I don’t know exactly what Mr Cameron’s  visions are of the “Big Society” but I suspect he is looking back to an age when society was more integrated than it is now.

This is all very laudible and most people would agree with him, BUT, the world is not the same now as it was then. My memories of an integrated society is of one where families and extended families were much closer, both physically and mentally.

My first memories of my personal place in society is being surrounded by a large family (my gt grandfather had 24 children and my grandparents had 12, some of them had emigrated to Canada, the USA and Australia, but there were plenty living within walking distance, and some of the elders were only too willing to hand out advice on how we should be brought up!

When we moved house we still saw them frequently, but added neighbours to the growing circle. These were mostly females or elderly men. The women were mostly mothers and grandmothers and their career was to provide for their own children and elderly relatives and also to help the elderly neighbours.They also volunteered  for charitable causes. We children could play safely in the street because this “Mums army” kept a weather eye on us (and our behaviour :)) Most of these women were born pre WW1, so had lived through WW1, the ‘flu epidemic, unemployment in the twenties, depression in the thirties and were now coping with WW2 and rationing, so they were a pretty tough bunch, but they had not been brought up to think of an outside career or “my time”.

The churches played a big part in our everyday life, not just on Sundays and Holy days, and whichever religion we were we supported all the fund raising events and went to the various clubs and societies run by the churches. The clergymen did lots of home visits and we were quite used to seeing the vicar, priest, minister or rabbi on the street and if any of the boys were fighting or misbehaving they didn’t hesitate to wade in to stop it. I can still see in my mind’s eye Canon Leaper laying about him with his black umbrella. 🙂 

When the younger women came home from their war work they had very different ideas. They realised that they could do many of the jobs that had been traditionally filled by men, they had lived away from home and were loth to give up their independence for domesticity. Then my generation were given so many more opportunities than our predecessors. Good education was available based on ability, rather than parental income. Most of my school friends went to university, teacher training college or a teaching hospital, whichever was most appropriate for their chosen career. Tuition was free and grants were given to cover living expenses, so no one had to worry about debt when they started their careers. There was such horror of debt in our generation that several of them would never have gone on to further education if debt had been involved.

When I worked in the hospital this was another integrated society. We all respected the other branches involved in the care of the patients and realised that every job was important and necessary for the hospital to run smoothly. We must have had bureacrats, but they were not very visible and I was never aware of them interfering with the way we worked. The “front line” workers got along well together and we mixed socially, the medical staff came to our dances and invited us to their parties and at Christmas we worked together to produce the annual show sometimes a revue and other times a pantomime. Now the “market forces” measures seem to have set department against department, hospital against general practice and profession against profession and everybody against “the management”

If the government wants to shift responsibility for care and running of communities to the charities and local volunteers, they have to support these organisations financially because, especially in these hard pressed times, the will to help may be there but there is always a financial cost too,  travelling costs, refreshments, rent of meeting rooms etc. which may seem minimal to a well paid politician, but is prohibitive to some one on benefits or a pension. I hope the MPs have taken this into account and will put the necessary measures in place before  they disband the (paid) groups alreadydoing the jobs.