There was a time when most neighbourhoods, and the poorer ones especially, were alive with choirs, reading clubs, friendly societies, pigeon breeder clubs and all the rest. Then something happened. They managed to get purpose-built community centres and attracted grants for permanent professional staff to manage them. The old charities that used to be run by small groups of friends in churches or working men’s clubs either died out or were pushed aside by the new lottery-funded generation. Now the community centres in the Welsh Valleys, for example, usually have full-time managers and staff. The peculiar thing is that they
are often almost empty. What was once a network of voluntary projects and chapels gave way to a series of professional agencies, with paid staff, delivering services to passive consumers. Where did all that energy go?