The Great British Community

Britain has always been a byword for community spirit with millions of people coming together in times of crisis to support each other and make life better for everyone. However, as Covid comes to an end, we run the risk that this amazing outpouring of community spirit is either forgotten or shelved, or that local communities continue to struggle for the foreseeable future with minimum support and resources. The UK has a unique window of opportunity now to bring these people together in a way which has never happened before, to bring every community and voluntary group together into one cohesive and impactful national support network, known as: “The Great British Community”. Instead of a fragmented, under-funded and over-stretched mishmash of voluntary and charitable support services working in isolation, now is the time to bring together both people and organisations to create one streamlined, government-funded, comprehensive and easily accessible community support service. Imagine being able to access, via one centralized source (for example, a website or portal), a link to all the community services available in your own local area. At the moment there is no central place for people to find out what is happening in their local community. Information is found by accident or sometimes not at all. Instead of word of mouth, referrals from local councils, searching the internet, reading a noticeboard in a church, imagine the benefits of having a central point of reference where everyone can have access to and be able to offer (or receive) help. Imagine being able to easily find out, and access, the myriad projects happening in our local communities: mother and toddler groups, environmental projects, cycle clubs, mental health support groups, book clubs, green gyms, walking groups, cooking clubs, women’s groups, painting classes, mentoring schemes, community green space projects … the list is endless. It should not be necessary in this day and age to have to look for each of these projects individually (and that’s if we even know about them to begin with!). Imagine being able to combat the loneliness epidemic by enabling people of all ages to easily find out about and link up with organisations already offering a wide-ranging selection of social activities, for example, the Women’s Institute, u3a, Rotary Club, Prince’s Trust, UK Men’s Sheds Association, Royal Voluntary Service, Girlguiding and the Scouting Association, Groundwork, Saga, etc. By highlighting the positive work already going on in our communities, we could bring them together into one place, promote the many organisations designed to appeal to different age groups, categorize them by interest or topic and make it easier for people to contact them. By creating an environment where these isolated people or groups can come together to catalyze and spark from each other, we can make it easier for people to offer their time and expertise to the organisations and people who need them most. Imagine if funding were to be provided centrally by government to: “The Great British Community”. Imagine how many people would benefit across the UK, how many new jobs could be created if a national network of sustainable community projects came together, how many small businesses could start up. Think how many young people could learn new skills, run, manage or volunteer in these vitally-needed community and environmental projects. Imagine having access to a database (in one place) of links to accessible funding, knowledge and expertise from national and private funders, e.g. National Lottery, UK Sport, Tesco, Community Foundation, etc. Rather than duplicating existing services already provided via local government, “The Great British Community” is about the work that goes on behind the scenes, separate from and different to, projects funded by councils. This voluntary donation of time, effort and expertise by British people could be brought together in a structured way to highlight, celebrate and draw attention to the excellent work being done currently by so many groups, signposting people to local community projects which most interest them or meet their needs, and promoting life-long volunteering as a way of life, rather than a one-off during a pandemic. “The Great British Community” would have the additional benefit of being of great interest around the world, a focus for good-news stories in the media as a celebration of the best human nature has to offer. Perhaps Prince William and Kate Middleton could be persuaded to lead the project? Perhaps the rich and famous could support “The Great British Community” both with their donations and their talent for attracting media attention? Perhaps the initiative could be linked into the citizenship aspect of the national curriculum as a practical stepping stone to a lifetime of volunteering? Perhaps thousands of people will be able to build new and closer links to their local community, the lonely will find new friends and hobbies, children will learn a sense of responsibility to their community and environment, organisations will develop better social and corporate responsibility practices, perhaps we will be able to properly focus on, and support, the real heroes of our local communities? Instead of the current scattergun approach of each small community operating entirely in ignorance of what is happening locally, regionally or nationally, struggling for funding and sometimes even to continue to exist, it’s time for “The Great British Community” to be recognised as the National Treasure that it is and to be given the support it deserves. Whether it’s done via a website, creation of a completely new organisation, a partnership or union of existing organisations, or embedded as a vital element into every strand of Government policy, this rare opportunity should not be missed. Although “The Great British Community” will continue to thrive regardless of (or perhaps because of) Covid, just think how much better life would be if all the positive community spirit demonstrated during 2020 could be harnessed and brought together into one initiative, fully recognised and supported. “There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.” (Margaret J. Wheatley).




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