By Danny Burns, Colin Williams and Jan Windebank.
At a senior citizens dinner at our local church, I sat with a man still depressed after the death of his wife two years before. He explained to me that volunteers from the church were supporting him throughout this unhappy period. Here was an example of community self help.
The importance of this is under-estimated by statutory bodies. All the more reason, then, to welcome this study which measures and assesses local activities.
The authors define community self help as “those informal activities that are not fully provided by the market and the state”. There are thousands of such activities that include people helping each other, such as neighbourhood credit unions and local exchange trading schemes. They are important because they uphold certain values such as altruism and fellowship. Further, participants often gain skills and confidence which enable them to obtain full-time jobs.
The authors believe self-help groups have the potential to be a permanent alternative to the mainstream economy. However, if this is ever to happen the government will have to facilitate their growth by extending tax credits to the unemployed and part-time employed participants.
Bob Holman is author of Champions for Children (Policy Press, 2001).