Groundwork pioneered environmental regeneration through partnerships. From a modest experiment in the early 1970s it has grown into a national and international movement in the UK, Japan and USA and pioneered a new approach to regeneration and environmental renewal. This is not an official history. It is not the whole story. This book is a collection of the personal perspectives of some of the people who were the story in the early, formative years. Here are some of our memories, dreams and reflections. Inspired by founder Chief Executive John Davidson, the contributors are: Derek Barber, Phil Barton, John Handley, John Iles, Lindy Kelly, Walter Menzies, Rob Morley, Yoshi Oyama, Adrian Phillips, Sue Price, Richard Sharland, Tony Struthers, David Trippier, Alan Wenham, David Wilcox and Peter Wilmers.
Partnership for action
Groundwork: the early years edited by
Walter Menzies & Phil Barton
Partnership for action Groundwork: the early years edited by
Walter Menezies & Phil Barton
Published 2012 Groundwork UK Lockside, 5 Scotland Street, Birmingham B1 2RR Copyright 2012 Groundwork UK. All rights reserved. Produced by Jon Kedwards & Jon Walters The views expressed in this book are those of the individual contributors and not of Groundwork UK or the Groundwork Trusts referred to in the text. Groundwork UK is the operating name of The Federation of Groundwork Trusts Ltd, a company limited by guarantee and registered in England Company Registration No. 1900511.â€ƒ Charity Registration No. 291558 Registered Office: Lockside, 5 Scotland Street, Birmingham B1 2RR.
John Davidson 1939–2012 This book is dedicated to John Davidson, the charismatic founder and leader of the Groundwork movement, whose vision grew it into a powerful force for environmental regeneration. By the time that John retired in 1996, Groundwork had become a network of 42 local trusts with 750 professional staff, 400 non–executive directors, countless volunteers, a £30 million turnover and international recognition for its achievements. The Groundwork approach was being deployed in Europe, Japan and USA. John was an inspiration to all who contributed to this book — and to many other Groundwork pioneers and fellow travellers.
Acknowledgements Thanks are due to all of the contributors to this book whose biographies can be found on page 129 and to the many others who have provided insights and material, including David Foster, Judith Rowann, Diane Warburton, Les Robinson, Adrian Blundell and Andy Fowler. Thanks also to the production team Jon Kedwards, Jon Walters and Norma Cohen. We are very grateful to Groundwork UK, and in particular Graham Duxbury, for support and encouragement. John Davidson’s family and friends have enthusiastically welcomed our project which John himself initiated. We are glad to have had the opportunity to fulfill his wish. “Lend me your ears” reprinted from the book of that name published by The Memoir Club 2007 reprint by kind permission of Sir David Trippier
Contents 1 Introduction Foreword Walter Menzies & Phil Barton Groundwork — timeline Phil Barton Hard times – it took a riot Walter Menzies 2 Conception Groundwork — Pre–History and the Countryside Commission’s perspective Adrian Phillips Reflections on Groundwork Derek Barber
8 10 15
3 Birth Inventing Groundwork 34 David Wilcox, Les Robinson, Diane Warburton Operation Groundwork: Restoring the black belt within the Green Belt 38 John Handley 4 First steps Groundwork Northwest Phil Barton Memories from the Rosendale Hills Peter Wilmers A view from Oldham and Rochdale Lindy Kelly
46 52 60
Linking town with country Groundwork Macclesfield Walter Menzies Salford and Trafford Groundwork Trust Tony Struthers Groundwork in Wigan Alan Wenham 5 Fast breeding The early years of the Groundwork Foundation John Iles Lend me your ears David Trippier Merthyr Tydfil Sue Price A Japanese perspective Yoshi Oyama Groundwork in Eastern Europe Rob Morley Groundwork hops the pond Douglas Evans A chameleon in our midst Richard Sharland 6 Afterword From FROGs to Big Society Phil Barton 7 Biographies Where are they now?
66 74 79
84 92 94 101 107 112 118
Foreword Walter Menzies & Phil Barton
Groundwork â€“ timeline Phil Barton
Hard times â€“ it took a riot Walter Menzies
Foreword Walter Menzies & Phil Barton
John Davidson conceived this book. In the months after he became ill, he encouraged us to come together to tell our stories of the early days of Groundwork. Sadly, John did not live to see the result. We hope that he would have been pleased. This is not an official history. This is not the whole story – there was so much more. Our book is a collection of the personal perspectives of some of the people who were the story. We were there. Our part in the development of the Groundwork movement was life–changing. Here are memories, dreams and reflections. Tempered by time, there is more about heroes than villains. Our memories are partial, incomplete but not, we hope, excessively rose–tinted. Our book is organised more or less chronologically so we start with a timeline and a picture of Liverpool where the fuse was lit. We explore the pre–history and the remarkable birth of Groundwork. In the British way, this was more about people and places than grand plans. We hear from the first trusts in Northwest England. We follow the beginnings of the rapid
growth of Groundwork to Wales and early adventures in Japan, Eastern Europe and America. We conclude with a critical friend and finally link the legendary FROGs to today’s Big Society. So, dear reader, you may think that everything has changed so massively that our efforts fail the “so what?” test. And that this is just a nostalgic ramble down memory lane.
John Davidson and Michael Heseltine: The men who gave birth to the Groundwork movement.
We’re not so sure. It’s just possible that some of our experiences resonate with people in Groundwork – and in the wider world of environmental regeneration – today. You judge.
Groundwork — timeline Phil Barton
1969 Upland Management Experiments in the Lake District & Snowdonia “I vividly recall the day of my conversion to the power of local action…in the late 1960s. John Bailey [UMEX Lake District project officer] taught me that achieving practical improvements in the environment had to begin by winning the hearts and minds of the people that mattered most… those who owned, managed and lived in the area.” John Davidson
1972 Bollin Valley Management Experiment “…firmly based in the public sector…based on the project officer approach, with financial delegation to initiate straightforward projects.” Richard Thomas
1975 Urban Fringe Management Experiment in Havering & Barnet “The inspiration for Groundwork arose from the [Countryside] Commission’s growing awareness that considerable tracts of land in between the built environment and open countryside appeared to be overlooked as almost a ‘no–man’s land’. Much of this land suffered from planning blight as well as from industrial dereliction.” Jim McQueen
1978 Countryside Commission conference in Leeds – initial consultation with local authorities; Dennis Howell approves a competition for a major urban fringe ‘experiment’ “Research indicated that the problem could not be solved… by the then almost conventional approach of countryside management schemes…a more sophisticated mechanism was required.” Richard Thomas
1980 UFEX80 launched; 30 submissions; 19 visited; 3 short–listed; winning bid from St Helens, Knowsley & Merseyside Councils “UFEX80 was the brainchild of Reg Hookway, the Commission’s first Director… In the event the final choice between those three fell to a new government following the 1979 general election.” Jim McQueen
1980 A fundamental change of direction “I wanted an entrepreneurial team which could act independently as an enabler to mobilise all the resources of the community – public, private and voluntary.” Michael Heseltine
1981 The Groundwork Trust registered as a charity in December “We had to rethink the whole concept. We brought in David Wilcox Associates… [and] spent the whole of 1981 working up new proposals based on a charitable trust.” Richard Thomas
1982 February: Operation Groundwork commences operations “It’s the way we do things that matters most – achieving results through people. This means working with our partners outside the trust in a way which empowers them and helps them achieve their objectives…You’re not going to survive if you’re not valued.” John Handley
October: Competition launched for five more North West trusts; 15 bids received “It soon became clear that in Operation Groundwork we had a winner. I was deeply impressed…and was very keen to extend the initiative to other areas of the North West to make an impact on the legacy of dereliction and neglect that marred the towns there.” Michael Heseltine
1983 February: Macclesfield, Oldham & Rochdale, Rossendale, Salford & Trafford and Wigan selected; Groundwork North West Unit established by the Countryside Commission July: National roll–out of Groundwork announced at the North West launch — 40 local authorities express interest “Groundwork is one of the most remarkable ideas to come to the fore in the last decade.” Derek Barber (writing in 1993) “The purpose of the trusts was defined as ‘Bringing together the public, private and voluntary sectors in a co–ordinated effort to upgrade the environment; realising the full potential of under–used land; converting waste land to productive uses; and improving access to the countryside for recreation and enjoyment.” Countryside Commission
1984 Derelict Land Grant together with Countryside Commission grant supports the trusts’ ‘Early Action Programme’ under way; Operation Groundwork catalysing over 120 projects “The philosophy of Groundwork harnessed different environmental interests: but they all pointed in the same direction – for the community to help transform the landscape. Those who had previously been armchair critics were quickly put to work; and the message going out was ‘ don’t be a spectator – get involved.” David Trippier
1985 Groundwork Foundation established; Hertfordshire the first trust outside the North West “It must be remembered that the notion of local authorities, companies and environmental bodies actually joining forces to tackle problems was strangely new in the early 1980s. It is now seen to work…..To engage the interest of disaffected youth, of unemployed people, of young mothers with children, of ethnic minority groups, and of business people, we must first understand the concerns that are uppermost in their minds so that we can offer suggestions that are seen to be relevant to their lives as well as their environment. Groundwork people…aim to build upon, not replace, the good practical ideas locked up in local communities.” John Davidson
1986 onwards The number of trusts increases rapidly, including the first in Wales
The quotations here are drawn primarily form the Countryside Commission’s official history of the first ten years of Groundwork – “Groundwork: The first decade. The Countryside Commission’s role in the Groundwork initiative” Countryside Commission (1993), CCP 417, Cheltenham ISBN 0 86170 381 2 and also from the Groundwork Foundation’s own review – “Groundwork: Action for the Environment. Portrait of a network – a review of the first ten years” The Groundwork Foundation (1993), Birmingham
Hard times – it took a riot Walter Menzies
“Where there is discord, may we bring harmony, where there is error, may we bring truth, where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope.” Margaret Thatcher on the steps of 10 Downing Street on her first day as Prime Minister, 4th May 1979. I watched her, on a black and white television, with despairing friends in Liverpool. Fast forward to July 5th 1981. I picked my way along Upper Parliament Street avoiding the coils of fire hoses, burned out cars, dozens of police vehicles, fire engines, lights still flashing and knots of police, firemen and people watching and waiting. I can still remember the acrid smell and the unforgettable sight of The Rialto and other fine buildings – relics of Liverpool’s imperial glory days – wrecked and still burning. Rioting over the weekend and over what was to become a nine day period resulted in pitched battles between the police and the rioters, death, injury, looting, more than 500 arrests and the police
The Minister for Merseyside on tour. Left to right: Basil Bean, Michael Heseltine, Walter Menzies and Paul Thompson
using CS gas for the first time outside Northern Ireland. Back in the office, we looked across the street as our friendly paper shop proprietor struggled to fix corrugated iron to protect his windows and his livelihood. None of us knew it at the time: this was a momentous moment in the evolution of what was to become Groundwork. It brought Michael Heseltine to Liverpool for his blitzkrieg as “Minister for Merseyside”: “Alone, every night, as the meetings were over, I would stand with a glass of wine in my hand looking out at the magnificent views over the river and ask myself what had gone wrong with this great English city...in truth, everything had gone wrong.”
