You don’t need Big Society when you have a Big Hearted City

Yesterday I was musing on what ‘Big Society’ actually means with Phil Redmond of Brookside and patio slaughter fame! Phil and I were in the same place about Big Society which might surprise people as he was at the heart of the doomed Liverpool BS vanguard.

We both believe that BS is absolutely nothing new. In fact in Liverpool it’s been a way of life for many, many years. I first cottoned on to this years ago when one of my bosses retired. He ran operations in London and Liverpool and said that his Liverpool do was by far the better of the two. In Liverpool people were genuinely friendly, had a good laugh (largely at his expense) and had a real good whip round for the prezzies. In London people had done the decent and minimal event.

But that’s why I love Liverpool. It’s a place of tremendous friendliness that pours its heart for good or ill in terms of adversity. Just look at what happens here at Red Nose Day. You cannot move for people doing things for the charity. In fact in Liverpool as elsewhere it’s the poorest who gave proportionately the most. When a rich philanthropist donates a cheque for £1 million it presents no sacrifice. When a low income person gives £5 it involves giving up something else for themselves.

Perhaps it’s because of our past. Many areas of Liverpool have been incredibly poor in UK terms since the city began its major expansion at the start of the 17th century. Our population was once 850,00 in a city which now has 450,000 and it still had fields an farms in large parts of South Liverpool. We commemorate this in a song “It’s six in a bad at the old Pier Head – its Liverpool town for me!” I however prefer the line “we’ve lots of girls with peroxide curls and the black and tans flow free!”

So Big Society is flourishing in this city. We don’t need a title for it – we don’t need paid volunteers to start it up this is a city which reaches out to people inside it when they are down and to people outside it when they need a hand up.

In Liverpool 8 – a depressed area by any standards there are more than 100 voluntary and community groups. We have a society for everything where people get together to do things together and help each other. I am President of the Merseyside Wood Turners Association! I have never turned a piece of wood in my life but we helped them get a grant which enables them to provide training in wood turning to people who are unemployed or just looking for a new skill.

What we don’t do is ‘committees’. That is a lesson that people like Cameron and Steve Hilton need to learn urgently. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Our Big Society is one of compassion and practicality. We don’t organise – we just do! Is Liverpool unique – of course it is! But Liverpool is no different to many other big cities in the way that we do things. We care therefore we help.

I hope that in the near future we will provide a practical and community rooted response to BS here in Liverpool. We can counter claims that we have pulled outré of things. We can promote what we do and of which we should be very proud. We can ask then for help for what we do because we are doing things which are getting together as there is less money in the collective pockets of people in our city.

I have even persuaded a Tory Minister to have a private visit to the city to have a look at what we do later in the year in such a way that he can ponder on what he sees and respondslowly rather thyan quickly.

Helping people is in our DNA but frankly David ,”we’ll do it our way!”


About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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