Active citizenship is the glue that keeps society together. Democracy doesn’t function properly without it, because effective democracy is more than just placing a mark on a voting slip.
You can read here 25 examples of how our members engage in active citizenship and get an idea how you can act as well!
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In June of last year, Queen Elizabeth II knighted Sir Stuart Etherington in recognition of his work supporting active citizenship. His commitment to the community, youth, and civil society empowers people to engage in activities that beneﬁt all in society. Along with this commitment comes hard work and dedication, not only for the marginalised youth he works with at London’s University of Greenwich, but also for the arts.
He is fond of the classics, of ancient Greek theatre in particular. He recalls having seen a performance by a small Greek theatre company in London. Captivated by what he had seen on stage, Sir Stuart sent them a small donation. Eventually, he became the chair of the company’s inner circle of supporters. Through their contributions and fund-raising activities, the young company is able to survive and stage politically charged classics like Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex or Euripides’ Medea.
Classical Greek theatre – an education for all
I am fascinated by classical Greek theatre. Unfortunately there is very little of it in London,” says Sir Stuart. The company modernises the plays and performs them at schools where young students get to discover their typically twisted plots. “Art is right on the margins,” says Sir Stuart, who is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a member of the Dickens Society. “But these performances at schools bring along to it an educational appeal for the young people.”
Such activities are key to his vision of active citizenship as vital to the future of building democracy. “Mature stable democracies remain stable and mature by listening to what people are saying. Young people now form a social engagement which empowers them in and outside work,” he explains.
Speaking to young people
At the University of Greenwich he runs a social inclusion programme to help students from minorities ﬁnd their way along a path that is too often littered with unjust obstacles. He spends a lot of his time there speaking to young people, especially those who can no longer aff ord to attend university.
For him, the demonstrations by students throughout the country against planned spending cuts for higher education and an increase in tuition fees is testimony of the human will to face down challenges and hope for a better future.
“To keep Europe alive we need to see a link between active citizenship and political engagement,” says Sir Stuart. At the university, “there is a strong ethos in engaging students to be active in volunteering”, he notes, adding that such activities are often where they learn civic engagement. “It is where they become more active citizens.”
As Chief Executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), Sir Stuart has an inside expertise on active citizenship. The NCVO is the largest umbrella body for the voluntary community sector in England. Their vision is to empower people to make positive differences in their communities in the areas of well-being, social cohesion, climate change and ﬁnancial security. They represent 8 400 voluntary organisations and provide them with a diverse range of services from funding to volunteer management.
They also publish an annual almanac that draws together trends, facts, and statistics relating to the voluntary sector. The Civil Society Almanac aims to help inform and shape contemporary public policy on civil society. In the latest issue, Sir Stuart makes a strong reference to active citizenship, which he describes as a “foundation of participation” and thus an ongoing priority for NCVO’s public policy work.