I could not choose a ‘best’ example of localism in action from across the UK – there are so many – but the London Borough of Barnet’s PledgeBank is as good as any.
PledgeBank is an online facility that allows residents to pledge support for local initiatives, such as helping to clean graffiti off buildings, and encourages people to engage with the public services they use. In Big Society terms, it helps people to put something back into their communities. PledgeBank is not about money – it is designed to help residents and the council to pool resources to address local issues.
Residents can also create their own pledges and recruit neighbours and local people to help make them happen. For example, PledgeBank helped people organise street parties to mark the royal wedding in April. The council encouraged residents to commit to organising street events. In return for three or more households signing up, the council offered to cut the red tape and arrange public liability insurance free of charge.
There have also been successful bids where the council has offered to make training facilities available if volunteer trainers offer their services. For example, the council made library computers available so that people could teach IT skills to others in the community. Councillors are looking at ways to further develop the council ‘offer’. The early signs for PledgeBank are clearly positive – so far there have been 81 pledges, 57 of which have been successful.
Engaging the individual is at the heart of mobilising communities, and this means understanding people’s needs and enabling them to act accordingly. PledgeBank does just this; and if this kind of virtual community exchange proves successful, there is no reason why councils around the country might not seek to replicate something similar.
In essence, Big Society is about putting society back in the driving seat. Everyone has a responsibility to do their bit and local government is uniquely placed to act as a catalyst.