People were voting with their feet – 10,000 a year were abandoning Liverpool. Factories were closing by the day. Buildings and land including magnificent assets such as The Albert Dock lay derelict. Perceptions of the city were tragicomic, expressed perfectly in Bleasdale’s TV series “Boys from the Blackstuff” gifting the world the plight of unemployed tarmac layer Yosser Hughes and “Gie’s a job.” I had many personal experiences of the grotesque absurdity of it all. Just one: The Trotskyist Militants had successfully used entryist tactics to take over the City Council or “Corpy” as it was universally known. Derek Hatton had emerged as the Deputy Leader and their charismatic mouthpiece. I was working with co–operative housing groups. Liverpool led the country in co–operatives controlled by the tenants, in stark contrast to what had degenerated into a failed centralist model of municipal housing. Militant would have none of it and was resolutely set against co–operatives and for a return to Soviet municipal values.
Job creation: unemployed people creating a riverside walk in Otterspool.
I was dispatched by my boss at MIH, as it then was, to negotiate with Derek so as to salvage some at least of our emerging co–ops. I arranged to meet him in the housing department in Kirkby, one of the City’s desolate and unloved overspill estates. He was then – notionally and ironically – a community development worker. In the degrading waiting room of one of Knowsley’s third world housing offices I tackled the abusive receptionist protected from the tenants by steel grilles. Finally, I met Derek and was subjected – in this monument to municipal folly – to a stream of consciousness tirade on the revisionist infamies of housing associations, co–operatives and everything else that deviated from the Militant way. 1 Introduction
Toxteth burning: The Rialto in flames during rioting in 1981.
Heseltine in Liverpool was more than a breath of fresh air – a hurricane. One encounter narrowly avoided being severely career limiting for me. One of my responsibilities was a “job creation scheme” opening up a riverside walk alongside The Mersey at Otterspool. We were very proud of this – tight and experienced site managers, lavish funding from the nascent Merseyside Development Corporation (including a shiny new yellow JCB straight out of the showrooom). Best of all – a respectable proportion of our previously unemployed workforce progressed into “real jobs.” The construction of Heseltine’s courageous International Garden Festival was beginning just over our site fence – we supplied tried and tested labour to the contractors. The great man was to visit us as an exemplar and I had masterplanned his visit down to the finest detail. Our bolshie and sometimes dope smoking “trainees” had agreed that they would work like the furies when he appeared
– provided they could knock off for the rest of the day at 2.00 – a satisfactory deal. And we were to be alerted when the black government car approached by one of our boys with a walkie–talkie: down with the teas, fags and joints and on to the site...a clever plan. But he arrived – unannounced – from the wrong direction! Just – and only just – we got our performance together while he was distracted by the accompanying press and TV crews. Heseltine’s outstanding contribution to the renaissance of Liverpool and the initiatives that he launched at this time have been well documented and are well known. The Merseyside Taskforce – senior civil servants were winkled out of their Whitehall bunkers and confronted with stark realities, provocative people and his insistence on action; The International Garden Festival – at the time a triumph over cynicism and outright contempt for trees – became a huge popular success; The Mersey Basin Campaign tackled the shame of a river system that he famously described as “a disgrace to a civilised society.”
Desolate, poor quality social housing in Liverpool.
These were innovative initiatives embracing radical concepts: the concept of partnership working across the sectors – public, private and voluntary – on the grounds that the job was far too big to be left to any one of these and all had a contribution to make; the concept that environmental improvement was a precursor of economic development; the two inextricably linked. The emphasis on small, committed professional teams with a brief to ‘make things happen’. These were fundamental underpinnings of what was to become the Groundwork approach. The first Groundwork strapline was Partnership for Action. The first logo was trees mirrored by a factory silhouette.
I was vaguely aware of the coming of Groundwork St Helens and Knowsley in 1981 but these connections did not really fuse for me until three years later. By then I was in Macclesfield as Executive Director of Groundwork Macclesfield – one of the second wave of Groundwork Trusts – the Northwest five – initiated by Heseltine who had been inspired by John Handley’s progress at Operation Groundwork. June 18th 1984: I watched in amazement as an endless convoy of Merseyside police vehicles snaked up Kerridge Hill – the back way – avoiding the media. They were heading to what was to become The Battle of Orgreave – transporting the Merseyside contingent to join the thousands of other police officers from all over England who were to battle with more than 5,000 pickets. In Liverpool it had been youths versus the police. In Yorkshire, it was the miners. CS gas was the innovation in Liverpool, short shield squads (police in riot gear with batons and short shields) was the new dimension in Yorkshire. Dark days. But even the most right–on of my colleagues did not really believe that we lived in a police state. But we did believe that environmental degradation was a festering challenge and that positive change was possible. As I became part of the growing little family that was Groundwork Northwest I began to understand something of the diversity of The Northwest – St. Helens, Knowsley, Wigan, Macclesfield, Salford, Trafford, Oldham, Rochdale and Rossendale felt like separate places with their own people. But we shared the history of our region, the first in the world to industrialise on a massive scale. And we understood that one of its legacies was a degraded environment. And that the second industrial revolution seemed a long time coming – with the human fallout of unemployment, poverty, low aspirations. At the heart of what had been described as early as 1984 as “this great movement of ours “ (tongue in cheek, but prescient) was John
Davidson, or more accurately, John with his wife Joan. Despite his self–deprecating, classic quote “I didn’t get where I am today by knowing what I’m talking about”, he was the charismatic leader of Groundwork Northwest. He was masterly in enthusing and encouraging just about anybody who came his way. Through him, Joan helped us to appreciate something of the bigger picture – her international work, research, writing and journalism made vivid connections between the local (our work in Groundwork) and the global (the emerging issues of people, planet and prosperity). These were the best of times (as well as being the worst of times) for those of us who were developing our careers in changing the world. We now know that a butterfly flapping its wings in an Amazonian rainforest is connected to the balanced diet of a pie in each hand in Wigan. Everything is connected. Everything is cyclical. In 2011 I found myself at a session with Michael Heseltine in Liverpool – back again, and still rattling the cages. DejaVu.
Groundwork — Pre-History and the Countryside Commission’s perspective Adrian Phillips
Reflections on Groundwork Derek Barber
Groundwork — Pre–History and the Countryside Commission’s perspective Adrian Phillips The origins of Groundwork can be traced back to an initiative in the most unlikely of places: two small remote mountain valleys, one in the Lake District and the other in Snowdonia. It was there, in 1969, that the newly–established Countryside Commission launched its first tentative experiments in countryside management, using experimental powers from the 1968 Countryside Act. The brainchild of the Commission’s first Director, Reg Hookway, this upland management experiment (UMEX) focused on employing a project officer to pay modest grants to farmers to secure small scale landscape and access improvements on farmland. Reg saw this as complementing the essentially protective role of the planning system, inviting the farmers to be partners in landscape care and access provision, supported by public funds. After three years, the Commission felt that UMEX had been so successful that it wished to try out the same methods in a lowland area, the Bollin Valley, south of Greater Manchester, working now with local authority support as well. The Commission soon began describing this as its urban fringe management experiment, or UFEX.
