It was way back in 2010 that David Cameron launched his "big society" drive to empower communities. But I do have to wonder if he was actually aware of just how big our society already was, and has his initiative really made any difference? This was brought to mind once again yesterday evening when I switched on the television for the 10 o'clock news. The Sport Relief telethon had been running during the evening (and would continue to run later) but at that stage, some £31 million had been raised. That sounds an enormous sum of money, especially when one considers that the Poppy Appeal last November raised in excess of £40 million and Children in Need - also last November - raised another £31 million. But when one considers that the population of this country stands at more than 63 million, the total of those three big appeals represents an average donation of £1.66 per head of population - hardly a king's ransom.
On the other hand, there are plenty of other charities also raising money - Oxfam, Save the Children, Cancer Research, Guide Dogs for the Blind et al - so the grand total of charitable donations made each year is well in excess of that £100 million mentioned above. And I would suggest that those donations represent just the tip of the iceberg as far as the Big Society is concerned.
Each week, thousands of people run youth groups such as Scouts and Guides or provide football coaching, all on a voluntary basis. There are people walking puppies for the various assistance dog organisations such as Guide Dogs and Hounds for Heroes. There are people volunteering to drive blind or crippled folks to meetings and treatment, there are the lifeboatmen, community first responders, people acting as secretaries and treasurers to sundry organisations, the people manning the telephones for the Samaritans or touring the streets at night ministering to the homeless. Even on a much smaller scale, there are people who pick up shopping for their neighbours and keep an eye on the elderly or infirm.
And all this was already happening long before Mr Cameron (or any other politician for that matter) thought to make a difference. The Big Society has been with us for donkeys' years - and will doubtless be with us long after the current crop of politicians have passed.
Down in the Lanes area of Brighton, this narrow entrance - just about 2' 6" wide - leads to a tiny courtyard and a small cottage, once a fisherman's home, now a restaurant. I've not eaten there for some years, not since it changed hands, but it was at one time one of my favourites. It had only four tables on the ground floor but could seat more upstairs and was always crowded, but only with locals. Just what is with the singing barber and the red, white and blue hats next door, I have no idea!