e-newsletter no 2:
Building the Big Society
I attended recently a fascinating lecture on ‘Early Jacobean Charitable Giving‘ - not a subject you might expect to get the blood racing, but an object lesson in building the Big Society. It was given by Richard Chartres, Lord Bishop of London, who is a consummate communicator as well as an eminent historian and a pillar of St Paul’s, and the occasion was the annual Thomas Sutton lecture at old Charterhouse. It put the life and legacy of Thomas Sutton (the ‘richest commoner in the land’ in 1611) into context with aspects of the Big Society in England in the seventeenth century.
The role of looking after the indigenous poor in those days was done (however inadequately) by the local parish but there was no ‘safety net’ for the middle classes if they were down on their luck. Thomas Sutton set up a charity in 1611 which housed and fed 80 ‘senior citizens’ (male only I’m afraid) who had served society in their working lives but were in need of support in their third age. The charity also founded a school on the same site, now Charterhouse School in Surrey.
Playing cricket in Master's Court, old Charterhouse Ackerman
Provision of education and looking after the aged are just two aspects of the role of a civilized society, and the initial challenge for the Big Society today is to re-assess who should be doing what in providing all the services which society today expects to be available. Certain of these will always be the role of Government - for instance, the provision of a structure of law and order. Government today also provides a national structure of education and health care which in Thomas Sutton’s day was left mainly to individuals to provide. But Government cannot afford nor are they necessarily best suited to provide many of the other services expected of a civilized society, and these must be the responsibility of individuals and the ‘little platoons’ of whom Burke spoke.
So what should be Retirement Reinvented’s contribution to the Big Society? Our users are scattered throughout UK (and many also overseas) and maybe our web site could provide a framework for individuals to make a contribution, or even just plant ideas which would grow up independently. The challenge is to suggest what specific actions we oldies should be taking to make our contribution as part of the Big Society. I have set out below some initial thoughts - but we need your suggestions and offers of help!
Retirement Reinvented might provide a framework for its users to contribute to the Big Society through:-
Mentoring: passing on their expertise and experience to others, both in a business and in a social context.
Jobs: putting our users who are interested in finding work (part or full time, paid or voluntary) in touch with companies and voluntary agencies who would value the experience and expertise of oldies
Social: helping like-minded Retirement Reinvented users to meet each other. As the number of oldies in our society grows, “ they will need to be helped to help themselves by helping each other” (William Rees –Mogg in a recent article in The Times).
Financial: encouraging our users to put their experience and knowledge into designing innovative ways to support the emerging market in social investment.
Please email us with your thoughts!
We are basically an aggregation and reference site - useful for reminding you where to go if you are interested in joining a walking group or hiring a personal trainer, or need reminding on how to book an airport hotel which will look after your car whilst you are away. But in order to give you a reason for returning more frequently to the site we are giving priority to our ‘What’s New’ column on our Home Page, which lists and links you with all manner of news relevant to oldies. For instance, recent additions have included a link to a newsletter on Positive Ageing, and a link to a web site which aims to help you maintain and create personal contacts after retirement, and a link to a site where you can share your IT expertise with charities which need your help.
Keep up to date by logging in frequently! And please email your thoughts and suggestions to:
Comments on the e-newsletter from our users:
I have some thoughts thought for you: Retirees are society's greatest under-utilised asset. Given the state of society and the economy right now, it is criminal to overlook any asset and not to do whatever we can to get the most out of whatever we have. Retirees themselves are the worst offenders when it comes to overlooking the benefits that they could provide. Sure some retirees will want nothing more than to garden at Dunroamin' - but we need to hear from those for whom this is not enough and we need to hear what they can do.
I have seen a number of articles recently on the growing market for retiree gappers / denture venturers / SKIers (as in Spend the Kids Inheritance...) - those for whom the ridiculously early age of 65 just comes too early and want more than to just disappear into the sunset. [Most of these articles are actually about the amount of money this group is willing to spend on travel and are written by/about companies trying to exploit this, but the really interesting bit is how many of these people actually want to do something worthwhile - which almost always seems to mean in service of society].
Trouble is most current retirees still come from the world where you followed one job with one company all your life and so have very little idea or imagination how to redirect themselves or their energies by the time they get to retirement. Retirees can only do whatever it is that excites them and motivates them - they are too old to do too much that they do not want to do - but their biggest barrier is their inertia. So they need roles models, heroes, idols, mentors - archetypes who are just ordinary people who can show them what is possible. However successful your work career, retirement is a huge leveler and being a successful retiree requires a totally different skill set than be a successful corporate star. You need stories of ordinary people who have used retirement to create extraordinary change to serve as inspiration for others in terms of making the most of their retirement time...
I think the "oldies" segment is so under-utilised. At the moment when the wisdom of combined knowledge, experience and track record are at its height we are relegating our greatest asset to golf courses (no disrespect) and tea dances. I think many people would love to access this asset but the question is how to make it easier, faster, better.
I think you might set up a product - a round table - board meeting type discussion - that could be live or a cheaper version would be where the group met for a set amount of time and came up with the answer to a specific question.
You could have lots of people joining the teams (some industry specific and others more general) and you need somewhere between 6 and 12 to form the "panel of elders". How questions were phrased would need to be specified and someone would act as clarifier in that case. But after that the elders would come together and have discussions about the topic and the CEO or senior manager or not for profit manager or teacher when then get the result of the discussion.
How you present the result:
Advertising campaigns slogans concepts etc.
Corporate governance issues
You could also do this for personal issues - personal directions - personal problems, career counselling etc. But their would need to be some type of confidentiality (could be as simple as just a conference call and you wouldnt know who was on the other end!).
The price would be set - a certain amount for industry expertise and a corporate setting, less for general business issues, even less for individuals. If specific background reading etc. was required then it would cost more.