In 1974 the Commission decided to mount two much larger projects in the Metropolitan Green Belt, in the London Boroughs of Barnet and Havering. Its annual report says: “These experiments are on a larger scale than in the Bollin Valley and aim to look more widely at the ways in which the objectives of public policy can be achieved on privately owned and managed land by means of a project officer who is able to use relatively limited resources to produce practical solutions to problems on the ground.” A year later the Commission felt confident enough to put its account of progress on UFEX at the front of its annual report. The focus of its work was moving now beyond farmers, landscape and access to include engagement with mineral extractors, conservation bodies, public utilities and local residents; and it was able to show that UFEX projects were good value for money. But UFEX has to be seen in a wider context; the Local Government Act of 1974 gave the Commission wide grant aiding powers and the establishment two years later of its regional offices enabled it to begin developing programmes of work with local authorities. In the year 1975/6 it supported 34 urban fringe projects. This growing body of experience gave the Commission the confidence to claim leadership in the urban fringe; it was no longer an area just for experiments, it was being mainstreamed into the Commission’s work. It was to lead in time to two major initiatives focused on the urban fringe: support for the Groundwork movement, and, a few years later, the programme of community forests around a number of English cities. Following a reorganisation to reflect the growing regionalisation of the Commission, John Davidson was appointed Assistant Director (North). Despite the existence of the two large London schemes, the principal focus of the Countryside Commission’s urban fringe
activities by 1976 was here, in the north of England, where 50% of Commission grants were directed to work of this kind. The government’s job creation programme gave a boost to such projects, with innovative Commission–supported schemes on Merseyside.
Michael Heseltine visiting one of the first Operation Groundwork initiatives.
Meanwhile lessons were being learnt from the evaluations of the Havering and Barnet UFEX schemes. Perhaps the most important lesson was that the project officer approach, which was the legacy of the pioneering UMEX and Bollin Valley projects, could not address all the problems of the urban fringe, where there were often complex land use issues, powerful economic forces and stressful social conditions. It was clear that a good countryside management scheme could be undermined by strategic planning decisions and the pressures for major investment in the urban fringe. UFEX schemes needed to have a higher profile if they were to influence decisions of this kind. It was in this context that the Commission put together its most ambitious scheme yet: in July 1977 it announced its intention to set up the “ largest countryside management experiment we have ever conducted.” It was to start in 1980 and run for five years, based on a medium–sized industrial centre with a population of between 250,000 and 500,000. It would test whether,
“through co–ordinated effort, land management, access, environment and food and timber production could be improved to benefit the city and surrounding settlements and the economy generally.” The Commission intended that the lessons would be passed on to other cities in the UK and throughout Europe. The principal funding was to be sought from government, though local authorities were asked to contribute a share too. Many local authorities expressed an interest in this bold vision. Ten formal submissions were made to the Commission, five were shortlisted and the Metropolitan Borough of St Helens and Knowsley was selected. But action would depend on government funding and, rather ominously, the Commission’s annual report says: “At the end of the year a decision is awaited from Ministers on whether financial resources will be made available from central government.” 1979 saw a new government elected and a new Secretary of State for the Environment, Michael Heseltine. In June 1980, he met the Commission, Merseyside County Council and the boroughs of St Helens and Knowsley to discuss their bid. He liked the idea, he agreed with the location but he would not support a scheme which was to be almost entirely publicly funded and run by public officials. He preferred the model of an environmental trust – if a more acceptable model for running the scheme could be devised he would support it with funds. The Commission and the local authorities took up the challenge and immediately began to explore how such a trust might be set up, involving local authorities, private sector and voluntary organisations. In June 1981, Michael Heseltine gave his support to Operation Groundwork, covering 215 km 2 in the Borough of St Helens and
Knowsley. It was to be administered by a trust, the Groundwork Trust, which would co–ordinate the work of public, private and voluntary bodies. Its initial focus would be on “restoring areas of good agricultural land and potentially attractive countryside” which had become derelict over the years. The trust was expected to draw in funding, volunteer effort and other resources from the local community, the local authority and local business. By the end of the year, the advertisement was out for the chief officer’s post, a position that was soon held by John Handley. A month later the Toxteth riots exploded, and put the spotlight on the economic conditions on Merseyside. The Government responded by sending Michael Heseltine, as “Minister for Merseyside” to set up the Merseyside Task Force and launch a series of initiatives, including the Liverpool International Garden Festival and the Mersey Basin Campaign. On one of his many visits to the North West, Michael Heseltine visited Operation Groundwork and opened its new offices in St Helens. He was clearly impressed. As a result of his personal interest, the decision was taken to extend the Groundwork approach to five more areas in the region. Together with the St Helens scheme, this programme would be known as Groundwork North West. John Davidson was appointed the Director of the Groundwork North West Unit. Extra funding was offered to the Commission to support this work. In the autumn of1982, the Department of the Environment and the Commission invited local authorities to bid to be included in the experiment; fifteen authorities responded. In February 1983 the successful candidate areas were announced: Macclesfield, Oldham and Rochdale, Rossendale, Salford and Trafford, and Wigan; all directors were in post soon thereafter. In July 1983, Patrick Jenkin, by now Secretary of State for the Environment, officially launched Groundwork North West, and
made it clear that he was planning to develop this into a national initiative. With his encouragement, interest quickly spread beyond the North West. The Commission reported that some 40 towns were interested in taking up the Groundwork model, including South Cannock and Merthyr Tydfil. It said in its annual report: “The longer term future of Groundwork, especially its translation from a regional to a national movement is as yet unclear. We shall work with the DoE and others to find the most appropriate vehicle to promote the movement’s development. It is an urgent issue.” This discussion bore fruit when, in 1985, the Groundwork Foundation came into being, formed by the Countryside Commission in partnership with the Nature Conservancy Council and the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers. It was set up as both a company and charity. Its remit was to extend the Groundwork approach to other parts of the country. The Commission received additional funds to support the foundation in its work. The foundation’s first chairman was Christopher Chataway, and its CEO was John Davidson.
Operation Groundwork took part in the Liverpool International Garden Festival, one of Heseltine’s other Merseyside initiatives.
Now fully fledged and increasingly independent in terms of finance and governance, the Groundwork Foundation gradually moved away from its parent, the Countryside Commission, although the Commission continued to support projects undertaken by many individual trusts, and saw them as invaluable partners in the delivery of its work. In its independent role, the Groundwork Foundation extended its focus from the urban fringe to urban areas in general.
By the time that the Countryside Commission was replaced by the Countryside Agency in 1999, the foundation had become a significant actor, affecting the urban environment throughout the land and engaging with thousands of people living in towns and cities. But there is a clear evolutionary line that links its work back to the Countryside Commission’s pioneering projects in two of our national parks – and the Commission was always proud of its part in bringing the Groundwork movement into being.
Reflections on Groundwork Derek Barber
The Countryside Commission was the perfect place in which to incubate Groundwork. The Commission liked to take risks and to innovate — it also had experimental powers that it could use to try out new ideas. This rather free–booting style was given a boost when the Commission was made an independent body in 1981, just after I arrived as their Chairman. So we could be useful to Ministers in testing a new model of public, private and community partnership as a way of delivering environmental improvements in and around cities. I think the Commission’s innovative way of working was critical to the success of Groundwork; and it seems that the Foundation adopted this style in its own working. But if the Commission hatched Groundwork, the idea was Michael Heseltine’s. He did not want a publicly–funded, publicly–staffed way of working on the urban fringe. In the aftermath of the 1981 riots in Toxteth he saw Groundwork as one of a number of ways to breathe new life into badly damaged com-
Sir Derek Barber meets local farmer John Lees at a Groundwork project at Barrowshaw Farm, Oldham.
munities in the North West – and then got so excited about the idea that he wanted to see it spread to other parts of Britain. His energy was impressive. I recall him arriving at a meeting by helicopter, delivering a passionate speech and then returning to the plane in the company of a glamorous female pilot. “Him Tarzan, me Jane” a Councillor called out as they left – a measure of the affection that the address had engendered in his audience. The next Environment Secretary was Patrick Jenkin, from 1983 to 1985. Less colourful than Heseltine, he made it clear to me that he was just as keen to support the Commission and Groundwork as his predecessor had been – and it was under his leadership that the Groundwork Foundation came into being. He kept his interest alive after he left his Ministerial job, and helped to take the Groundwork idea to Japan. John Davidson was the person who made all this possible. One of the architects of the Commission’s work during the 1970s, John was looking for a big challenge when Groundwork took shape. He thrived anew when he left the Commission and demonstrated a real talent for attracting the right people to Groundwork. John was never flamboyant but very effective in inspiring and motivating people – as a behind the scenes operator, he was brilliant. He could see what Groundwork could become and had the skills to make it happen. It would not have succeeded to the degree that it did without his leadership.
