Big Society in Action

Rural communities need to be empowered to work together with service providers to take charge of services in their area. The Big Society is not a new concept to rural communities who already have many proactive volunteers running village shops, village halls, recreational activities and even pubs. However, if this ethos of self-support is to continue to grow it will need public sector investment. These are the conclusions in a study by the consultancy firm, Rural Innovation. Rural Action Yorkshire supports the findings. We know that rural communities are already doing an incredible job providing cost-effective services for their residents, but ongoing investment and support is needed if that provision is to be extended.
 
Fortunately, we are starting to see some forward-thinking local authorities already taking steps to provide support for rural communities who wish to take on the running of services which are being affected by Government funding cuts. North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) has committed funding to the Active Communities project which Rural Action Yorkshire is delivering in partnership with the North Yorkshire and York Forum and local infrastructure organisations. The project aims to provide support to communities to help them explore alternative local solutions to keep services running where public funding is no longer available or has decreased.
 
The first phase of work has started by supporting 22 communities who face losing their library or are experiencing reduced opening hours. Rural Action Yorkshire is working with community groups in Barlby, Bedale, Colburn, Great Ayton, Leyburn and Tadcaster to explore how they can find a viable way of keeping their libraries open. The project will help community groups develop their plans, and provide a range of support to enable them to put these into practice – including help with setting up the group, business planning, accessing funding and legal advice. Each community group will need to submit plans to NYCC Library Service by the end of October to be considered by the Executive on 22 November.
 
In the e-newsletter, North Yorkshire Now, Councillor Metcalfe commented, “We have been very gratified by the enthusiasm and support shown by communities which do not want to lose their libraries. We have volunteers ranging from teenagers who want to gain experience – and perhaps add useful information to their CVs – to older people who love books and want to play an active part in keeping their library at the heart of the community. The more volunteers we get, the better the service will be – whether it’s to read to children, to deliver books using the home library service or to help in other ways to maintain the library service that is so highly valued in North Yorkshire.”
 
From now until January 2013, Active Communities will go on to provide support for community solutions to a wider range of needs. If you are part of a group seeking to mitigate the effect of public sector funding cuts through community action, please get in touch to discuss how we may be able to help.