New Cross Gate finds itself at the centre of the Big Society

New Cross Gate is one of two areas that was studied as part of a report by the RSA on social networks and their role in "The Big Society". The Guardian says the report's most important conclusion is that areas like this have "community linchpins":

Phil Nice runs a popular Monday night quiz at a pub in south London that is famed locally for its speed cake-eating contest, audience participation (in return for chocolates), and anti-north London jokes.

The 56-year-old father-of-three, and actor who has had bit parts in Holby City, The Bill, and EastEnders, is heavily involved in an annual community festival, where he hosts a comedy night and plays roles in an interactive murder mystery.

Nice has also been named by a respected thinktank as a potential key player in building David Cameron's much-discussed "big society".

It is all down to his well-connectedness. And he is not alone in earning linchpin status for this reason. Postal workers, refuse collectors, crossing patrol attendants and the local branch of Sainsbury's could also play pivotal roles, according to Connected Communities, a hefty new piece of research published today by the RSA.

This is social networking of the analogue variety - digital networks were deliberately excluded from the study, which seems methodologically perverse, particularly in South East London, which has the richest hyperlocal scene in the country, including Deptford Dame, Transpontine, TheHill, Crosswhatfields and many others. They say:

‘Social network’ makes people think of Facebook and similar forms of social media, but we believe there is still much to learn about offline, face-to-face connections, and these are the focus of this report.

The New Cross Gate NDC programme employed mainly offline methods; whereas the Knowle West Media Centre employs digital methods to a large extent. We have therefore concentrated on our findings from New Cross Gate and offer a fuller account of our methods in this location.

The report's main findings included:
  • ‘Familiar strangers’ like postmen and dustmen appear to be under-utilised community resources; in our case study more people recognise and find value in their postman than their
    local councillor
  • People who are relatively isolated are not making use of the connections they have
  • Our geographic sense of what is central to a community
    is highly misleading, and often conflicts with measures of network centrality.
  • Community hubs, including pubs and sports clubs, are an important aspect of community resilience and empowerment.
  • People who value neighbourliness are more likely to have large social networks.
None of which his hugely surprising, but it suggests that if the Council wants to find community-led solutions to problems then it should avoid closing libraries or cutting core services such as street cleaning and refuse collection. It also suggests that there is a need for something that does what Local Assemblies are attempting to do, but perhaps they aren't yet reaching a wide-enough range of people.

With regards to New Cross Gate, it also concluded that that:

In addition to having their influence weakened through lack of informal social connections, many people are cut off from direct access to formal sources of influence. For instance, two thirds of people in New Cross Gate do not know anyone who works at the local council, and
a third do not know anyone who is in a position to employ people even on a temporary basis. Influencing the media is also a remote possibility for many, with 40% of people not knowing anyone who knows someone at a local newspaper, website, TV or radio station.

Thanks to BC-linchpin Monkeyboy for the story.


Monkeyboy said...

And how exactly did the cake eating contest escape BCs crack team? Disapointed

Ophelia Bottom said...

Cake-eating contest in my manor and I didn't even know about it? *sigh*

max said...

My feeling that the Big Society equals Let Them Eat Cake grows by the day.

Brockley Nick said...

Well it's a LibDem agenda too

THNick said...

Hmm, did they mention the Hill Station in the report? If not, that seems to miss a large bit of "big society" in NXG?

(Oh and surely everyone knows about Phil's quizzes? They're by far the best in SE London (the world))

Anonymous said...

anyone actually know what the Big Society means???

Anonymous said...

doesn't say where the cake eating contests take place...

A cynical Monkeyboy said...

From the report..

‘I think there is a phenomenally deep connection between networks and goodness. I think the reason we form social networks in our lives is precisely to create and sustain all kinds of good and desirable properties.’
— Nicholas Christakis

Has that just popped out of a random bullshit generator?

Brockley Nick said...