Inventing Groundwork David Wilcox, Les Robinson, Diane Warburton
Operation Groundwork: Restoring the black belt within the green belt John Handley
Inventing Groundwork David Wilcox, Les Robinson, Diane Warburton
Michael Heseltine presented the Countryside Commission with both a challenge and an inspiration in 1980. The challenge was to carry forward the Commission’s UFEX80 proposal to blend countryside management and derelict land reclamation — but without a staff of more than 20 people from the public sector. The inspiration was a suggestion that the Commission should look at the Community of St Helens Trust, the UK’s first enterprise agency which was supported by the large local employer, Pilkingtons. It fell to John Davidson to find, or invent, a model directed to environmental improvement rather than enterprise, that also embodied public, private and voluntary sector partnerships and community engagement, with the hope of lower costs to the public purse. I guess John scanned the landscape and found me, and Les Robinson, because I had been chair of the then North Kensington Amenity Trust for a few years, and Les and I had set up the Tower
Hamlets Environment Trust, inspired by NKAT, under contract to the Greater London Council. The Amenity Trust was a pioneering organisation created in the early 1970s by an uneasy alliance between the Conservative Council and local community groups to develop 20 acres of derelict land beneath Westway elevated motorway, each side of Portobello Road in west London. The main innovation was that the director, Roger Matland, negotiated a deal by which the council would give a lease on the land and fund the Trust if it developed a mix of both commercial and social amenities to become self–sustaining. Today there are hundreds of development trusts around the country, with a wide range of asset–based business models, but in 1980 there were only a couple of examples. It was John’s genius to spot the elements of innovation that might appeal to Michael Heseltine, maintain the Commission’s vision, and also satisfy the expectations of St Helens, Knowsley and Merseyside Councils.
The original Operation Groundwork brochure, conceived by David Wilcox Associates.
I remember spending a day with John at the Commission’s HQ in Cheltenham, with the task of producing a first draft of how such a trust might operate. I think the fee was £100 … but that led to a relationship over the next decade during which Les and I helped set up the first trust in St Helens. Then — with Diane Warburton and the small Groundwork North West team in the Commission’s Manchester office — we helped set up another five trusts, and encouraged the development of a national umbrella Foundation. By 1992 it was possible to help produce the Operating System that consolidated experience into a set of manuals.
Early in the work in St Helens it became evident that UFEX80 wasn’t a name that would play well with local interests — or Michael Heseltine. Les and I knew a small advertising and design team, and we contracted them to help create a new name, logo and script. From that came Operation Groundwork — Making Good Between Town and Country — and a logo and brochure that showed a mirror image of The Wasteland on one side and on the other The Green and Promised Land. We also developed a simple twin carousel slide show about the newly coined Operation Groundwork for use by John and the team. Lord Winstanley (‘’Michael’’) became the Chair of the emerging Trust. Invites to hear about Groundwork went out on House of Lords notepaper to Councillors, businesses, landowners, Trades Unions, etc. He seemed to be acceptable to everyone — and who would refuse such an invite? A presentation of that slide show to Michael Heseltine at the launch of Operation Groundwork, together with news of the trust, led him to say the whole thing was going to be a huge success and there should be five more of these trusts in the North West. The substantial funding that carried the first wave of Groundwork forward came about because the programme was added to Michael Heseltine’s list of measures in the wake of the Toxteth riots. I’ve picked out the highlights and chance connections in Groundwork’s early development as I recall them. Binding them together were John’s skill and determination in pushing development past many obstacles, and the professional slog by all of us, including Commission regional officers and council staff, to fill out the vision. The trust model and marketing materials were important — but it was John Handley’s authority and expertise, first as the key
council officer in the working group, and then as Trust director, that made a naturalistic, much lower cost, approach to projects a credible replacement of the ‘engineering’ which had dominated work in the 1970s. This tended towards clearance of dereliction and replacement with acres of mown grass that brought their own costs. Michael Heseltine stuck to his vision too. His letter of endorsement in the Operation Groundwork pack says “I am delighted to hear that plans are going forward for setting up the Groundwork Enterprise Trust to administer this project…”
Operation Groundwork: Restoring the black belt within the Green Belt John Handley
It is Friday, April 27th, 1979 and it is my job to lead a coach tour of St Helens and Knowsley, Merseyside. On the coach are Michael Winstanley, chair of the Countryside Commission and his fellow Countryside Commissioners. Their task is to visit half a dozen towns and cities, including Leeds, Nottingham and Derby, which have been shortlisted from more than 20 applicants to be chosen for a national urban fringe experiment, UFEX 80. That day the Commissioners encounter at first hand the despoliation of Little Wood, a historic woodland on the edge of Cantril Farm a Liverpool overspill housing estate in Knowsley (now Stockbridge Village) and the newly vandalised trees and graffiti strewn signs at Wagon Lane, St Helens, a flagship land reclamation scheme of Merseyside County Council. When UFEX 80 was first mooted in October, 1978 the Government Office for the North West encouraged Merseyside County Council to get involved with a view to ‘sorting out the mess that is St Helens’ and the neighbouring Borough of Knowsley soon joined in.
The County Council had devised a Structure Plan for Merseyside aimed at securing urban regeneration by reversing inner city decline and halting the tide of peripheral development that had characterised Merseyside in the post–war years. The Green Belt was redefined and extended to provide a tight cordon around the built–up area, but it was recognised that large scale landscape renewal would be needed in this newly designated ‘countryside’. For a brief time in the 1970s and 1980s conurbations beyond London also enjoyed metropolitan governance and such things were possible. As a principal planning officer responsible for all facets of natural resource management, I was centrally engaged in this endeavour and wrote the submission which brought the Countryside Commission to inspect the area. After a brief pause, and considerably to our surprise, the Countryside Commission announced in May that St Helens and Knowsley had been selected for UFEX 80. I later reflected (Surveyor, Oct 7th 1982) that there may have been three factors in this selection: the wholehearted commitment and track record of the local authorities, the opportunity for a significant landscape transformation and the very high quality of the surrounding farmland, which in places was severely blighted by its urban fringe location and consequently under–farmed. The Commission’s announcement shortly followed the momentous general election of May 3rd 1979 in which Margaret Thatcher came to power with a radical political agenda and a 43 seat parliamentary majority. There was then something of a hiatus for UFEX 80, as a large–scale experimental project required ministerial approval. Eventually, on June 17th 1980, Michael Heseltine, then Secretary of State for
News from Merseyside’s experimental organisation.
the Environment, came to St Helens to see the area for himself and to decide whether or not to give the go ahead. I met him at Widnes station and brought him into St Helens along a well crafted route of environmental devastation. The Minister exclaimed that it ‘couldn’t all be like this’ and insisted on being taken back to the station by a different route! We entered St Helens Town Hall through a line of hostile protestors, all eager to vent their fury on this visitor from an alien politic. We and the Commission gave our presentations and sat back to await the Minister’s response. The Secretary of State explained that he felt there was a strong case for the project to go ahead but not in this form. He said that the problems and opportunities of the Merseyside fringe were not unique. Moreover, it would be hardly surprising if a team of 31 people could not work a transformation here, but that was not a model that could be replicated elsewhere. He wanted a very small project team, initially of 3 people, who would achieve the project objectives by widening engagement beyond local government to include business, landowners and the wider community. And the project would need a more dynamic name than UFEX 80! Those present were encouraged in some respects, but at the same time nonplussed. How could this be done? Such was the consternation and disarray that June 17th 1980 could have marked the end of the story. However, behind the scenes at the Countryside Commission, John Davidson began to explore a way forward and in due course a working group was established consisting of the four key partners ( Countryside Commission and three local authorities) supported by the consultants David Wilcox Associates. DWA were a small but formidable outfit which combined David Wilcox’ flair and communications knowhow with Les Robinson’s business acumen and Diane Warburton’s deep commitment to community engagement. Over a period of
months UFEX 80 was rebranded as Operation Groundwork and the Groundwork Trust model was devised. The Trust would be a corporate charity with the key partners as company members but with a board of management drawn more widely. The Trust would lead the Operation Groundwork project by co–ordinating a large scale public sector programme of land reclamation and countryside projects; promoting complementary projects with industry, landowners and voluntary groups; and seeking to build a new, more positive, relationship between town and country.
‘The mess that is St Helens’: an example of the environmental degradation then affecting the town.
