Thursday, 24 February 2011

the real 'big society'

One of the great things about Lewes is that the Big Society has already arrived in another guise; perhaps it has never gone away. Wherever you slice the cake, you see layers of people doing things for other people for nothing. Take public transport, for example. The uber site for this in Lewes is Travel Log Lewes, an up to date website full of ideas and advice of how to travel around without a car, and which also offers a free monthly newsletter. According to Chris Smith, the (unpaid) editor, there are no less than four different walking groups around Lewes, some, including  Lewes Footpaths Group, offering free walks.

On the cycling front, Cycle Lewes has a great website, full of local information and routes and has created a wonderful hard-copy cycling map, with help from District Council funds, available free at the Tourist Information Centre. They also campaign for more cycle routes, including the Lewes-Newhaven route and completion of the route from Ringmer.

Bus-wise, our hands seem to be tied by the bus companies and East Sussex county Council who seem not to realise what a lifeline buses are to the vulnerable and isolated. I didn’t realise, though, we do have a community bus, according to Travel Log Lewes, whose existence is owed to Ruth O’Keeffe and other dedicated local councillors (who by the way are also unpaid).

Trains, obviously, are operated by commercial outfits, but I didn’t realise that, according to Travel Log Lewes, you can get Daysave tickets from the Tourist Information Office that allows you to travel anywhere on Southern Trains for £10 for one and £20 for four if you avoid the rush hours.

In terms of car clubs, Lewes has two informal, volunteer-run car clubs, one, the Silver Bean Car Club is an informal car club I helped start and which reduces the money and hassle that comes with owning a car. If you want to start your own group you can read about how we did it here. And the District Council has also started a car club, run by CommonWheels CIC, with European money, open to everyone in Lewes.

Most Lewes schools now have volunteer-run walking buses that take children to and from school on foot. The District Council’s Think Air campaign still continues to try to relieve the congestion and resulting illegal levels of NO2 emissions on School Hill and Fisher Street.  And Lewes Living Streets is, I believe, still campaigning for a 20mph speed limit throughout Lewes.

Everything I’ve listed above is run by Lewes people for Lewes people, all for free. In a world where the corporations suck money out of the land and out of communities, and try to seduce us so loudly, it’s easy to forget this huge layer of community expertise and goodwill, our local immune system, underlying our wellbeing and ready to spring in to action when necessary. Let’s remember that this huge, often invisible, source of people power is where our resilience lies.

No comments: