Big Society or Social Inclusion?

The name of the game is “cohesion”, whether you happen to subscribe to the Blairite catch-phrase of social inclusion or the more recent “Big Society” phrase adopted by Cameron. What makes for a cohesive, community-minded society? Good parenting; civic education; businesses that invest in people and localities; services that put people at their centre – making profit or bureaucracy secondary? Arguably it is all of these things.

However, one can ask – are Cameron’s Big Society solutions actually “village” solutions for national problems? Are they equipped and up to the job – can they actually fix deprivation and the so-called broken society?

There is a certain nostalgia that one sometimes sees in politicians – a misty-eyed longing for a bygone age where neighbours helped each other and you could leave the back door open with out fear of being robbed. The fact that this society may have been riven with racism, homophobia, sexism and stratified by a rigid class system is conveniently glossed over.

And yet – those value we long for – neighbourliness, a sense of belonging, community identity and solidarity are not to be scoffed at. There may be a case for ensuring that those values don’t result in NIMBY-ism. That people don’t become small-minded and parochial – but it’s worth asking what activities, what sort or people, doing what sort of things might engender these values or bring them back to life for a contemporary society that can seem to be so fractured.

One such policy area that cuts across political divisions is the ‘Meanwhile lease’ – a kind of lease designed to give landlords maximum security, but which gives them a tool to open up empty spaces to creative ventures. A meanwhile lease has clauses that allow a landlord to claim the property back at any time with just ten days notice – a flaw and strength that means that there has been a veritable pop-popping up of shops and temporary galleries all across the UK over the last year or so. This re-use and re-livening of empty high streets is to be lauded. The limitations on the product almost force businesses to adopt innovative approaches to how they market their wares as they have a short burst of time in which to make an impact and gain an audience or customer base.

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