Meanwhile, national Government was bearing down hard on public expenditure and the local authorities requested a special capital allocation under the Local Government Planning and Land Act to finance the large–scale land reclamation programme that was envisaged. This could have been a sticking point, but in April 1981
the Secretary of State confirmed that he was ‘anxious to help and ready in principle to authorise a special capital allocation.’ The momentum had now increased but final approval was still awaited. The circumstances that led to that approval could hardly have been more unexpected. On the evening of Friday, July 3rd 1981 police in Toxteth, Liverpool arrested Leroy Alphonse Cooper in a heavy handed manner. Scuffles broke out which culminated that weekend in full scale rioting. Over the ensuing days 500 people were arrested, 468 police officers were injured and 70 buildings damaged so severely by fire that they had to be demolished. In the aftermath Government responded by sending Michael Heseltine as ‘Minister for Merseyside’ to set up the Merseyside Task Force and launch a programme of regeneration initiatives, one of which was Operation Groundwork. The chairmanship of the Countryside Commission had now passed to Sir Derek Barber and Michael Winstanley, who had championed the Commission’s urban fringe activities, readily agreed to become chairman of the Groundwork Trust’s board. Michael was a fortunate choice – he was totally committed and, as a Liberal Peer, politically very well connected. Operation Groundwork, described by the Times (24.09.81) as ‘the revival of Merseyside’s black belt within the Green belt’ was launched in St Helens on September 23rd 1981 with a follow–up at the Houses of Parliament in November. The Trust was to have just three staff members, an Executive Director, Project Manager and Office Manager, together with a secondee from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The Trust’s board was convened briefly in December with the first full board meeting on March 8th 1982. There was a strong field of applicants for the post of Executive Director and those shortlisted were given 10 days to prepare and submit a business plan for the new Trust on which the interviews
would be based. The business plan would need to show how the Trust could achieve its objectives (it had inherited the full aims and objectives of UFEX 80) whilst, at the same time, moving progressively towards financial independence over a five year period, with a break clause at three. My own business model envisaged significant corporate sponsorship, contributions in cash and kind from a supporters group (the Friends of Operation Groundwork or FROGS!) and income generation through project activity. I was fortunate to be selected but then it was my job to make it all work – a formidable task indeed! One of my board members commented that it ‘was just as well that I had youth on my side’. We set to work with our small team supplemented by four temporary project staff funded through the Manpower Services Commission. The MSC had been established to help combat unemployment which was rising dramatically in the teeth of a severe recession and massive restructuring of the industrial landscape. Before long, on July 16th 1982, Michael Heseltine returned to St Helens to see how things were going. We showed him round our modest converted end terraced premises in central St Helens, visited some early projects and illustrated the Operation Groundwork programme with a very effective audio–visual presentation devised by DWA in association with the Operation Groundwork working group. By now Heseltine was deeply committed to his Merseyside regeneration agenda and for us the visit was a real inspiration. His office reported back to John Davidson at the Countryside Commission that, for his part, the Secretary of State was ‘deeply impressed ’ by what he had seen and we were all summoned urgently to DoE headquarters at Marsham Street to provide a repeat presentation for senior officials. Heseltine declared that this approach must now be rolled out across North West England with five more Groundwork projects in the first
wave. John Davidson came north to lead the Groundwork North West initiative from the Commission’s regional office in Manchester. The Groundwork movement was now fully under way. This is not the place to discuss the extent to which Operation Groundwork and the Groundwork Trust did or did not fulfil its early promise. There have been a number of independent reports and evaluations, including ‘Breaking New Ground’ the Trust’s own account of the conference which marked the completion of the experimental phase in July 1988. For me, one of the key lessons was the move from notions of ‘landscape transformation’ to ‘landscape appreciation’. Richard Mabey’s book ‘Common Ground’ published in 1980 had emphasised the importance of place and that in Britain our wildlife heritage is very much a product of the interaction of people and the land. Industrial landscapes have their own integrity and there is more to be gained by working with the grain of nature than sweeping that away and substituting a cosmetic alternative. A second key influence was the ‘Liveable City’, a report by Joan Davidson and Ann MacEwen published in 1982 as part of the UK response to the World Conservation Strategy. The message here was the potential to build a new more sustainable relationship between a town and its countryside and that was at the heart of the Operation Groundwork experiment. Although Groundwork was quickly and quite rightly drawn in from the fringe to engage with urban communities, that holistic approach of ‘making good between town and country’ still has much to commend it.
First steps Groundwork Northwest Phil Barton
Memories from the Rossendale Hills Peter Wilmers
A view from Oldham and Rochdale Lindy Kelly
Linking town with country Groundwork Macclesfield Walter Menzies
Salford and Trafford Groundwork Trust Tony Struthers
Groundwork in Wigan Alan Wenham
Groundwork Northwest Phil Barton
My first meeting with John Davidson was at my interview to become Project Leader in the Countryside Commission’s newly established Groundwork North West Unit offices on Manchester’s Deansgate. A year or two earlier my application to join John Handley’s team at Operation Groundwork had been unsuccessful. My memory of the interview by John and Eric Belfield, his second in command, is my justification for selecting Macclesfield as a Groundwork pilot in what was supposed to be an initiative focused on areas with substantial neglect and dereliction. I think I extemporised something about offering an experimental control in a more affluent area as a standard to measure success by. John was delighted: “We should have had you at the presentation at the DoE!” I was on board for what was one of my most exciting and rewarding professional assignments. All my colleagues at Manchester City Council thought I was mad to leave a secure job for a twelve month contract, but I knew it was what I wanted to do. My overwhelming recollection of Groundwork North West was a feeling of excitement, invention and learning. With a brief to support the establishment of five new trusts in Rossendale,
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Salford & Trafford, Wigan, Oldham & Rochdale and in Macclesfield and released from the political bureaucracy of a large local authority, the sense of freedom to follow your judgement and to trust in your abilities was totally refreshing. Just five of us (John, Eric, Jackie Seddon, Barbara Bryson and myself) worked with the seven local authority liaison officers (John Elliman, Julia Roberts, Ken Wainman, Alan Wenham, Paul Fisher, Andy Swaby and Glyn Roberts) to get the show on the road. Early on we embarked on minibus trips round the area with Peter Botham of Department of the Environment’s Derelict Land Grant (DLG) Programme to agree each trust’s early action programme of landscape and community action with DLG and Countryside Commission grants to lever in public, private and community action and resources. From Wigan’s greenways and flashes to Macclesfield’s cycleways; from Trafford Park’s ecology park to the quarries of Rossdendale; from Astley Colliery museum west of Salford to the Roch Valley greenway and Oldham’s hilltop Sholver estate...all were grist to Groundwork’s mill. ‘The countryside on your doorstep’ was holding back former mining, industrial and textile communities and was as important to the well being of deprived communities as it was to more affluent suburbs. Groundwork set out to speak to both. A host of distant memories flood in: ••At the Groundwork NW Unit we tried to prevent the use of Groundwork Rochdale & Oldham Trust (think about it) but lost the battle over the Groundwork Nature Conservation Advisory Service — Richard Knightsbridge was the man from GNACAS! ••Les Robinson brought in the first ‘laptop’ I’d ever seen — a small aluminium trunk with a 3 inch cathode ray tube surrounded by foam packing...
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••An exhibition above the committee corridor of the House of Commons with Environment Minister Nicolas Ridley chain smoking and working at a stand up desk as he took the transport bill through committee… ••Sorting endless slides with five tailored central versions for the ‘two projector and tape’ presentations — then state of the art which the executive directors were encouraged to use to spread the word locally… Top: left to right: Walter Menzies, a Countryside Commissioner, James Caird, Patrick Jenkin, Tony Bickerstaffe, Peter Wilmers and Robin Henshaw Bottom: left to right: John Davidson, Patrick Jenkin, Derek Barber, Phil Barton and Eric Belfield.
••Turning down a grant for Sale Water Park Visitor Centre because, when we visited, the foundations were already in situ and grants couldn’t be paid to projects already under way — but allowing it at a number of sites where either you could see some trees in the distance or there was a footpath which wound its way through a suburb and across a couple of roads to a river valley so it could be considered to be in the countryside! ••Derelict Land Grant was used to pay for the rebuilding of railway viaducts, restoration of mill steam engines and renovation of pit winding gear, a creative bending of the rules! ••Countryside Commissioner and former trades union leader John Cousins coming up to ‘sort out’ Tory Trafford and Labour Sal-
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ford and the Trust’s chairman, old school industrialist Sampson Goldstone (the only time in my career I have ever been referred to as a ‘stipendiary’!)… ••My first meeting with John Handley where he and John Davidson were still negotiating over the use of the logo and name originally developed for St Helens & Knowsley without thought of further expansion (in the end they kept ‘Operation Groundwork’ and ‘The Groundwork Trust’; we got use of the logo and the name).
The area covered by the first six Groundwork Trusts. Manchester is off the map for the Groundwork movement until the 1990s .
••Working with a view across Manchester’s Deansgate to the Registry Office on one side of the road and above the divorce courts on the other – with both joy and misery both clearly evident… ••Eric Belfield’s story of the interview for one of the Executive Directors in a town hall where the tea lady burst in whilst the interview was in progress, dispensing to the panel when the wheel fell of her trolley — the candidate never stood a chance!
