I’ve been working in the arts, involved in the voluntary sector and tinkering with ideas of community organising for most of my life. I was brought up by parents who were active and involved in the community, and have been getting stuck in myself since the age of 13, when I got backstage at Worthing’s Connaught Theatre as part of their community arts programme.
While my stuff has always been about work at street level, about the simplest route to action, about doing things with the smallest resource, it’s been good in the last few years to know that what I was doing was appreciated at the other end of the scale.
Nick Hurd MP was the Minister for Civil Society at the time of the August 2011 riots, and we first spoke on the day of #riotcleanup when he pledged his support and ensured the thousands of volunteers I’d mobilised had a free run at doing something good.
He became a great advocate for the work I was involved in. I heard him tell the story of #riotcleanup at events a few times; my broken Toshiba laptop, coffee delivered to the door, and my liking for takeaway food becoming slightly more exaggerated each time.
We’ve kept in touch since, and he helped me try and test ideas around using social media for social good with #wewillgather. He helped us launch the project and reach a much wider audience, ensuring that the ideas we put forward are still being discussed today.
And Nick gave me the chance to push the government to bring their empty buildings into community use, setting up a meeting with Chloe Smith MP and the government’s empty property team.
Nick was a genuine enthusiast for the ideas behind the Big Society – finding new ways of volunteering, increasing people’s involvement in the places they live, shrinking bureaucracy, trying and testing and taking risks, developing a more people-based approach to taking action. Wherever you are, politically, those are good things.
As part of David Cameron’s recent reshuffle, Nick has resigned as the Minister for Civil Society. He said, ‘Thanks to so many friends and critics in our brilliant voluntary sector. You have often driven me nuts, but my respect and love are undimmed.’
Hard as it is to say this as an anarchist, I’m genuinely sorry to see a Conservative minister go. So goodbye, Nick Hurd, but I hope we can still drive you nuts occasionally.