I rarely watch much TV, but last Thursday I serendipitously flipped on the chattering cyclops to see a heartwarming episode of BBC's DIY SOS, focussing on the renovation of a young family's home in Haydock.

What was striking this family's surrounding community, was not simply the degree to which neighbours, tradesmen and acquaintances freely contributed their time and skills, but more importantly their collective "pay it forward" spirit.

This attitude was underlined by a local lottery,  administered by residents since 1985, where each resident pays 50p into a weekly fund that supports a community centre for children and the elderly. Half the proceeds are paid out as prize money and the other half pays for running the centre.

  DIY SOS (The Big Build - Haydock) 

As presenter Nick Knowles interviewed community members and organisers about the lottery, the warmth with which it was regarded was both palpable and humbling. This is perhaps what David Cameron's Big Society should embody; rather than gimmicky parent-run schools or elected police chiefs, but engendering collective sense of responsibility for each other's wellbeing.

I'd like to understand whether the lottery has been a catalyst for deepening and strengthening this community's cohesion or simply been the consequence of an already cohesive neighbourhood. If the lottery has indeed been a catalysing community agent, can local lotteries be transplanted to other communities that have collective goals they're unable to realise?

LottoPress: A street-scale "lottery in a box"
The notion of hyperlocal "street-scale" lotteries is intriguing. As it happens, establishing a local lottery is commonplace enough to warrant regulation, so it's not hard to picture a "lottery-in-a-box", consisting of web apps that help establish, administer and operate a lottery. Such tools could drive widespread adoption and help us understand where "social lotteries" could affect change.

Modern Britain has recently been characterised by some as a broken society, yet a new generation of "grassroots financial instruments" – like Haydock's lottery, the Brixton Pound, Piedmont's PLENTY and the zero rupee note - illustrate – show that innovating money isn't just about enriching bankers, but also enriching and enabling broader cultures.

You can find out more about the show at BBC One and watch the segment about the local lottery at iPlayer (skip ahead to 18m 54s)


  1. There are so many inspirational community activists out there, and always have been. I love hearing about these stories, but the whole concept of the big society leaves me feeling cold. Claiming some form of catalytic empowerment is, I’m sure, on the political agenda for the originators of this particular term, and yet it has always been there.
    I hardly ever watch TV either, usually only when there’s ironing to be done! But I have to say programs like DIY SOS fill a lovely half hour of inspiration; comfort-TV at its best!

  2. The politicisation of ‘big society’ is problematic, but I think the underlying volunteerism and its new web-enablement means that something *is* different right now.
    For government its a reductive exercise in making the state smaller; not necessarily a good thing. But for individuals it has the potential for expansive, permanent activism.


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