I'm not much of a volunteering type, you won't find me at the local jamboree sitting in a bath of baked beans or falling out of a plane clutching a sponsorship form. I really do think that if a service is worthwhile then it is worth state funding.
However, I am an elected FT governor. This is unpaid, and other than the statutory attendance at public meetings, I also attend other Trust meetings and take part in other Trust events. I didn't have to put myself forward for election, and I can resign at any time, so I guess all of that means that it is voluntary. So I have volunteered for something.
A couple of weeks ago I was at one of the FT meetings and after the business was over I chatted with other governors. It immediately became very apparent that the local "worthies" are a very small group. This is not a criticism of them, in fact I am rather in awe of how much they do. Some governors are involved with groups like the Rotarians, WRVS, local care charities; as well as organisations like the Local Involvement Network (LINk) and patient involvement groups at the local PCT and local councils. Without these people the local town would not have a summer carnival. Recently the local council withdrew all funds to the town's youth centre, and the manager of the centre was distraught since this sleepy rural town has no other distraction for young people. Then one of the local charity groups - run by the same "worthies" - stepped in to provide the funds.
The more I get involved with local groups the more I see the same people: these local "worthies" are the bedrock of our community. However, they are mostly elderly, white and middle class. There tends to be more women than men, but I guess that is because of the "elderly" aspect. Quite a select demographic.
The Big Society is supposed to be local people running (or influencing the provision of) local services. How can we say that there is any "localism" if most of us are not involved? I am sure that the local "worthies" genuinely and selflessly want to improve services, but the improvements will be from their perspective and there is never just one way to provide a service, other ways are just as valid.
The local LINk is being replaced by Healthwatch. I asked an FT governor who is heavily involved with LINk about the change to Healthwatch: he told me that it will be the same people doing the same things as before. I asked another governor about the Health and Wellbeing Board. His response was less optimistic, complaining of it simply being "structure" with little purpose. He also pointed out that the newly appointed Chair of the Health and Wellbeing Board was the Chair of the PCT before clustering. Yet again, the same people.
Last week, when ordering my repeat prescription through my GP's website I noticed an announcement about their new Patient Involvement Group. I signed up. The week before I had an email from my local PCT saying that they want "patient champions" to be involved with the local Clinical Commissioning Group. I put my name forward. See that? This volunteering is addictive. I wonder how long it will be before I am known as one of the local "worthies"?