A resident in one of Westminster’s poorest neighbourhoods responded passionately today to recent speeches by Cllr Colin Barrow (Leader of Westminster City Council) and Nick Hurd MP (Minister for Civil Society) on Big Society. Speaking at a gathering of representatives from the voluntary and community sector, Jeannette Buckley from the Lisson Green Estate said “We’re doing Big Society in Church Street and up the Harrow Road in Westbourne and Queens Park. We’re doing it well according to Nick Hurd …and according to the University of Westminster who have just completed a comprehensive analysis of our work”.
Mrs Buckley explained that Big Society can only happen in poor neighbourhoods with adequate support for local people. She was exasperated that this support is being cut, despite Cllr Barrow recently acknowledging that “Simply cutting and reducing budgets is too simplistic and will ultimately fail the communities that we exist to serve”.
Cllr Barrow went on to pledge that Westminster City Council would “help people deliver things that are in their own local self interest”, “support these civic leaders and accommodate their projects” and “be designed to improve lives, not cut spending”.
At the 20th anniversary of Charities Evaluation Services last week, Mr Hurd stated that charities will increasingly have to “prove their impact” and as Mrs Buckley highlighted in today’s speech, the Universities of Westminster and Cardiff found in their extensive research that the work of the Paddington Development Trust (PDT) “provides the essential heart needed in very deprived neighbourhoods where people need support to play their part in making the Big Society a reality”. The findings go on to state that “Westminster Council, supported by PDT continues to be ahead of the curve in realising the aspirations of the Big Society …as an exemplar of good practice, PDT was selected as the first place to be visited by the new Minister for Civil Society, Nick Hurd”.
Mrs Buckley met with Mr Hurd during that visit in May 2010, where he recognised that “I have seen Big Society in action in Church Street, Westminster”.
Many residents share Mrs Buckley’s concerns about the proposed cuts to projects such as Church Street’s neighbourhood work. “If you want Big Society to work in poor neighbourhoods we must continue to invest in small groups of highly committed, skilled and not particularly highly paid staff who provide the infrastructure that is making it work. If we don’t, my fear is that all the effort that I and many other residents have put in over the last 10 years will be wasted”.