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.