Local groups building the Big Society
16th December 2011
For me, the best thing about being Member of Parliament for Halesowen and Rowley Regis is the opportunity that it gives me to meet so many extraordinary people and community organisations who are doing so much for our local area, often without recognition.
Groups like the Hope Centre in Halesowen, which has filled much of the gap left by the old Lighthouse Project, offering support, advice and training to help people through a range of challenges, including unemployment, domestic abuse, debt problems and homelessness.
Some are run by faith-based groups, like Loaves 'n' Fishes in Cradley Heath who collect unwanted items such as beds, sofas, tables and kitchenware and distributes them to people who sometimes have as little as just a sleeping bag. The group has helped over 1,000 people and families ranging from the very old to teenagers and ex-servicemen in need of essential furniture and clothing.
Others, like the Shell Corner Partnership, are driven by residents and businesses in a particular community, working to regenerate their area and improve local services.
To me, this is what the Big Society is all about. It's not about party politics or slogans, it's about local people coming together to tackle problems in their community.
These people are showing that there is such a thing as society - it's just not necessarily the same as the state.
Our public services do fantastic work, for which we should be very proud and very grateful. However, there is no substitute for the targeted, personalised approach taken by local people when they come together to tackle local issues.
Local people know what works best in their community and, when that local knowledge is combined with the drive and passion to make things better, incredible things can be achieved - often for the most vulnerable in our society.
The Government is working to break down the barriers that make it difficult for people to get things done in their community and discourage people from giving their time to help others. Earlier this year, I brought the Government Minister Francis Maude to Halesowen to discuss what needed to be done to achieve this and I am always looking for more ideas.
So, this Christmas, please give a special thought to the many groups and individuals who work all year round to make things that bit better in our community.
Have a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year.