I’m not normally given to accosting strangers in the street but the casual dropping of litter has, on occasion, spurred me to action. That said, until very recently, I’d never taken part in any sort of organised litter pick. A cycle path near to where I live has become the ‘litter focus’ for a small group of people who use it regularly and, via the vagaries of social media, I noticed a litter pick was in the offing. So I signed up. And over the course of a couple of hours, apart from acquainting myself with my fellow pickers – all near neighbours hitherto unknown to me – two standout memories. Firstly the unexpected satisfaction from filling several sacks with litter, and secondly the reactions of those who passed us by. Some stopped and wanted to get involved or gave their details so they could come next time. And others just said thanks. Simple connections which, it seemed to me, could easily be built upon. With all the attention and money that gets paid to the question of how to build community spirit and local capacity, I’ve begun to wonder whether it’s not a lot more straightforward than many people make out.
In the most recent briefing…
We live in a world in which there are many inequalities, but one that is perhaps less visible than others is the digital divide. Current estimates suggest that around 5.9 million adults in the UK have yet to be introduced to the internet. This is a startling figure. If it’s anywhere near to being accurate, it signals that a very large section of the community are at serious risk of being permanently cut adrift from a world increasingly driven by technology. No easy answers but inevitably, they’ll be locally led – like this one from Gorbals Housing Association.
If it were possible to identify the DNA of a strong and resilient community, one of those strands in the double helix would undoubtedly be sport. While we may not all be active participants, sports clubs are absolutely intrinsic to community life. The many thousands of community based clubs up and down the country are almost always run by volunteers, generating the social glue that helps to bind a community together. Nice piece in the Herald from Kevin Ferrie reflecting on his introduction to the game of shinty.
The use of anti-depressants has doubled in just over a decade with one in seven Scots now receiving a prescription in the course of a year. GPs are often criticised for being too quick to prescribe these drugs rather than more holistic and less medical interventions. But these social prescriptions which are invariably community based need to be readily available and clearly understood by the clinicians. Some initial scoping is underway both here and in Northern Ireland to gauge interest in establishing a Social Prescribing Network. Views are being sought.
Pubs are hardly a thing of the past but the facts don’t lie. Pubs are in slow but steady decline. For the past decade, more than two pubs a week in Scotland have called time for the very last time. Whether it’s the smoking ban, the lower permitted limit for driving or just a shift in leisure habits, the stark facts are that many communities, particularly small rural ones, run the risk of losing what can be a vital community asset. In England, where even more have fallen by the wayside, community buyouts are becoming increasingly common. For some reason, not in Scotland.
Last week, the big climate message to come out of the G20 conference was that the Paris accord is irreversible. Notwithstanding America’s drift into a parallel universe, the rest of the world appears to be prepared to act as one. It’s now a question of how much is done and how quickly. In 2009 Scottish Parliament agreed to the most ambitious targets anywhere in the world. A new Climate Change Bill is in the offing with an opportunity to reaffirm that level of ambition. You can lend your support here. The science is unequivocal – there’s literally no time to waste.
Some dismiss it as ‘counting angels dancing on the head of a pin’ whereas others argue it’s crucial to preserving the integrity of our sector. Agreeing on a definition of social enterprise, or at least trying to bring some clarity to the issue, has created real tensions within the sector. While most of the protagonists agree that there are many subtle distinctions to be made, serious disagreement arises over where the red lines should be drawn (if at all). Good effort by the SE Code Steering Group to clarify what is becoming an increasingly complex picture.
Serious debate about how Scotland’s Common Good should be managed, who should benefit and even the question of what the Common Good actually is, has never really happened. Perhaps because of its ancient history or because record keeping has been less than perfect over the years, there just seems to be a reluctance to sort this out. The Community Empowerment Act touches on it but only really to kick it further along the road. That said, the recent consultation may be worth responding to if for no other reason than to make sure it gets that kick.
We hear a lot about the so called Nordic model. In no so small way, Lesley Riddoch has been responsible for that. The prime instigator of Nordic Horizons, she invites all manner of interesting folk from Nordic countries to come to Scotland to share their perspectives and stimulate a bit of debate. But what exactly is it about the Nordic model that is so attractive? Icelandic politician and diplomat, Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson, writing in Social Europe lays it out in compelling fashion.