The Prime Minister’s New Year message was that Britons should and would feel pride in 2018.
What we’ll end up feeling proud of was a little trickier to fathom but seemed, by and large, to revolve around overcoming challenge and adversity and, in doing so, contributing to a society that was 'stronger and fairer'.
Defining and engendering national pride is always a tough concept in a four-nation state, and it will be made all the tougher as we redefine our relationship with our neighbours and the rest of the world. Pride in our politicians over the next 12 months is going to be a similarly tall order in light of the fractious and fractured debate that’s bound to unfold as we get to grips with the devil in the detail of Brexit and remain locked in a period of austerity.
So what does that leave us? Royal births or weddings? A good World Cup?
As we emerge from a season dominated for some by families and celebration but for others by isolation and hardship, and as many of us turn our thoughts to what would make our lives better in the year ahead, perhaps considering what would make us proud when we look back in a year’s time is not a bad place to start.
Pride of Place
What often unites us in the UK are the institutions which help make our society more civilised (which involves a bit more than just being stronger and fairer), many of which we collectively own and financially support. The biggies are probably the NHS and the BBC, but we find other examples in the fields of art and culture, scientific endeavour, even local government. These may be institutions we argue about fiercely amongst ourselves in terms of direction and funding but which we instinctively defend when they’re undermined or belittled. We somehow feel they represent the best of us, whether in terms of public service, artistic creation or humanitarian endeavour.
Most of us have the same instinct about our local communities. We know they’re not perfect – often far from it – but we feel pride in where we come from or where we’ve put down roots and have an inbuilt desire to contribute to their success.
One thing we know about 2018 is that unless we all contribute more to the success of our communities, many of the assets, facilities, and services we value – and which contribute to the pride we have in our place – are likely to decline, deteriorate or disappear. Local government spending on 'neighbourhood services' (culture, community, environment) has already reduced by 40% across the board and up to 60% in the most disadvantaged areas according to the Association for Public Service Excellence and councils continue to consult on transformation plans aimed at delivering more savings while building the capacity of communities to be more resilient and self-reliant.
Parks and green spaces have taken on something of a totemic status in this debate. Many urban parks were created as an expression of civic pride (the name of the park where I spent many childhood hours reflects the sense of achievement felt by those who created it – Bold Venture). But parks also had a clear social and environmental purpose in promoting health, improving air quality and helping rapidly urbanising communities retain a connection with nature.
Power of parks
A cross-government action group and new strands of innovation funding will ensure that parks stay on the political agenda in the year ahead but we know these precious and pride-generating assets – as with many other facilities which define and support our communities such as children’s centres, youth groups, sports clubs, heritage centres – will only thrive if more of us get more involved in their management and upkeep.
What’s more, being more active in our local communities is also the best way of ensuring the national institutions we take pride in can continue to be viable. Being better connected in our local community creates health which reduces pressure on the NHS. Supporting grassroots sports may not contribute to success at Russia 2018 but lays solid foundations for the future. More importantly, strong, cohesive communities help ensure that all people, irrespective of background or circumstance, get the opportunity to achieve in life – fulfilling their own potential and making the rest of us proud as they do.
Those still casting around for a New Year’s resolution might want to consider the well-worn statistic that 92% of people who make a pledge to change have let it drop by the end of the year against the growing evidence base that once people start volunteering (particularly from a young age) it becomes a habit for life.
To help you get started, Groundwork has produced a simple guide to getting community projects off the ground, derived from the stories and good practice of the finalists in the 2017 Groundwork Community Awards.
As with most resolutions, we’ll need good old-fashioned willpower to achieve something great, but being in a position this time next year where more of us are more active in our communities and where that activity is better recognised and nationally supported with funding, training and infrastructure, well now that would be something for Britons to feel truly proud of.
Click here to view and here to download Groundwork's Top Ten Tips for creating a successful community project.
Post by Graham Duxbury, Chief Executive