All too often community projects start but fail, falling into disrepair owing to lack of funding or hitting a brick wall with bureaucratic red tape. This can often lead to deprived parts of this great nation of ours, with citizens feeling discarded and forgotten.
Communities the length of the country are eroding and people are less and less integrated by allegiance to township or village life. As we move to a secular society, the church has less control and the family unit in many deprived areas is skewed with thousands of children growing up in single parent families. This 'erosion' is completely depressing and is having a huge effect on our young people's morale. Much like a new set of clothes, a tidy up of the garden, or a clean and wax of the car, makeover can make us feel a whole lot better - 'If I look good, if I feel good, I am therefore good!'. It is a fact that people look after their property and their communities better if those communities feel right, offer the correct level of amenities, are regularly serviced and inhabitants are shown how to make them stay serviceable. Not by handout, or waiting for the government to do it all, beyond Council civic obligations, but by motivating themselves to care for what's theirs, in that quintessential tribal British way, to covet our commune, guard it carefully and show each other respect along the way.
This is what we found first hand when travelling the UK for our recent TV show Construction Squad: Operation Homefront. The communities of Glasgow, Newcastle, Preston, Luton, Oxford and Southampton reached out to us for help with their community projects and in response we contacted the veterans community. People came, in their droves - they built with us and for us, they laid bricks, they scrubbed, they painted and the good businesses of the area donated and delivered.
Together we built community projects that will leave a lasting legacy. It is for this reason that the concept of Big Society, the Governments' term for "helping ourselves", is not solely about proclaiming that we must do more to take an active role in our communities, particularly in times of austerity when we are hurting, but it must also be about leadership and direction. In order for Big Society to work as a social model, we need community leaders who are prolific, outspoken, determined and inspirational. They exist, they are out there, and we need to find them, harness them and train them with the tools of leadership and let them champion their cause. To strive for better community services, integration and working together, leadership starts at the top, from central government down, incorporating access to funding and grants for community needs and offering support at every level including the town and city management. So many people in this country have great ideas, but are without the knowledge or tools to make them a reality.
Veterans offer a hugely powerful work force with a profoundly robust work ethic. 60,000 veterans are flooding the country as they face redundancy over the next five years. Hundreds of them volunteered for our projects, ably dedicating hours and hours of graft for their communities. They had served their countries and they were proud to serve their communities when asked. Our new social platform www.operationhomefront.co.uk is a place where anyone can advertise their community project, what they need and why. It's also a place where the veteran community and anyone else for that matter can pledge time, an hour here and a day there to help those in need, to help build communities we can be proud of and champion our community leaders and their dreams, to make our ideas of Big Society reality, from the grass roots up. This is not about the projects the government thinks you want, it's about the projects you know you want! It's about community led leadership and community led empowerment.
Construction Squad: Operation Homefront airs from Friday 30 August at 8pm on Channel 5