The Mayor of Wandsworth with the 2013 Civic Award Winners
2013’s Wandsworth Civic Award winners (photo by Love Battersea)

If this blog were powered by good intentions there would be (at least) daily posts. But, through lack of time, self-censoring or just plain laziness they rarely make it to the blog. So a growing sense of hypocrisy by omission, therefore brings to belatedly post about last week’s Civic Dinner and Awards.

In an age of austerity the event is one of Wandsworth’s last set-piece occasions, but one that I hope remains for a long time to come, since it’s also one of the last big opportunities we have as a civic organisation to celebrate the people who make the borough great. While some may feel that dressing up and having a dinner is an extravagance, I’m inclined to think that if we consider it a cost against the work done by the borough’s many volunteers it is incredibly good value.

Curiously the full list of winners doesn’t seem to be published by the council yet, but there are two I would highlight: Marlene Price and Shirley Price (I’m compelled to add: no relation) who, from opposite ends of the borough, have dedicated themselves to working hard for the residents of the estates on which they live and beyond. Only last Monday I was at the Roehampton Partnership where Shirley was challenging the council on school places for the residents of the Putney Vale estate and, I think, modifying to the council’s thinking. Both have offered decades of service without thinking of thanks; it’s great that we still have this opportunity to show the borough’s gratitude regardless.

Interestingly, I sat next to a representative of the voluntary sector during the meal and talking about some of my good intentions, but also about the barriers that I found off-putting (for reasons other than the Civic Awards, volunteering has been on my mind recently). I listed a few, like the lack of training, need for CRB checks. My neighbour added insurance and health and safety awareness, to which I nodded as if I’d already thought of those.

What became clear to me during the chat was that it is always easy to find obstacles, and to allow them to be blocks. What marks out the Civic Award winners (and nominees, and all those volunteers who, as yet, are unsung) is that they just get on with it: they have a JFDI attitude[1]

I had the good intention of taking a few minutes to write this blog post for almost a week.

Their good intentions don’t last long, because the turn them into great actions. An example we could probably all do to follow a bit more.

  1. Just flipping do it, although the ‘f’ is usually rendered less politely.  ↩

Active Wandsworth are looking for volunteers for Get Active Day on 14 July at King George’s Park in Wandsworth.

Some of the roles they are looking for include (taken from the council’s Active Wandsworth volunteering PDF leaflet):

Festival Helpers – people to help set up and take down some of the equipment, tents, gazebos, generators, tables chairs etc.

Greeters – people stationed at the entry points to the Festival to record how many people are attending throughout the day. This role will be rotated through as many volunteers as possible and the signposter below rather being stationed in one spot for the whole day.

Signposter – There will be around 5000 people attending the Festival and many of them will want to know where things are or directions to a zone etc. We need as many volunteers as possible for this role.

Feedback Collectors – This role can be shared with the two roles above. We would like to know what people think of the Festival while we are there so we need as many volunteers as possible to ask and help those attending to complete a small feedback form so we can make improvements for future Festivals.

Photographer and Video/Filmmakers – we would like to record as many aspects of the Festival as we can either through photographs of by video to use to publicise future event. Again in this role we’d need a few volunteers to cover everything.

Volunteering would not be for the whole day, but one of two ‘shifts’ – from 8am until 1pm or 1pm until 7pm. If you are interested in volunteering contact Chris Austin at Wandsworth Leisure and Sports Services at or telephone 020 8871 8154. For more information about the festival visit

The Prime Minister got the headlines yesterday for his ‘launch’ of the Big Society. Along with a lot of scepticism about what the Big Society actually means.

It is a concept that a lot of people are struggling to understand. And if you don’t understand something it must be wrong. Right? Plenty were there to criticise the “ConDems” (a joke surely as tired and as unfunny as New Liebore or Tony B-liar) for using the Big Society as a mask for cuts.

But at its heart it seems, to me, remarkably simple. It is an admission that the state just cannot do everything. For a start it’s just isn’t feasible for the government to carry on Labour’s spending, in 2009 they managed a deficit of £159.2 billion. Even allowing for reduced revenues and extra expenditure because of the recession it is clear that spending so much more than is coming in is totally unsustainable.

But there is a more fundamental issue: to what extent we should expect the state to provide for us? Yes, it should be a safety net and it should ensure that people have various minimum standards in their life. But should it intrude in every aspect of our lives? Or should it enable us to do as much as possible for ourselves and each other, and leave out the rest?

The fact is that the Big Society is already all around us. Last Sunday I went to The Big Lunch on Battersea High Street, an event put together by all the traders (everyone contributed except William Hill, who perhaps don’t feel part of the communities whose money they take). The council helped (or perhaps hindered) the organisation, but it was a prime example of a community, residents and businesses, coming together to do something special. And it was a fantastic day.

But it isn’t just high-profile events like that. A lady I have known for years has, during her retirement, given her time to a number of causes: she runs her Neighbourhood Watch, been a school governor and now volunteers as a reading assistant in her local school alongside various stints of volunteering she does for charities.

Near to me a chap runs a regular playgroup, charging a few pounds a session to pay for room rental, tea and biscuits he arrives in the morning and sets up with the help of the early parents and then at the end of the session clears up with the help of the late arriving parents.

We all know people who give something, whether it’s running a sports team or occasionally helping out a neighbour. They are the Big Society.

It isn’t pure altruism. I’m sure the businesses on Battersea High Street were pleased to have an extra 1,200 people passing through their street on a Sunday afternoon. And I’m sure that even my friend will admit that part of her motivation, as well as giving something back, is the warm fuzzy feeling that comes in return.

It isn’t an issue of getting people to do the ‘state’s job’ for free, it’s about questioning whether society is better off with people building and strengthening their own communities, or just relying on the state to do everything. And helping people get more by giving more to their communities.

In the words of the Conservative manifesto, there is such a thing as society, it’s just not the same thing as the state.