Wanted; the Big Society fixer

You want to put on a street party, but the people helping you to organise are worried. What about health and safety? What about insurance? Isn’t it going to be a nightmare to get permission to close the road?

You want use an empty location or you want to use the local the park as a temporary comedy club, but the more you think about it, the more you can only see an unfurling map of headaches dealing with all the bureaucratic hurdles. You want create a floating craft market for the town, it will move around and pop up all over the place… a short-term sculpture park on an unused patch of land … you have a dozen ideas for doing things, and you want to manifest these great thoughts, but you dread the struggle.

In my decade as a local and national journalist, there was always a steady supply of stories about the problems people faced when they wanted to do something. Interviewing them, the frustration they felt always connected with me. These were clearly people who wanted to offer and do and who were thwarted by a system that seemed focussed on regulatory compliance rather than enabling its citizenry to act, to create. The refrain always the same: “I just wish someone would make all this stuff easy.” Or “I just want to be able to go and see one person and them to tell me what I need to do and help with the forms.” or “There are a lot of people at the council paid to stop things happening, who is being paid to make things happen?”

No council is employing an ‘Enabling Officer’, but maybe they should. I will happily admit it is anecdotal, but I have seen countless community initiative and projects stall because the people running them needed help in navigating the landscape required for permission and accessing the support required to do positive things.

Councils should want to be enablers. This doesn’t mean ignoring or negating their role in enforcing and regulating, it doesn’t need a massive change in legislation; it just needs someone that is going to help people through the labyrinth of obstacles that you can inadvertently find yourself facing when trying to do something for your community. Someone to help fill in forms, access the permissions they need, and guide them through the considerations they ought to make. Someone to connect with the funding or other resources they need or might be entitled to, and help pull additional funding in, too. Someone who makes it easier for people to make real ideas that benefit their community, to make it really simple for good stuff to happen.

A council fixer working for the community with a Jim Can Fix It attitude and the practical help that really supports grass roots action. The Big Society starts small, and the small a council can do is have somebody whose focus and job description is: enable people to do cool things.

Written for artistsandmakers.com by David Southwell, author of a number of best-selling books on conspiracy theories and the nature of organized crime in the twenty-first century. A former journalist and newspaper editor, he has spent 15 years researching parapolitics and the international criminal underworld: http://www.davidsouthwell.com/

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