The Leeds Salon @ The Leeds Summat

Big Society: A Clean-up for the Charity Sector?

Date: Saturday 26 November, 3pm to 4:45pm

Venue: ARC Room 6, University of Leeds Union Building

Speaker: Dave ClementsRichard Jackson, Steve Crocker and Maurice Glasman

(A voluntary contribution towards costs will be asked for on the day.)


Leeds Salon is once again taking part in The Leeds Summat Gathering, organised by Leeds-based charity Together for Peace and its partners and volunteers (more details below).

The Big Society is the Conservative Party’s flagship policy, designed to ‘fix Britain’s broken society’. The aim is to roll back ‘big government’ and ‘empower’ and ‘activate’ citizens and local communities to solve problems for themselves, and even run local amenities. Through the Big Society, public services are to be delivered ‘cheaper … while bringing communities together’, while the state itself assumes ‘a new role as an agitator for social renewal’.

Crucial to the Big Society agenda is the role of the voluntary and community sector. According to a source close to Cameron during its re-launch in February this year, ‘the Big Society is about personal morals, in terms of charities and volunteering’. Amongst its proposals are to train up to 5,000 community organisers to inspire and encourage people to volunteer and get involved in a wide range of community activities, and to create a National Citizen Service for 16 year olds to ‘make a difference in their community’. But two years on – and, in particular, post the August riots - where is the Big Society agenda now? And what is the role of the charity sector?

Does the Big Society represent a challenge to ‘big government’ and freeing people from an overweening state; or rather a new rationale for state-led activity into local communities and family life? Is it, as a recent Leeds-based report states, a ‘real opportunity … for the voluntary and community sector to take a lead in developing creative solution to local needs’? Or does it risk compromising their independence, their purpose, and very spirit of voluntarism itself? And can and should charities the voluntary sector even be running public services at a time of public spending cuts?

Post the August riots, the Big Society rhetoric of empowerment and solidarity seems especially appealing. But what does it mean and who will it really empower: citizens and communities, or ‘platoons’ of government ‘volunteers’ who will decide what’s in their interests? The clean-up campaigns that emerged in the aftermath seemed to suggest that the decline of community was overstated. But did the riots also bring into doubt the notion that people need official support and volunteering schemes to get involved in the Big Society? Or did the response of so-called vigilantes defending their neighbourhoods suggest that we're not to be trusted after all?



The Big Irony, Dave Clements, Culture Wars (4 August 2011)

Can the Big Society work without Big Charities onside?, Neil O’Brien, Telegraph Blogs (14 February 2011)

Cameron relaunches Big Society ‘with moral purpose’, P Hennessy, M Kite & M Howie, The Telegraph (12 February 2011)

Big Society – What does it mean for the voluntary and community sector in Leeds?, Sally-Anne Greenfield & Richard Jackson, LCF & VA-L Report (4 January 2011)

The Big Society (or ‘Compulsory Voluntarism’), Austin Williams, Culture Wars (24 July 2010)

Why Feel Charitable Towards Charities? , Dave Clements, Spiked (1 November 2011)

Charities Fight For Survival as Funding Slashed Across Country, Randeep Ramesh, The Guardian (2 August 2011)


The Leeds Summat 2011

The Leeds Summat Gathering 2011 is a free, all-day event for people from all walks of life across Leeds and the North — to get connected, be inspired, and work out how we can change our communities, our city, and our world for a better future.

Building on the success of the first Summat in 2009, it will feature guest speakers and performers, 40+ workshops, food, music, arts, film, conversation, and much much more. An opportunity to connect with new people, share learning, eat together, have a laugh, debate the big issues… and start creating a new world together.

Special guests include: Lord Maurice Glasman (outspoken political guru and advisor to Ed Miliband); activist leaders from the uprisings in Egypt, Syria and Greece; Peter Tatchell (human rights campaigner); BBC Ethical Man Justin Rowlatt; creative campaigners UK Uncut; People's Supermarket (as seen on TV); Harry Gration from BBC Look North; and more.

It's on Saturday 26th November, from 9am until late, at Leeds University Union and Notre Dame College LS2. Book your free place and/or get full info at Downloadable flyers at




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