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••The first meetings of the Executive Directors — Walter Menzies, Tony Bickerstaff, Robin Henshaw, Peter Wilmers and James Caird — as it began to dawn on them what they’d got into! ••Advising Peter Wilmers not to invest in New Hall Hey and Tony Bickerstaff not to go into Alder House, Atherton as there were no convincing business cases, securing accommodation for the trust from Salford City Council near the University and arguing with Macclesfield Council’s treasurer about how much (or little) could go into their administrative costs.... ••Richard Thomas, the Countryside Commission’s regional director, with magnificent sideburns and puffing on a pipe as he helped me to understand the workings of a national public body like the Commission, what I could and couldn’t do and how to go about doing it... ••Attending a National Farmers Union meeting with the Ministry of Agriculture’s Groundwork Advisor, Nick Sanders, and realising the huge gap in culture and approach between different parts of society and beginning to understand the challenges of making partnerships work. ••Visiting South Leeds, Cumbria & Colne Valley (ultimately successful Groundwork areas) and Newcastle (I was sent packing) to spread the word. The list goes on and on and I learnt so much. And behind it all, the ideas, dynamism and enthusiasm of John, my first professional mentor. Sparking off the ideas and vision of his wife, Joan, he went and found people he thought could help from all sectors and brought them in (David Wilcox, lawyer Andrew Phillips, Good Relations’ Paul Tyler & Peter Luff — both subsequently MPs, Sally Lawson, John Iles, various
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countryside commissioners). He worked Westminster and Whitehall and secured the wholehearted support of Derek Barber and Adrian Phillips (his Chairman & Chief Executive). Throughout the time John shuttled between Cheltenham, Manchester and London. He joined a spa and club in Sunlight House just around the corner from the Deansgate office and regaled us with stories about the people he met and the behaviours he saw. He would be with us for a couple of days a week. Never the strongest with figures or management systems, Eric, Jackie and I would discuss which of his many ideas we should follow up and which we should ignore once he had gone again. Quite often he would have shared different ideas and instructions with each of us! A leader not a manager, inspirational rather than perspirational, John led through ideas, conviction and engendering great loyalty. Whilst Groundwork was the creation of many, many people, it was John who created the vision, made the space for the machine to be built and oiled the human wheels which made it work. Above all, he believed in people working together to bring about transformation. Never condescending or overawed, he was equally at ease in deprived housing estates surrounding Greater Manchester and meeting the mandarins at the top of the civil service. My time with Groundwork NW in the early 1980s (I came back fifteen years later for a second spell) built on my commitment to the importance of empowering local people to take control of improving their local environments, working in partnership with all sectors to bring about lasting change and to build strong community. What I learnt from John during that time has been central to any success I have had in my subsequent career, in which he continued to take a personal interest until illness finally overtook him.
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Memories from the Rosendale Hills Peter Wilmers
My first memory predates my appointment as the first Executive Director in the summer of 1983. The previous year I paid my first ever visit to The Rossendale Valley on a field trip from the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) Summer School at Lancaster University. Our guide was the then Chief Planning Officer (later Chief Executive), and I remember coming away impressed by his dynamism and vision, the scale of transformation they were seeking to achieve, and the contrast with sleepy rural Norfolk, where I worked. So when I saw an advert for the post to lead the establishment and development of an exciting experiment in regeneration in Rossendale, I jumped at it. The interviews were held in the imposing and formal setting of Rossendale’s Council Chamber in Rawtenstall, with the massed ranks of the interview panel – Councillors, senior people from the Countryside Commission, Lancashire County Council, the Borough Council and North West Water, arranged in tiered semi–circles around me (placed in the dock as it felt!). It was
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the early days of Thatcher, and I remember one questioner probing my entrepreneurial skills. I told them about pulling funding streams together to tackle rural deprivation. But I think what clinched it for me, was that for some unknown reason, I happened to have a porcelain platter in my bag, one of an order of commemorative ware I was producing for an anniversary of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. I handed this round, and eventually they offered me the job! I started in the September. The three priorities were to ensure the first of three years’ funding was wisely spent, the staff recruited, and some impact delivered, whilst working out what the hell Groundwork was, what we should be doing and where we should locate. I had a very mixed Board, mostly Valley people, very committed but very parochial. Sadly most smoked, so my clothes permanently reeked. My first chairman was managing the gentle decline of his inherited shoe business. He amazed me with his ability to calculate the VAT on any figure in his head, and was always very, very supportive. I drew great inspiration from the two Johns (Davidson and Handley), the periodic encounters with uplifting thinkers and doers arranged by John Davidson, and the regular meetings of that merry band of rivals/colleagues who each ran one of the first wave of Groundworks. The Groundwork liaison officers from the two local authorities and the Countryside Commission, and the small Groundwork NW Unit, provided great support, ideas and, crucially, funds for projects. Even so it was quite lonely and hard in the first few years.
Richard Branson, a fish and Peter Wilmers. Branson was an early celebrity supporter of Groundwork.
So off we went. My PA had already been recruited, to keep the Borough fully informed as to progress. We recruited a very keen and experienced countryside project officer, and an innovative landscape architect. As we had saved almost ¾ of our salary 4 First steps
New Hall Hey, Rawtenstall.
budget for the first year, due to the late start, we were able to buy premises, equipment & tools to pre–empt future spend. The two planning authorities, NW Water and our friends at British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV) gave us a head start on year one projects, and Land Use Consultants helped us to develop a 3 year strategy to ensure our impact would be both focused and maximised. After visiting too many god–forsaken chapels and workshop units, we identified part of a wonderful complex of mill buildings in a very prominent location, alongside the Irwell and at the entrance to The Valley, at New Hall Hey, Rawtenstall, to become our base. The site had been bought by Lancashire Enterprises Ltd, on behalf of the Labour run County Council. The very Thatcherite leader of Rossendale Borough Council did not want us there. Luckily on the day of the crucial board meeting, there was a meeting of Lancashire Council leaders. I arranged for the then leader of Lancashire to keep that meeting going, so my Board could make its decision without the Rossendale leader. We met in one of the buildings, and I remember our chair closing our meeting just as the leader’s Daimler swept into the yard outside – luckily too late. We had agreed to purchase a 99 year lease of two semi–derelict buildings and some land with unspent balances from year one of a three year project. We were not going to be just a flash in the pan! We spent some more of those balances making the buildings sound and water tight. The following year, having studied the small print of the new EU structural funds, we were able to convince the powers that be to allow us to be the first voluntary sector body in the NW to access those funds. We also persuaded them to accept that the inclusion of some bunk beds in 4 small rooms was all the proof required that this project met their criteria on tourist bed–nights
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to be generated! We bought the buildings and land outright. Step by step, with sponsorship from United Biscuits, and grants from a wide range of sources, we built up a superb flagship Environment and Countryside Centre for The Valley and a memorable home for ourselves and our volunteers. Another early breakthrough was to engage with the Government’s Manpower Services Commission for unemployed people. This enabled us to expand from 4 permanent staff to around 100, some on one year and some on two year contracts, all paid. Some were engaged in white collar work– designing projects, liaising with landowners, working with schools, organising events and guided walks, delivering a three year “interpretation” project looking at man’s impact on The Valley, supporting volunteer groups and so on — whilst others were engaged in practical environmental projects and building our Environment Centre. Every project had to be cleared with a small group of union officials – I remember many afternoons huddled in a smoke filled room in Bacup arguing over projects.
Environment Secretary Patrick Jenkin meets Peter Wilmers.
We grouped our projects under three headings: 1. New Landscapes– the physical tranformation of The Valley, 2. New Lives — our work to raise expectations, ge erate hope, change attitudes and get folk out into the landscape, both locals and visitors, and, 3. New Hall Hey– the creation of a community environment/ countryside centre and landmark base for ourselves. There were some very talented people on our scheme, some of whom went on to make careers with Groundwork. Despite many being marginalised and too many not being able to read, over 80%
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of our people went on to permanent jobs or full time education, compared to 20% for the local authority scheme. Of course there were also some difficult people. Many Mondays we would learn that someone was in court, but most we turned round. They would take their families at the weekend to show the trees planted, the paths restored and the dry stone walls rebuilt. Once, early on, our kindly bank manager complained that his “hole in the wall” had been drained. He had given these people, many of whom had never had bank accounts before, credit cards which they exploited to the full! Not only did our scheme members enable us to achieve a significant impact– for example planting more trees at 20,000 a year than any of the national parks, but they also gave us a wonderful link into the local community. We became one of the largest employers in The Valley, and most local families would have had at least one family member or friend working with us. David Trippier, our local MP, became both a firm ally and a good friend. Early on, when we were ensuring our year one spend, the leader of the Council became quite obstructive. David kindly rang him from my office at New Hall Hey and gave him what for, which produced the desired effect. David would bring a whole string of Ministers up to Rossendale to witness what Groundwork could do — Patrick Jenkin, Ken Clark, Nicholas Ridley, John Gummer, The Rt Hon William Waldegrave (for whom, whilst he was standing on a footbridge, the river turned from red, to blue to green, as a local dye works illicitly flushed out), and most memorably Chris Patten. With some anxiety David Trippier, then the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, brought his boss as the new Secretary of State to New Hall Hey to meet John Davidson and myself, for presentations to convince him of the merits of Groundwork. Not long after this visit, David arranged for a reporter from a national paper to attend a local project launch on a Rossendale 4 First steps
hillside, to ensure coverage of David’s speech about rolling Groundwork out across the UK. An added benefit of these visits by important people was that it brought John Davidson up as well. He would stay with us. I have happy memories of many stimulating discussions into the small hours and would return to the fray fired up. He became a good friend, as well as being an inspirational leader of Groundwork.