It could mostly all be done on a combination of skype and email. Which means the retiree could be anywhere in the world!
And we would be extracting important value from our important retiree group - their wisdom.
OK. That's my idea! You asked!
I went to a memorial concert yesterday for an inmate, whoops sorry, Brother, of The Charterhouse.......
and then I came down to Somerset on the bus reading The Demoralisation of Society by Gertrude Himmelfarb (Gordon Brown's favourite author). It shows how much the Victorians were involved in the Big Society.
I volunteered for a charity called Family Friends - an organisation that depends on volunteers helping families to help themselves. (Families mostly referred by the Council). What struck me about it was that I was the oldest volunteer by about 30 years. It needs a lot of committment - visiting a family for two hours a week, and the other volunteers were people - mostly women unfortunately - with full-time jobs and plenty of energy who were still prepared to give time to help others.
No retired person needs to be busier than he/she wants to be.
Do older people run out of steam or do those who volunteer prefer to sit on committees rather than getting down to grass roots?
What is wrong with rural Britain? Why are the roads in such a bad condition? Why are signposts and road-signs dirty and/or overgrown or in absurd positions? Why are the verges full of rubbish? You can drive on “D” roads through France, another big tourist country, and not find a dirty village or sign. Why does no-one care for such an important tourist asset in Britain?
My analysis goes right back to World War 2. For five years, everything that happened in France was what “They” said would happen and everything that happened in Britain was what “They” said would happen. There is only one difference – “They” in France were German. After the war, the ordinary French people said “whatever happens in France from now on is going to be what we want to happen”. During eleven years of benevolent autocracy under De Gaulle, responsibilities were pushed right down to the communes and they are still there.
The British, being idle, left everything to “Them”. Them have not only done a bad job but have clawed more and more responsibilities away from the periphery towards the centre. Now, they can’t carry them out. One of the disasters was the amalgamation of the rural district councils with urban councils to form District Councils dominated by town interests.
When, some years ago, I was chairman of our Parish Council we had no real responsibilities so, our precept was £1,500 so, we had no money so, we could not do anything so, nobody paid any attention. A first cousin of mine was deputy Mayor of a commune in eastern France of exactly the same population. His precept was £350,000 but what were they responsible for? They were responsible for the School, the Highways including signposts, road-signs and paths, Planning and so on. If they wished to put a chicane in the village to slow the traffic, it did not matter a fig what the Route National people or the Police said about it, their Commune had the absolute right to put one in.
Local responsibility breeds local pride. That is why it is such a pleasure to drive through rural France. Local responsibility is what “the Big Society” should be all about.
Is a Change possible?
The culprit for emptying the rural villages was the tanker combine which arrived in the 1950’s. At one swoop it did away with 16 agricultural jobs – reaper & binder driver and operator, stookers, carters, stackers, horse handlers etc. During the week, there was hardly an able bodied person in the villages which became ghost villages until the week-enders arrived on Friday nights.
At long last, after70 years, the villages are beginning to be occupied by young couples, with energy, who can carry out most of their work from home – it is called the Internet Revolution.
This provides the energy for locals taking the initiative to run most of their own affairs.
Having attended the last two meetings of my local Parish Council, I fear that the councillors still have not grasped the its future roll. For nearly seventy years, the council has had fewer and fewer responsibilities, no money and precious little to do. Everyone has slipped into a culture that “they” will do up our shoe-laces. It is now clear that in the future, we will have to do up our own shoe-laces. The Council will, therefore, be in a leadership role in getting things done on behalf of the Parish. They will be judged on their success in so doing.
Prior to 1974, rural administration was by the Rural District Councils (“RDCs”) and town administration by Urban District Councils (UDCs). In cases where Parishes were too small, there were no Parish Councils. Our Parish Council came under the local RDC. The officers knew all the villages and the locals intimately. In 1974 UDCs and RDCs were abolished and local administration changed to larger District Councils (DCs) made up of urban and rural areas combined.
The financing of DCs became more and more centralised. By the end of the Tory years, financing was Central Government 84%:16% Local Government. Those were the heady years of local government. They built new offices, rewarded officers lavishly, hired more and more people and council tax rose relentlessly. The Labour administration of 1997-2010 was shrewd enough to perceive that when people received their council tax bill they blamed the local council not central government. So, financing now is approximately Central Govt 75%:25% Local Govt. It is not hard to guess that the Coalition Govt is going to drive that ratio down to say 50:50.
What this means for parishes is that their parish councils will have to organise themselves to get things done on behalf of parishioners including:
• clean and clear their signposts, road-signs and verges.
• cut the verges and clean out gullys and ditches.
• winter road management.
• employ road repair contractors.
• Administer the path system an d Tree preservation
• a host of other things that, hitherto, they have had done for them.
They will also have to challenge the county and the CDC on what is in the budgets for their Parish. For example, has any councillor enquired whether the roads in the Parish are in the county highways budget? If not, what action is proposed by the parish Council?
Managing to get things done
Since councillors have had nothing to do for years they may be inexperienced in how to get things done. There are four basic principles in getting things done:
1. A clear prescription of what has to be done and how it is planned to achieve it.
2. Appointment of responsibilities of who is to do what.
3. Publication of a timetable for action
4. Regular monitoring of progress
`I make the following recommendations:
• Another 3 dates for cleaning up the Parish in addition to the date initially fixed. Each day of action should cover cleaning of road-signs and sign-posts as well as rubbish.
• A councillor is made responsible for each day so that we know to whom to offer equipment that may be useful.
• A winter salting programme is agreed, responsibilities allocated and the Parish informed.
The CDC and the County are challenged to put in writing what plans they have for carrying out their responsibilities.
Graham Ross Russell, 21/04/2011