Monday, 14 February 2011

big soc. / theatre
I spent 2009 - 10 working for a organization called Theatre Peckham.

Theatre Peckham is based in the Sceaux Gardens estate in Peckham/Camberwell. In 2009 as we were running a technical rehearsal I went outside to take a call. Stood outside I heard a window smash and saw smoke coming from the nearby block of flats. What was happening was the Lakanal House fire.

That night as we ran the show that we had been rehearsing, the artistic director stood up to say a few words. She explained that for her the events of the day showed why Theatre Peckham does what it does. It was, she said: "about community".

Later in 2009 myself and a colleague helped a group of the older kids set up their own production company and write and perform their first play. They got five thousand pounds from Southwark Councils Youth Opportunities fund which went back into the production. Myself and my colleague gave our time for free - it was good experience for us both and we learnt from them as much as they learnt from us.

Was all of this the Big Society? yes it was.

The unpleasant truth is that we cannot just deride the Big Society as an unworkable excuse to justify the cuts. it could and may yet work - working for free has taught me a great deal about myself and about life over the years and (I hope) done some good for the people around me as well. Its been a tremendously positive influence on me and one I would gladly repeat any time.

The crucial error that the Conservatives and David Cameron have made is to buy into the free market rhetoric of the state stifling all innovation, slowing things down and hindering society. What they fail to see the distinction between Local government (which often does all of those things) - and the end organizations that provide for the community with local government money. Theatre Peckham, The Blue Elephant Theatre, Oval House, Peckham Shed, STEP (to name but a few!). These are dynamic organizations that don't have the time, money or inclination to be inefficient. They put up with local government till they get the funding they need and then they go about making a difference to peoples lives.

If the Conservatives want to promote innovation, speed up progress and help people better they should get to grips with local government - not by devolving more power to them but by taking responsibility for what they do and setting out clear objectives to dealing with the endemic waste and inefficiency that is prevalent.

If they want to promote the Big Society then they should strictly ensure that any money not needed to appease the credit markets goes straight back to community organizations that have been forming and maintaining the Big Society for decades.

Cameron has launched the Big Society three times now, each time it bombs with both the electorate and his party and damages him. He keeps trying because for all his faults he is fundamentally a conservative centrist and he wants the Big Society to free us from the state. What this government is yet to understand is that the Big Society already exists and it cares as little about the state as he does.

What it needs is money.

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