In tandem: partnership working in all weathers.
Perhaps the most memorable event with David Trippier was an early, celebratory dinner for all the North West Trusts, held at New Hall Hey. It was a grand affair, but in strange surroundings. One of our buildings was an old two storey, former workshop, with somewhat dilapidated wooden roof and stone walls. So we hired a large, pink, marquee liner, and set up the trestle tables inside this. One of the many talents on our team included catering, so we did everything in house, and all went well. David was our guest of honour. In his after dinner speech, to the great amusement of the assembled party, he said this was the first time he had dined inside a pair of lady’s bloomers! I also had to do a lot of work on the promotional front. I remember many evenings attending a wide range of different local organisations – round tables, rotaries, ladies circles, chambers of commerce, civic societies and other local voluntary groups, to give presentations, using our then state of the art slide projectors. However there was ongoing negativity from some leading Borough Councillors, despite us being an initiative of a Government they supported. So we invited Richard Branson to come up to mark an early milestone. He was very shy then, but really willing to help. We had him in the Irwell, releasing trout and balloons. We had a successful auction with business leaders of items he had donated. Most importantly
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he told an assembled audience of councillors how impressed he was. His visit was written up in The Times, and helped us to turn the corner.
The Rossendale Groundwork Trust garnered a great deal of local support.
Like many of the people on our MSC scheme, Rossendale itself had no feeling of self worth, despite its fine setting and superb networks of local volunteers and activists. Hence our emphasis on “New Lives” alongside the “New Landscapes” practical work. We decided to harness these volunteers in a variety of ways. We assembled some superb photos to publish as postcards of the valley and commissioned a local volunteer to produce us a poster map celebrating the landmarks and landscape. We brought together all the previously competing/conflicting groups with interests in access to the Countryside with the landowners, to map the rights of way and to prioritise the works needed to open these up. We brought folk from the local history, civic, natural history and access groups under the leadership of a very gifted retired former Borough Planning Officer, to produce two beautifully illustrated walking guides to Rossendale, alongside developing, improving and waymarking the Rossendale Way and links. We managed to secure a 12 year secondment from the Education Authority to deliver an environmental education programme, working in almost every primary and secondary school in the district. We revived the Rawtenstall Fair on an annual basis to celebrate the traditions, country skills and crafts of the valley and promote its attractions over a weekend — a kind of new age, high energy festival!! In all of these, and also in our practical work, we were ably supported by a committed “Friends Group.” I have many other memories of those exciting, early days. For example: visiting the headmaster of the local grammar school to be told I was mad: – no one would want to visit our noisy and
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grimy valley. So I took him to his own window to show him the impact of the Clean Air Act! Another early memory is a lesson in proper costing: we organised a tree day, buying in a thousand trees and selling these on with a tiny mark–up to local people over a tree weekend, as one way to get lots more trees into the local landscape. My board were not impressed with the mark–up, as I had omitted to cover all the costs of marketing and running the weekend! And another is the day when a staff meeting was interrupted by a lorry driver bringing us 10,000 copies of our Rossendale Way book. We tore open the first box and excitedly perused our wonderful book. We were then thrown by the driver asking what to do with the other 499 boxes — a question we had not even considered!! However we did manage to sell all the books and with enough return to invest in a follow up! We may have started naive and small, but we learnt a lot along the way and became a valued local institution. We had some fun, we cut some corners, and we made many friends. We laid good foundations for the subsequent expansion of Groundwork in Lancashire, for the national roll out of Groundwork and for the export of some of its programmes. Above all we changed Rossendale — both The Valley and its people — for the better and we are not forgotten.
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A view from Oldham and Rochdale Lindy Kelly
I was brought up in farming country in the far NW corner of the state of Victoria. The area was only opened to farming in the 1920s. It was poor, marginal farming, where good years were separated by many that were lean and drought stricken. I spent my childhood exploring, catching rabbits, chasing emus and kangaroos, swimming in creeks, fishing, idyllic and barefoot. In 1985 I came to the UK on a study tour of environmental organisations. Having quit (technically deferred) university, I had spent the previous two years working for the Australian Trust for Conservation Volunteers – delivering conservation work in many of Australia’s outstanding parks and forests and working on a demonstration programme dealing with combating inland salt issues — a major problem for my dry home region. In September 85, as part of the tour, I was invited by the Groundwork Foundation to visit one of the Groundwork Trusts – Oldham & Rochdale. On my first day I was taken to see the Trust’s work on Sholver Estate in Oldham. Nothing in my life had prepared me for the experience of visiting Sholver (or as I was soon to discover, the many estates like it); the Australian bush was a huge con4 First steps
trast to the poor urban environments of the north west of England. Sholver estate was built in the 1960s, visible for miles around, located on an open windswept hillside, isolated miles from Oldham town centre with very few services within reach of those living on the estate. The housing was in a very degraded state, one flat burnt out and boarded up, the charred stains of arson evident; but net curtains and a pot plant or two on proud display on the windows of someone living next door. This pattern of derelict and boarded up flats littered the estate. But it wasn’t just the houses that were in poor condition but the whole local environment. Rubbish everywhere; not just paper and small items but household furniture, metal, wire, building materials. An open sewer spilt foul smelling liquid onto waste ground between the buildings. There were no playing fields, playgrounds, trees, or benches. It was the most depressing place I had ever seen.
The Trust’s antipodean volunteer sparked local media interest.
Yet in this bleak place something extraordinary was happening. A group of children on the estate were meeting with a Groundwork project officer several evenings a week and on weekends. Groundwork Ranger Tim Edge would arrive with his Landrover and trailer and local kids would come out to help clean up around the estate. Over time the numbers of kids grew and adults joined in. They started to develop new projects – environmental education and establishment of the Sholver Rangers organisation strongly led by
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Executive Director Robin Henshaw supervises ‘Leap Frog into Spring’.
local resident Martin Atkinson. This determined local leadership that would not take no for an answer led to the rangers acquiring land to create a nature reserve, visitor centre and training facilities. My study tour ended but I was left with the remarkably positive memories of what is possible when people are given the opportunity to make decisions and carry out actions for themselves and their communities. The study tour was actually a stop off on my way to Africa — I wanted to work with lions — but in those days with no internet, email, iphones, skype or even faxes, my confirmation letter to the Parks Service didn’t make it (until a year later). So I had no idea whether to head to Victoria Falls or back to the state of Victoria. It was early 1986, 5 days before I was due to return to Australia
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with £30 in my pocket and an airline ticket for Melbourne when I called Groundwork Oldham & Rochdale to ask if I could come back and work for them. They wanted me to join but had no spare resources to employ me. They said I could volunteer and they would pay for my board and lodgings (£20 week). I was young, free and inspired so said yes. And from the outset I seemed to be involved in everything and without doubt given opportunities, roles and responsibilities way beyond my years of experience. I ran community meetings, met with local councillors, worked on new business ideas as well as helping deliver projects. A year later I had a full time job working on footpath access improvements. Funding then (as it is now) was always an issue. There were a lot less sources of funding and less grants available. I don’t recall if we had much central government funding – if we did I didn’t see much of it! But Oldham & Rochdale always seemed to deliver more for its size and funding, partly to do with the large number of volunteers it attracted. It was clear to me that our work was delivering to its purpose and that environmental projects were delivering social and economic benefits. You could see it across the broad range of our work. Our work included landscape improvements – pocket parks and nature areas in housing areas and around businesses and industrial estates. The business environmental improvements expanded through the highly successful ‘Brightsite’ programme, funded by Shell. Brightsite provided business owners with free sketch designs and cost estimates for improving their sites. The visual image of what might be possible was hugely influential in convincing the landowner to pay for the improvements. We had an amazing 75% success rate in turning sketch designs into physical improvements. One of my largest areas of work was countryside access improvements, linking town and countryside. This is where I spent my
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first 5 years – building footpaths, boardwalks, stiles and ‘kissing’ gates. It all became very exciting and innovative when we started to work on the Oldham and Rochdale section of the Pennine way. Mollie Porter, the Pennine way management officer at the Countryside Commission, had spent two years analysing the problems of erosion on this popular and very worn major walking route across the Pennines, and was looking for solutions to stem the spread of erosion that was increasing at an alarming rate. The solution was to construct a raft using geotextiles and then stone, with the top stone being a mix of gritstone and basalt to ensure it was hard wearing but would blend into the environment. The exciting bit was ours – to use helicopters to bring in all the materials. The Pennine Way is remote and most of the areas that needed repair were in deep peat so 4 wheel drive vehicles were out of the question. We did have an all–terrain vehicle but as it was only able to carry a tonne of stone at a time, it would have taken thousands of journeys to cover the length of path we eventually built. The helicopter experience was fantastic — quick, efficient, no environmental damage and of course lots of fun! The all–terrain vehicle was very useful (and fun when no one was watching is another story) but also helpful when dignitaries would visit. I recall a visit by the government minister David Trippier who quite enjoyed his time behind the wheel. But it wasn’t all fun. Funding was always tight and that often put a huge strain on us to find new ways to keep dedicated teams employed delivering our work on the ground. Another key area of our practical work was environmental improvements on local farmland. The farms on this urban fringe were marginal — many farmers poor and making just a subsistence living. Farms and therefore the countryside had become degraded; neglected drystone walls that had crumbled and not been rebuilt; hedgerows not maintained so no longer effective stock boundaries; removal of hedges and trees resulting in depleted wildlife corridors. We
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started to work with local farmers to help them improve their land and to improve both the visual image of the environment and to create new and improved areas for wildlife. It was often this work that filled the gaps in work streams, when the grant approvals were delayed or planning permission took longer than expected. In these difficult times I would spend my evenings and weekends visiting many of the local farmers to drum up work. I had a team of highly skilled and hardworking staff who I had to keep gainfully employed and the farmers always responded – they needed help too so it worked for all of us. Win, win. We also took our message on the road and delivered a large environmental education programme with schools across the two boroughs. And to encourage community engagement and raise awareness of Groundwork, we ran many ‘campaigns’; Barbara Brooks and her team led all of this side of our work. Back then I have to admit I often thought the campaigns were a bit mad. I remember one in particular — ‘Leap Frog into Spring’, a day when school children from both Oldham and Rochdale would come out to leap frog down the Rochdale Canal?! Mad but the kids loved it. We laughed loads. And their parents got to hear a bit about our work. Our Executive Director, Robin Henshaw, always liked to come up with catchy titles for our work. Take the Countryside Recreational Access Programme or was it just his sense of humour that meant the programme was forever known as CRAP (and over the years CRAP 1, CRAP 2…..). This approach extended to the name of the Trust. When Groundwork Oldham and Rochdale expanded to Tameside you might have expected the abbreviation to be GORT, but Robin changed the order so that it became GROT. GROT by name, but definitely not by nature. GROT changed places, changed lives. It certainly changed mine.
