Wednesday, 8 August 2012

The intrinsic value of community clubs

ResPublica’s recent report, "Clubbing Together: the Hidden Wealth of Communities", explores how the group leisure and social pursuits that encourage us to join or create associations or clubs can act as catalysts for civic activity and public good. The potential for civic ‘spin offs’ are, it claims, strong reasons for provoking group instead of individual behaviour by using groups to draw in further participation, and that this should be central to initiatives across a range of policy areas. It argues that, if we want to encourage citizens to engage in extra voluntary and charitable activity, then we need to create the conditions to allow them to do so. It is the ‘contagious attitudes of engagement found in clubs’ that create spin offs of social value that spill over into the wider community and promote public good.
The report calls for a move away from quantifying successful communities purely in terms of volunteering statistics, public services and economic activity. Quantification should also include local social activity, the mix of group affiliations & club memberships, informal bonds and consumer preferences. Community benefits are based on a ‘rich tapestry’ of social engagement, they argue.
None of this should come as any surprise to liberals as we have long recognised the intrinsic value of associating with other individuals to pursue common interests and the sense of community, fulfilment and wellbeing that it brings. Such groups, clubs, and common pastimes play an important part in building the fabric of the strong and empowering communities that we seek to foster and create, and we know that where they don’t exist the greatest social problems are usually found. The report teases this out, citing research that illustrates how those communities where opportunities for association were limited were more prone to last Summer’s English rioting than those areas that had a strong association base.
Whilst you may not agree with all of the report’s recommendations it makes for an interesting read and presents a compelling case for government recognition, support and encouragement to allow them to flourish right across the country. ResPublica concludes that "by aligning policy priorities with the recognition of the club-culture which already exists and how it can be nurtured, demonstrable results for social and public good will follow".
For me personally, the report hits home exactly what is wrong with Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ agenda; neither he or his Office of Civil Society colleagues have properly considered how and what is needed to develop, replicate or encourage civic spirit. The bottom line is that you cannot expect disadvantaged communities to help themselves without first helping them to help themselves.

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