When we hear in the news of all the terrible things happening in the world, it can be easy to slip into despair and despondency. But we should remember that there is a more positive picture; there are lots of good people who are striving to make life better.
In Wokingham Borough, we are fortunate to have a large number of good people who put themselves out to help others. The number of local voluntary and charitable bodies, all dedicated to making life better for members of our community, is truly amazing. I'm not going to attempt to list them, as I'm bound to miss out some who are making a real difference, and I don't have enough words in this column to do them all justice. Suffice it to say, they make our community what it is; without them, the quality of our lives would be much poorer.
I'm thinking of a wide range of different voluntary bodies, from sports, arts, music, and gardening clubs, and local history societies, to charities helping people in financial hardship, or with disabilities. They all play a key role in improving life for a great many Wokingham Borough residents. In the case of the bodies helping those in financial difficulties and those with physical or mental disabilities, the contribution voluntary and charitable bodies make is usually very obvious - they enable those they assist to navigate challenges that most of us are lucky enough never to encounter. But clubs and societies that enrich the lives of financially secure and able-bodied residents also play an important role; keeping people active and engaged helps to maintain their physical and mental health.
Never have voluntary and charitable bodies been more needed, but never have they been under more pressure. A worrying number of clubs, societies, and charities are struggling financially, mainly due to the cost-of-living crisis, which has reduced donations and in some cases led to the cancellation of subscriptions from members, who have decided to cut back on non-essential spending in difficult times.
The borough council recognizes and wants to support the valuable work undertaken by volunteers and their organisations. We want to work alongside them to help them make life better for members of the community. I readily confess that we don't always get it right, but I am personally very committed to forging a stronger partnership with all of the voluntary and charitable sector organisations in the borough.
Last week, I attended the founding assembly of Reading Citizens, an umbrella organisation that brings together voluntary and charitable bodies, clubs, societies, Reading University, and faith groups across the Reading area. It describes itself as 'a people-powered alliance of local institutions working together to win positive change for our communities'. A similar body already exists in Oxford. As I heard about the good work being done by its constituent organisations, it made me wonder whether we would benefit from having something similar in Wokingham Borough.
If you think the time is ripe for a Wokingham Citizens assembly, to celebrate and promote the work being done by voluntary and charitable bodies across the borough, please contact me on Stephen.Conway@wokingham.gov.uk and we can discuss how best to carry the idea forward.
Cllr Stephen Conway