Making social action easy
There are many different prompts for people to get involved in ‘social action’ and give their time and experience to help others.
Some want to get fit and help others but don’t enjoy going to the gym, which is where projects like Good Gym, where people run outside together on ‘social missions’ such as cleaning up a local park, come in. Others want to do something worthwhile while making friends and learning new skills, such as in the gap year school-volunteering project, City Year. For me, it was a complete change of lifestyle that motivated me to get more involved in my local community.
In December 2013, I had a baby. Immediately my lifestyle changed from commuting, working and socialising in central London, to spending all my time caring for this tiny, demanding new member of our family. My world shrank to a three mile radius around our house.
As I spent countless hours pushing a pram around the streets during the day, I started to pay more attention to my local environment. I noticed how lucky I was to have five lovely parks within easy walking distance of my house and how stunning Canary Wharf looks from the viewpoint by the Royal Observatory in Greenwich.
I also noticed how the alleyway at the bottom of our road was being used to dump mattresses, sofas and old clothing, how weeds were left to flourish in the cracks in the street, and how often I had to steer the pram around piles of dogs mess on the pavement. And it made me angry that I had to look at it and that my daughter was growing up in a world where this was the norm.
I started to look into how I could take action. Writing to my local councillor worked reasonably well but was time consuming and not exactly compatible with the demands of new parenthood. Calling and running after a street cleaner who had his headphones in left me out of breath and pretty frustrated.
Then I came across an app called Love Clean Streets. This allows people to take photos of any street issues on their smart phones and upload them to the app with a tag, such as fly tipping or pavement cracks. It uses GPS data to pinpoint exactly where the issue is occurring and has a feedback loop so that you know when your report has been read by the council and when the issue has been resolved.
During the spring and summer months as I spent more time outdoors, I made it my mission to report every issue that I saw. It was satisfying to see the cracked paving down the road repaired, weeds removed, and dogs mess cleared up. Now I am back at work, I still try to use the app as much as I can. It’s a tiny contribution but it makes me feel that I am making a difference.
Creating more opportunities to get involved
There are so many different motivations for people to get involved in social action, from sharing skills to developing relationships to creating a better world. In the Centre for Social Action Innovation Fund we’re trying to tap into as many of these as possible to build a sustainable movement where people can help others and contribute to their local community.
We hope by helping programmes to scale, there can be many more opportunities for individuals to get involved in ways that suit their interests and lifestyles.