respect, the development of volunteering and local public services may be instructive. Indeed their future appears to be inextricably linked. There is a risk that the future is a negative one for both sides, with restrictions on public services provision leading to unsustainably heavy demands on voluntary support. But the future may be more collaborative, positive and sustainable, especially played out at the local level – the level where the Small Society of known social relationships has a chance of bearing fruit, rather than at the level of the Big Society, where high national rhetoric sat awkwardly with messy local realities.
Forward thinking public services are not simply looking to scale down their delivery, but to scale up and broaden out the range of relationships through which they seek to support better outcomes. Volunteerism – as one aspect of active citizenship – may help modern services mobilise or access this broader range of assets with which to meet community needs and aspirations.