‘What does our vision of the common good look like on a human scale?’ we were asked in Riga. Speakers discussed the principles, the strategy, the politics, the relationships, but it was hard to pin down specifics, how the common good aim might improve the lives of ordinary people, both now and in the future.
My vision takes a more personal shape.
I am involved with many organisations that rely on volunteers for their energy and achievements, and civil society benefits enormously. In the UK, most community organisations depend on volunteers, often older, retired or non-working individuals. I would like to see these people featuring far more prominently in the debate. They are the ones who deliver many of the services on a personal, one-to-one level, and create the mood music of the way people interact. Harnessing volunteer energy and goodwill must surely be a crucial part of Volonteurope’s programme. My impression is that volunteers get little direct hearing at Volonteurope events, and I wonder how much of the talking gets through to them. If common good is to have substance, volunteers themselves need to feel the difference and show the behaviours we value.
Putting volunteers in the driving seat has made a striking impact in the part of London where I live. The local authority has adapted to austerity economics by helping groups of volunteers drive local services. After years of neglect, parks have been adopted by groups of enthusiasts, snow clearance and street warden schemes use equipment provided by the Council, and volunteers co-ordinate and do the work. The police target their efforts using advice from local residents’ groups, and use the same networks to let people know about local crime patterns. Volunteers cannot do it all, but using public funding to energise and support voluntary effort is paying dividends.
And what about putting some energy into supporting direct cross-national links? This would be as worthwhile as a lot of talk at conferences. I am proud that in April my local amateur flamenco group went ‘on tour’ for the first time to the Seville flamenco feria. All ‘senior señoras’, all having fun, and thrilled to meet Spanish tradition in its home setting. We caused a sensation, and enjoyed much Anglo-Spanish goodwill. That felt to me like common good.