Sunday, 20 March 2011

Big Society is alive and well and living in Hastings

Addressing the Pier Trust's 'party on the prom'
Fresh from their success in ‘adopting’ our seafront roundabout BBC Newsnight is returning to its story on the Big Society using Hastings as the backdrop. Whatever you thought about the programme and whether it illuminated the political issues at all it actually showed our town and its people in a pretty good light.

Hastings and St Leonards can boast a level of volunteering and community activity that most other places can only dream of. The local authority and other public bodies couldn’t possibly take on all the events local people organise themselves and nor would we want to. And if the Big Society means anything then surely this is it.

I said this to the Newsnight team. I told them to come down and watch the Half Marathon – I energetically watched it from a seafront café! It’s organised by volunteers and the runners are doing their bit to support voluntary and charitable bodies.

I told them to come down on May Day which we are all campaigning to keep as a public holiday. Come and watch the Jack-in-Green parade organised by local, committed volunteers. I suppose the bikers who ride down here on the same day do it voluntarily too.

My diary over the last few weeks has been filled with attending events, big and small – all arranged by volunteers.

I enjoyed the prize giving concert at the Hastings Musical Festival; I attended the International Women’s Day event; I spoke at a Burton’s St Leonards Society public meeting; I visited Xtrax to celebrate their achievements; I paid a visit to the Fellowship of St Nicholas; I went along to the launch of a new residents’ association in St Leonards and we officially opened the Stade Hall community facility which will be managed by the local community. How much more big society can we get?

And of course I addressed the ‘party on the promenade’ organised by the Pier Trust and joined in with the trustees in putting our case for funding to the Heritage Lottery Fund representatives when they came down.

Volunteers are never going to empty the rubbish bins, determine planning applications or enforce parking controls – the local authority has to do all that. But local people organising and running local groups and events are vital to the life of the town and have been for many, many years.