This week I have launched my own appeal to the people of Newham – to find the Best of Britain, the deserving volunteers who make this borough a better place to live and work, and try to make sure they get the recognition they truly deserve.
In his vision for Britain, Gordon Brown wants to put the values of the voluntary, community and social enterprise sectors at the centre. I was privileged to be invited to the Prime Minister’s book launch in the summer. His book, Britain's Everyday Heroes, is about everyday heroes… some of them from Newham, ordinary people who have made remarkable contributions.
He talked of an unsung army of "decent, dedicated people quietly at work" improving their neighbourhoods. The voluntary sector, he said, enabled ordinary people to do extraordinary things, calling them “the very best of Britain”.
With the hundreds of people in our community who dedicate their time and energies to helping us all, it is not surprising that some of the borough’s finest should get a mention.
But it is even less surprising as the book was written in partnership with our own Community Links, a Canning Town-based charity that delivers innovative and exciting projects helping over 50,000 vulnerable children, young people and adults every year. Royalties from the sales of the book will go to Community Links.
A new Council for Social Action, to advise the Government on initiatives to celebrate and inspire those working for the social good, will be led by Community Links Senior Advisor, David Robinson. Community Links has worked with Gordon Brown since 1997, where they first took clients from their New Deal programme to Downing Street to share their experiences of unemployment with the then Chancellor.
Since then, the charity has continued to share local experiences with the government and advise on social policy.
It is a measure of how important the voluntary sector is to Gordon Brown that his first major policy speech as Prime Minister pledged Government support over the next decade. The policy will be to give people from across the community a voice, and encourage them to use it. Grassroots enterprise and thousands of small community-led projects will get new funding, and a new social investment bank might help support charities.
Volunteering would be further encouraged by investment in voluntary and community organisations and social enterprises, as well as the transformation of youth volunteering into a national youth community service.
This is an exciting agenda, and offers everyone a chance to develop and shape our future.
I have often, in this column, in speeches and in talks with constituents and fellow MPs championed our local volunteers, and urged you all to get involved. It is this alliance of everyone working together that will build the community of the future, and transform all our lives. Government, both central and local, have a crucial role to play, but the future of our communities, and the power to change it for the better, lies in all our hands.
Civic enterprise - active citizens working in partnership with local government and formal political parties - underpins Brown's vision for the voluntary and community sector. It is a vision of ordinary people helping to run their local community, campaigning for social change, setting up social businesses, and giving voice to marginalised people.
I fully support Gordon Brown’s idea for a national Everyday Heroes Day, to be celebrated on July 24, or 24/7 as it will be known. And I’d like your help in finding those quiet citizens whose work really makes a difference by nominating them for an award. A new honours system which recognises everyday heroism and excellence is being introduced.
In my two years as your MP, and in the years before as a Newham councillor, I have felt honoured to meet so many little-known individuals who are dedicating their lives to the service of others – and ultimately us all. The people Gordon Brown described as the “men and women who are at the forefront of change but are seldom if ever in the public spotlight”.
Now it’s their turn. If you know an everyday hero down your street, in your local club or charity that deserves to be recognised and their work celebrated, and want to nominate them, get in touch with my office.