An engaging and inspirational afternoon spent with Everton in the Community (EITC) provided for a rich and enlightening perspective on what Big Society looks like in practice, and what it might mean for leadership practice. EITC is the community charity arm of Everton Football Club, and has led the field in innovative ways to help their community – both ‘blue’ and ‘red’, as we heard. For instance, EITC has set up a free school, catering for up to 100 students who faced problems with exclusion in mainstream education. The result has been an attendance rate of over 95% (compared to 35% previously). So what business are you in?
We heard from Professor Bill Jones, Adjunct Professor of Politics at Liverpool Hope University, on the origins and principles of Big Society (along with its limitations), suggesting that the somewhat idealistic – and now highly politicised – nature of the policy concept probably meant that it was doomed to fall by the wayside as the public and politicians either misunderstood or misrepresented what it could achieve.
However, through the inspirational examples highlighted by EITC’s CEO, Denise Barrett-Baxendale, and programme participant, Sean, we were presented with very real and sustainable views of what happens when communities do work together – when a business questions what business it is in – with, and for the benefit of, their constituents. Denise’s determination to do the best for the people of Liverpool was epitomised in a regular phrase that she used in describing the many initiatives that EITC support: “We can do this, so why wouldn’t we?” And this was suitably complemented through Sean’s inspirational story as someone with mental health issues who was helped by EITC to a point where he now works for the charity as he helps others in his own community. This transformation from being a ‘participant’ of EITC’s programmes to becoming a member of “the collegiate of the willing” (another stock phrase that Denise used), reminded all those who attended that, whatever the leadership issues faced, there are people around us who can and will help.
This reinforced a belief that NHS Top Leaders sometimes need to work harder at finding their own ‘collegiate of the willing’ as they then enable and support them to work with and for the benefit of their own communities. We Top Leaders can do this, so why wouldn’t we? Welcome to the ‘real’ Big Society…NHS-style!