Any regular reader of this column will be more than aware of my enthusiasm for the Big Society.
The spirit of voluntary and community effort – the spirit of social self-help – has always seemed to me one of the best features of Britain, and I continue to believe that mountains can often be moved by people working together for themselves and their neighbours, rather than waiting for “them” to “do something about it”.
But it has not been easy in the past couple of years to be a proponent of the Big Society – because those of us who do share a passion for these things have frequently been told that, with recession and the reductions in public expenditure needed to control the deficit, all the voluntary activity in Britain would disappear in a puff of smoke.
Just last week, the figures came out for 2012.
It turns out that the number of volunteers is up, the amount of charitable giving is up, and – in short – the Big Society is alive and well. It is really rather a tribute to the people of our country that, at a time when their own pocket books have been significantly squeezed as a result of the events of the past few years, they have responded not by drawing in their horns and looking after themselves but, rather, by increasing both the amount of time and the amount of money they are willing to devote to good causes. It makes one proud to be British.
But, of course, these general statistics never really mean quite as much as particular cases – and it is, therefore, appropriate for me to use this column to pay special tribute to one very local Sherborne voluntary organisation fostered in particular by a remarkable individual, Mr Chris Tucker.
Over many years, I have periodically been assailed by Mr Tucker who has been absolutely determined to establish and institutionalise what used to be called “Radio Sherborne”, which now goes under the name of Abbey 104.
First established as an on-line enterprise, in the form of a Community Interest (i.e. not for profit) Company, Radio Sherborne was determined to acquire a licence to broadcast on air.
This involved more dealings with more bureaucracies than you would normally imagine possible – and would certainly not have been achieved by anybody less persistent than the redoubtable Mr Tucker.
But the licence has now been won and is being taken up – so Abbey 104 is joining the airwaves.
In itself, this is a splendid example of community self-help. But, like many community projects, it also contributes to building social capital on which other Big Society activities can trade. Once you have local radio of this kind, you have a place where local events and voluntary bodies can be promoted, enriching the texture of local life.
So there is plenty to celebrate in the launch of Abbey 104.