Real life

I’m just not cut out to be a local activist

Why do people turn perfectly adequate titles into meaningless jargon?

18 April 2015

9:00 AM

18 April 2015

9:00 AM

By and large, I’m not really sure the world is ready for me to join the steering committee of a community project in Lambeth seeking Lottery funding. It sounds like I might end up punching someone who is left-wing in an argument over how to spend public money.

That said, I was mildly inspired when a disused cricket pavilion in my local park went up for tender and some stalwarts of the community started to have worthy ideas for its future use. They approached me to help and so I am considering how I could safely (for all concerned) become involved. I should explain, unless you happen to remember, that the last time I dabbled in activism in my south London neighbourhood, I almost ended up getting lynched.

A few years ago, I stood on a street corner and tried to get passers-by to sign a petition to get a huge road sign taken down because all it said was ‘Welcome to Lambeth’. I pointed out to anyone who would listen that this was a contradiction in terms. You can’t welcome someone to Lambeth. It’s not possible. Lambeth is, by definition, unwelcoming. That’s the whole point of it.

And the sign had cost £1,000 — a terrible waste of taxpayers’ money. Also, it was an example of the overbearing state. Hardly anyone thought I had a point, and quite a few people shouted abuse at me. One old woman asked what my problem was with the overbearing state because she really liked it: ‘Are you a Tory or something?’

It seemed like a total waste of time but a few months after I submitted the petition, which I managed to get about a dozen people grudgingly to sign, the huge ‘Welcome to Lambeth’ sign did disappear. It fell down because it was so big it came out of its cement fixing. I don’t like to boast but I do believe this means the Lord God Almighty himself signed my petition, effectively.

The boarded-up pavilion in the park came on to my radar a few weeks ago after I stopped to read an agent’s notice board nailed to it as I walked the spaniel. A man also walking his dog saw me and vouchsafed that he and a few others were trying to secure funding to turn it into a ‘social project’.

‘Oo goody,’ I said, ‘we could have a café by day, which would make lots of money with all the yummy mummies and dog walkers and then in the evening we could open it up to youth groups, because the kids round here need something, don’t they?’

But it turns out it is rather naif of me to think one could make a social action project wash its own face. One has to get Lottery funding, which takes years. Furthermore, it turns out that we are actually going to turn the pavilion and the field around it into Tooting’s version of the Eden Project, with vegetable and herb gardens and so on and so organic.

‘Well, all right, I suppose,’ I said trying to be positive. ‘Oo, I know! Let’s have unemployed youths growing the vegetables! That way we can offer training to jobless young men. Can we do that? Can we?’

Not just like that, no. In order to get this idea adopted I have to join an action group, with a written constitution. A day later, an email formally requesting I sign up to the aims of this group arrived. Within seconds I was swimming in a soup of unfathomable acronyms. What is it that makes people nowadays, while no doubt meaning well, turn perfectly adequate titles into meaningless jargon? As such, what I had understood to be the Woodfield Project had become TWP.

‘Oh, I have an idea for TWP,’ I am meant to say, when I bump into my new friends to discuss our Heritage Lottery Funding or HLF application. And they might say ‘Great! Email it over. Only make sure you CC in the MD about your idea for TWP and we’ll agendise it ASAP so we can get it before the HLF on the QT!’

Anyway, the email was about 500 words long, included two very lengthy attachments and warned that I might have to at some point pay a fee for the privilege of belonging to the group looking into the future of the disused pavilion. It was also very insistent that I pay particular attention to clause 3 and clause 9 of the written constitution, which laid out what my ‘rights and duties’ would be.

I don’t think I’m up to it. And to think I thought I could help open a café to sell cappuccino to raise money to run activity groups for youngsters. Silly me.

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Show comments
  • ffs200

    You’re going to wish you never got involved in that Melissa. I can guarantee that you will run into miles of pc, bureaucratic, box ticking, jobsworth bs! I wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole – life’s too short.

  • Molly NooNar

    Yes, that would do it. Some people really know how to suck the life out of volunteering with mindless bureaucracy and formalism.

    Then again Cameron said that he wants the young unemployed to work as volunteers in order to claim their benefits… That ought to have the same effect.

    Volunteering was once such a proud and worthy cause. This country has become a nightmare.

  • trace9

    The vegetables, are on the streets, of Glasgow, sending Tweets, of Nicola’s, latest feats, in turning, Fraser’s Aunts..