The Big Society basically just means encouraging community volunteer groups to do more good stuff rather than relying on the state to do anything that relates to the public realm. Setting up the Hill Station, planting Brockley Common, organising Brockley MAX - all might be considered examples of the Big Society in action.

To that extent, it's a welcome focus on the power of the voluntary sector, in my view. And it suggests an alternative approach too. So a top-down state-led solution to communication might be for the Council to publish its own newspaper. A Big Society solution might be for Council officers to give more support to local websites, thus saving money.

All well and good, but - having heard people like Phillip Blond talk about this stuff a couple of times - it seems to be a solution searching for a problem. A lot of the barriers the Tories are suggesting prevent an explosion of volunteerism don't seem to me to be major problems. It's not realy "red tape" holding back the BXAG's plans for Brockley Cross, it's lack of funding and lack of engagement from the Council.

If you really want to see a Big Society, you don't do it by cutting back Council budgets, you do it by allocating more money to be spent at a local level.

Anonymous said...

The Quizzy Quiz is the best pub quiz in the world - Monday Nights at the The Telegraph at The Earl of Derby (Dennet's Road, not far from Nunhead station).

I hate the Tories, but if they want to make society more like the Quizzy Quiz... I'm up for that.

Brockley Nick said...

"I hate the Tories, but if they want to make society more like the Quizzy Quiz... I'm up for that."

Should have been their election slogan!

A slightly less cynical Monkeyboy said...

I thought the point about Sainsbury’s was interesting, if a bit obvious. It's perhaps the one communal facility that all demographic groups use on a regular basis – more inclusive than church, the farmers market, Brockley Central, libraries... A stall in the car park collecting comments or ideas for the area may be far more effective then hiring a church hall on a damp Wednesday evening.

max said...

"Well it's a LibDem agenda too"

I know! Still, can't help but being very cynical about it.

I entirely agree that to pick on people doing nice things to justify budget cuts towards the very same things is rather ridiculous.
And the last thing people organising cake competitions need are the praises of your local Tory boy, how uncool!

Matt-Z said...

As an aside 'The Telegraph at the Earl of Derby' is the worst pub name ever. Pick one and settle on it! At the moment it reminds me of 'Early Learning Centre At Mothercare'.javascript:void(0)

NXG_Resident said...

Will Sainsburys be reviving their plan for a new New Cross Gate high street I wonder? PS: The bit about Telegraph Hill residents not integrating with the rest of New Cross Gate is utter rubbish.

Anonymous said...

@Matt-Z Yeah, I agree, it's a very daft name indeed. But most people just call it The Telegraph... not really sure why I used the full name.

Anyhow, it's a very nice pub - good food and as I said, the pub quiz is brilliant. I'm surprised that more BC regulars haven't been.

Anonymous said...

so is the Big Society a sticking plaster to enable the Small State to happen i.e. further privatisations and austerity cuts?

TLA said...

So NXG is epicentre of BS great stuff.

Anonymous said...

I used to live in TH - and knew Phil Nice in passing - he always gave me the impression that whilst talking to you he was looking over your shoulder to see if there was someone more interesting behind - but perhaps that was me . . .

The TH 'clique' is also very much bound up with having your children go to Askes - if you were part of that you were 'in' - if you weren't you were somehow frowned upon.

I was also interested in the way that Phil Nice was holding the microphone on the front of the Guardian Society - big cock indeed!

Tamsin said...

I think "The Telegraph at the Earl of Derby" is a means of getting around all sorts of red tape and licensing problems if you change the name of a pub. It used to be the Earl of Derby and they wanted to re-name it the Telegraph and this was the simplest way of doing it.

Cake (or rather hot-cross bun) eating contests are a feature of the Quiz Night in the Telegraph Hill Festival.

Big Society might work a bit if they make use of exisitng volunteer organisations. Not if the attempt is to start up new ones - too much support needed. It will, though run into problems if the retirement age is pushed up and up and pensions pushed down and down - no-one around to volunteer as those in their sixties and seventies will still be having to work.

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