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Whenever I speak to someone about the Big Society, especially members of the Conservative Party, they often slink away in embarrassment as if I had just said something distasteful.  And yet I really don’t understand why – our Big Society is something as one nation we should be really proud of.

Last year, even before the shock of the riots had gone away, the Big Society was out in force sweeping up the mess. The media talked about the spirit of the Blitz like this was something that we only see in times of crisis.

But I see Big Society in action every day as busy people volunteer their time to mentor primary school children with behavioural difficulties for Chance UK. This is not easy work – it requires a long term commitment with selection, CRB checks, training and the persistence to mentor a child for a whole year. Yet people come forward every month to do so and other charity CEOs can relate similar experiences. While working with our European partners they constantly express surprise and envy at how willing people are to volunteer their time for us.

Fundamentally that’s just what Big Society is – volunteering, social action, doing something for nothing. The concept is just rebranded like a Marathon bar, new name but still as satisfyingly nutty!*

Surely this is the best time to rejuvenate Big Society after four glorious summer weeks when the Games Makers got almost as much water cooler time as the Olympic and Paralympics athletes. Big Society in action got the biggest cheers of both closing ceremonies and they deserved it. Most of the Games Makers had less than glamorous roles, crowd control or standing long hours at train stations making sure people got to their events. Yet they did it all with good humour and often a crowd pleasing sing-along. It was infectious. Londoners did as they were asked and stayed off public transport at vital times; they even took it upon themselves to talk pleasantly to tourists.  The Daily Telegraph was moved to call it the ‘Summer of Love’.

Of course volunteering isn’t totally free, good quality training and supervision is vital. And the unmistakable outfits of the Games Makers and their funky limited edition swatches all come at a price. Volunteering requires investment but it does save public money and that is something we cannot afford to ignore in this economic environment.

Big Society’s biggest strength is the feel good factor. For our kids at Chance UK the first realisation that their mentor isn’t paid to be there but is there out of choice, after a long days work, is a turning point in the relationship.

So please do not be embarrassed by the Big Society. Hold your heads up high your heads and say: “We are proud to be part of a Big Society. What can we do to help?”

*explanatory note for the under 30’s: Snickers used to be called Marathon’s pre-1990.

Gracia McGrath OBE is the CEO of Chance UK.

Follow Gracia on Twitter: @ChanceUK

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