By Michael Smith (Veshengro)
London Borough of Sutton is now, so it would appear, floating the idea - after the idea of having residents repair the potholes in their roads - that residents should be doing their own street sweeping and street cleaning.
It has been suggested that in keeping with 'take part, take pride' that a yearly/quarterly volunteer street clean could and should be run. And it goes further to suggest that if residents were provided with sacks/gloves/pickers they could clean their road/surrounding roads in an couple hours afternoon.
This would increase community spirit, it is said, and would encourage pride in people's neighbourhood, which in the long term would encourage less litter on the the streets. If people have personally cleaned up litter you are less likely to drop it. While this may, indeed, be true, I am concerned that the entire idea of the “Big Society”, even though being a good one, might (i) get out of hand a little but more importantly (ii) that the amount of volunteers that Cameron and Co think to be coming forward will not and, in the end, it will require coercion. I can see Subotniks happening in Britain and, unlike in the Iron Curtain countries of old, it would not be the communist/socialist party who would be “forcing” people to volunteer “for the good of society” but our dear old Conservative Party, together with the Lib-Dems.
We are seeing already library service being put out to being run by volunteers, such as in Surrey, where the county council has decided that while it will retain the buildings and the book stock it will be staffing the libraries by volunteers.
Will this work? I must say that I am not sure about this and while I am all for the use of volunteers, and there are certainly places where it is very appropriate, even in local government service provision, or in addition, as helpers, in providing the services, be that in helping to run parks and open spaces, meals on wheels, community transport, or whatever else. But libraries and such like which need to be staffed reliably and by knowledgeable people; librarians were highly trained in books and such matters. This cannot happen with your ordinary punter.
Volunteers mending roads and cleaning the streets is something that could work but it also might not work. Then again, in other European country it is a requirement on residents to keep the sidewalks in front of their homes – including those in apartment blocks – swept and free of litter and clear of snow in winter. Maybe, just maybe, this could work in Britain too and make out neighbourhoods cleaner and happier. Worth a try...