The Wheel's View Of Active Citizenship and Community & Voluntary Organisations

Community and voluntary organisations play a vital part in the life of communities, enabling people to come together for their own purposes and take part in community activity by engaging in social or leisure pursuits, helping themselves and others, or promoting a cause they feel strongly about. Voluntary and community organizations are, as a result, very important facilitators of community involvement.

Achieving social inclusion depends on our commitment to ensure that active citizenship embraces principles of community development.

It is a truism that it is good for society that communities are able to organise, but it is also true that some communities are better able to organise than others. There are different levels of organisational capacity in diverse communities ranging from well-connected and resourced voluntary groups in well-off urban areas to poorly resourced community groups in disadvantaged urban or rural communities, and no groups at all in new, fragmented “commuter” communities in rural areas.

There is a risk that unless organisational capacity is provided for all areas of society, “active citizenship” will become the preserve of well-organised, relatively well-off, sections of society, increasing the risk of social exclusion faced by many people and communities.

Achieving social inclusion depends on our commitment to ensure that active citizenship embraces principles of community development. This approach will allow people to have, as of right, the opportunity to influence and participate in the decisions that affect them. Supporting the capacity to organise, especially in disadvantaged communities, will also have the effect of improving the level of engagement with the political process at local level thereby reducing alienation and strengthening democracy.

An active community and voluntary sector contributes to a democratic, pluralist society, provides opportunities for the development of decentralised and participative structures and fosters a climate in which the quality of life can be enhanced for all.

Community and voluntary organisations must:

  • provide a wide range of opportunities for active citizenship to express itself: both the issues they address and their aims and objectives act as a powerful catalyst to engagement by citizens;
  • provide a platform for individuals - including those who are marginalized - to voice their concerns and challenge government actions and policies;
  • bring people together and build social capital, facilitating collective action;
  • transmit and develop the values that underpin democracy (such as dialogue and respect) and familiarise people with democratic processes;
  • provide a good entry point to active citizenship: positive experiences of involvement in the sector provide a taste for involvement and can lead to further involvement.