Last year, David Cameron launched his Big Society idea with much fanfare and “passion”. Communities were to be given more powers and people were to be encouraged to play a more active role within them. This, it was said, would tackle apathy and social malaise while also, during these times of relative financial austerity, deliver services more cost effectively. In other words, it was a lot to do with people helping themselves (but not through broken shop windows).
Nearly thirty years ago, in January 1982, the Sentinel carried an in-depth profile of a Wester Hailes organisation which, in many ways, exemplified the qualities of local action and commitment which politicians, social analysts and other pontificators now say are lacking and need to be revived. F.I.S.H. (For Information and Social Help) was a good neighbour scheme set up in the early 1970s by volunteers, entirely on their own initiative, to provide support for the elderly and housebound. By 1982, F.I.S.H. had obtained enough revenue funding from Lothian Regional Council to allow it to employ a number of local residents as part-time workers and deliver not only a wide range of services to individuals but also provide help for other community groups.
The article listed an impressive array of figures which give a flavour of just how important and intensive the work of the organisation was over the six month period between April and October 1981. These included: home visits – 8,761; phone calls in – 2,560; phone calls out – 2,422; office inquiries – 1,300; items of furniture recycled – 120; homes furnished – 25; hospital visits – 260; car transport for elderly and disabled – 104. And that was only some of what they did! The part-time staff were only paid to work mornings but usually carried on into the afternoon and sometimes beyond. As the Sentinel put it, these stats “illustrate the staggering amount of work this highly organised and dedicated body carry out”.
Next week we’ll have the second part to this feature in which the reporter met up with some of F.I.S.H.’s neighbourhood workers to see their efforts at first hand.