Big Society

Two weeks ago, I met a large Irish man, in clothes too trendy for his age and his tummy, who was the think tank impresario behind David Cameron’s new Conservative Coalition Government initiative called ‘Big Society’.

‘Big Society’, he told the room, within which I was sitting, has no strategy. There is no plan. It is an evolving, dynamic idea. My interpretation of ‘Big Society’ is that it is about empowering the people to manage their own lives, to take charge of their lives and to take responsibility for their own decisions and actions. ‘Big Society’ is about integration and connection. It is essentially about community.

Within the community at RAF Odiham, there is a road that divides the dwellings of the ranks. To some extent we could take this principle of ‘Big Society’ and apply it to our very own station. The partners of those who serve are connected to the military, but we are not actually serving. We are part of the wider military family, but we are dependents to whom, which the service is obliged due to the transigent nature of the job. At least, once a week I say the words, ‘I am not in the military’. I don’t want to be in the military. The institution is far to rigid, draconian, structured and celebratory of traditions that don’t appeal to me. Hagar loves it. He fits into it like a hand into a glove. Initially, I was fascinated by it, and I love the insider look that I have been privileged to see across many of it’s elements. At any opportunity, I scrutinise the textures, the elements, the choices and the displays of livery that the war machine adorns behind the wire. But now, I am kinda over it, the novelty has worn off, and have stopped dancing within it. Maybe, I am just getting old and growing up.

I may have entered into these nuptials naive and judgemental but that has changed. I was welcomed into the community and I have been propped up at my darkest moments by this extended family that sits outside the service and enables them to deliver their jobs. This road that divides RAF Odiham needs to be crossed. As a community it would be nice to unite the families, but before that can happen the community must want to be united. How do we do this? I welcome any suggestions. I was thinking maybe we could have Girls Night Out at the Families Club. But how do we draw people out of the safety and comfort of their homes into something new that has not been done before. This little challenge that we have at RAF Odiham to cross the road, I think the Coalition Government are going to have on a more national scale to create a ‘Big Society’ amongst little pockets of inward looking cells.

The root of the challenge of English-ness is brilliantly explained by Kate Fox in Watching the English

While you are all thinking about it – I’ll go and have a little read and see what I can unearth.

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12 thoughts on “Big Society

  1. I wish you luck in your endeavours… I guess everyone needs to be fired up for the same idea to make it work. A community only works if a the individuals inside it want it. I can’t see why they wouldn’t. There are more positives and very few negatives.

  2. Change is always difficult to make on so many levels but that shouldn’t stop people trying. Sometimes, it helps if someone is holding your hand if you have to cross a busy road!

  3. “Big Society” on this side of the pond has a different, more Labour-like connotation, so I don’t quite understand using it in a smaller, community sense.

    It also seems to me that communities are made of those of similar interests, and those involved drop-in / drop-out as their interests wax and wane. While living on-base might fit Hagar better than you at this point, isn’t it comforting to know it’s available if he’s again deployed?

    • I love living amongst the community. They are my lifeline when he’s away. It’s no good amongst civilians – they always feel sorry for you. What use is that? Most of the time, you want someone to watch this kids while you pop out and get some milk.

      ‘Big Society’ in this post is about how to make the wives of officers and other ranks to integrate socially. The community is divided. In UK terms the Labour Govt centralised all the decision making and bankrupt the country on spending initiatives that just wouldn’t happen in USA. I think USA actually operates ‘Big Society’ already because individuals have to be more self sufficient and self sustaining. Americans are more engaging and community spirited – you sit on your front porches and watch the world go by. The English would never sit in their front garden.

  4. By two sides of the road do you mean the officer sand their families on one side and the rest on the other? It seems odd to me that all the families don’t mix – surely the rank of the serving partner has nothing to do with whether or not some people should be friends or not?

    • Officers on one side and other ranks on the other. The wives mix a bit but not often. Bizarrely, it’s the serving that don’t approve. It’s quite complicated Hagar said he would feel weird having a Sgt over for dinner if I set it up and he was talking to one of the crewman and they feel the same.

  5. I really hope you can find a way to create the sense of community you seek. I think Girls Night Out is always a good start. Because everyone needs to get out sometimes. Maybe you will be suprised by how many people are secretly searching for something just like what you envision?

  6. Admirable though your thoughts are, you miss an important point.
    The reason for the divide is one that has served all military forces of the world well for thousands of years- military discipline.
    Whilst there is nothing wrong with you being best mates with Cpl Smiths wife, it would be inappropriate for your husband to be ‘best of friends’ with hers. And before you board the outrage bus shouting ‘but it’s 2010, FFS!’ remember what type of orders officers have to sometimes give their subordinates in order to remain an effective fighting machine.
    I am not saying I approve of social segregation, however think how well this structure has worked for the Armed Forces and understand why those in the military may be less than keen to change the status quo.
    My personnel view of a classless society is that it is fine as long as all in it are happy to be dragged down to the lowest common denominator. For further reading see- Nu Labour…

    • Funnily enough Hagar and I had this exact same conversation!!! I can’t disagree with you at all because I am not in the armed forces so I couldn’t possibly understand the operational functionality of the rank system.

      Interestingly, there was talk of it being in the get together being in the Officer’s Mess and then one of the wives piped up and said ‘would they be upset if someone threw up in the bar?’ and even by Macnaughty, boundary challenging behaviour I have never chucked my ring up at the bar on the Officer’s Mess and so we came to the conclusion that it wouldn’t be particularly well received at all.

      Ultimately, birds of a feather stick together but I am happy to support creating a more cohesive social structure on the partners side because I am sure in the people pool there will be some birds that stick together and some birds that end of up as polar opposites.

      I think you are absolutely right though I don’t think the Cpl wants to be friends with the Maj and the nature of the professional beast that is the military means that is an ill advised partnership anyway.

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