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Linking town with country Groundwork Macclesfield Walter Menzies
It was a dark and stormy night, the week before Christmas 1983. The suited and booted dignitaries of Macclesfield were crammed into Bollington Town Hall enjoying a civilised festive drink to celebrate the first few months of Groundwork in Macclesfield. The lights of the civic Christmas tree winked cheerily outside. With a crash, the door was flung open and a torrent of tiny Brownies screeched in and headed straight for the crisps and canapes. Nobody had remembered that it was Brownie night. I knew at the time this was some kind of metaphor, but what might it mean?
People When I left Merseyside Improved Housing (MIH) in Liverpool my boss, the legendary Barry Natton, ominously warned: “You’ll see, it’s lonely at the top.” This turned out to be completely wrong. There was W.G.B. “Bill” Grant, the revered founder chair of Groundwork Macclesfield. A retired Ciba–Geigy Clayton MD, he knew everybody and everything and was a priceless sounding board for me. Bill was the perfect non–executive, worldly, astute, never issuing instructions, somehow guiding me to come
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to the right decision myself. Bill was later to play a very significant role nationally on the Groundwork Foundation board. There was John Davidson and the others at the Groundwork Northwest Development Unit. I had harboured doubts about whether leaving a good career in an exciting housing association to join something as uncertain, experimental and flaky as Groundwork would be a smart move. I vividly remember the moment when I knew I had done the right thing. It was a coffee and chat at The Royal Exchange in Manchester with John Davidson and his wife Joan — then I think beginning research for what was to become “How Green is Your City?” The penny dropped — we were changing the world from the bottom up! Local to global! John and Joan were a compelling and charismatic double act. And there were the other Northwest Groundwork Trust Executive Directors. I can’t begin to find the right adjective to sum up this diverse gang — some of us are still friends today. Whatever else, our early gatherings in the Countryside Commission’s tatty offices in Deansgate were never, ever boring. Government Office Northwest blew apart stereotypical notions of civil servants as obstructive timeservers. Nothing could have been further from the truth. It was their Ralph Porteous — a member of my board — who first described Groundwork as “this great movement of ours.” It was their Ian Jamieson who brilliantly averted Whitehall from blocking “creative” uses of Derelict Land Grant. “I must have been pissed when I agreed to that” he would quip. And above all, central to the success of our efforts: the staff — a tiny, professional “core staff” on reasonable salaries with a constantly shifting mix of secondees from ICI, British Gas and poorly paid young people on Manpower Services Commission temporary employment schemes.
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The Trust’s staff in the early days, left to right: Patrick Leonard, Lynn Johnson, Rod King, Walter Menzies and John Robinson.
Was everybody connected to this innovative new world of Groundwork with us? No. There were remnant cases of “can’t do” functionaries who felt threatened and would have been happier sticking with business as usual. There was no shortage of imperfect moments. Lesson that I took from this — people are far far more important than organisational structures and “can–do” people refuse to be crushed and often achieve wonders.
Place Macclesfield Borough formed the southern fringe of Greater Manchester — a “green lung for the city” was one way of looking at it...more than 200 square miles, headquartered in former silk town Macclesfield, small towns such as Knutsford, commuter centres like Wilmslow, many villages and a large rural hinterland.
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I was mistaken in expecting this to be a total contrast to the chaos of Liverpool and that the citizens would be less disunited. The very first week as Trust Executive Director I was disabused of such nonsense. Having struggled to set up David Wilcox’s twin carousel projector gear at a meeting of Bollington Town Council, I relaxed, expecting them to enjoy the Groundwork propaganda. But I was shaken by the vitriolic attacks on the stalinist Borough Council (headquartered three miles away). Many of the town councillors had not recovered from local government re–organisation in 1974. I later came to appreciate the pride, bolshieness and distinctiveness of small places — like Bollington — where I still live.
W.G.B ‘Bill’ Grant, the Trust’s first chairman meeting the Prince of Wales.
Lesson from this — administrative boundaries are meaningless in the real world — pride of place and enmity are two sides of the same coin.
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The Middlewood Way.
In spite of the sleepy hollow default mode of Macclesfield Borough Council there was serious Groundwork action by the time I got there. One of the lasting legacies of Groundwork local authority funding is The Middlewood Way — a 16km traffic free greenway from Macclesfield to Marple. This runs parallel to the Macclesfield Canal — early Groundwork interventions here were 21km of towpath improvements using MSC labour. Up to 80 people were involved. MSC “schemes” were to become a major source of labour for Groundwork projects across the Northwest. We conceptualised our early work in three strands: ••improving access to the countryside (projects ranged from publishing guide books, to landscaping car parks to setting up cycle hire facilities) ••environmental improvement (from reclamation of derelict land for leisure to landscaping around former mills to enhance the prospects of attracting tenants and encouraging investment) ••property and land development (notably the trust’s own visitor centre and offices in Bollington and the heritage centre in Knutsford). In practice, we were “strategy–lite.” Very little time was spent on elaborate plans. We were opportunistic and responsive. Chance favoured the prepared mind, we believed. Many projects were brought to us. We started our adventures as publisher of local guides when we were presented with the draft of an excellent cycling guide to the area. Our extensive involvement in the area of the Adelphi Mill including wood-
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land acquisition, restoring the derelict gate lodge and award winning environmental improvements followed on from a chance encounter with the developer. A local entrepreneur, he was getting no encouragement or help from anyone else.
Access work on the towpath of the Macclesfield Canal.
Our “strategy–lite” mode was unsettling to the Whitehall machine. An alarming visit from distinguished mandarin Sir George Moseley, Permanent Secretary at The Department of the Environment, culminated — when he was really pressed to express a view — with his one word summary: “ interesting.” Damned with faint praise! Lesson from this — long after the strategies and plans have been lost, binned and forgotten, the projects remain.
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Partnership Groundwork Macclesfield’s second annual report (1983–84) was headlined “Partnerships.” We attempted to explain what this meant in practice by focusing on one area and how we were “Fitting the jigsaw together.” Alongside a map, 10 projects were illustrated and captioned — The Middlewood Way (greenway); our own cycle hire enterprise; environmental improvements to a small commercial haulage site; a car park for Adelphi Mill businesses and visitors to The Macclesfield Canal; the Canal towpath; our visitor centre; a semi–derelict wharf; a remnant woodland that we had acquired; a derelict goods yard.
Decades before ‘Boris Bikes’, the Trust ran a cycle hire scheme.
The point was that partnership working was the only way. There was no alternative. All of these projects interlocked and benefited each other. But no single organisation was responsible. There were multiple ownerships, interests, objectives, financial stakes, funding possibilities and local impacts. Here was an exemplar of how Groundwork could bring it all together, as honest broker, working in partnership with the public, private and voluntary sectors as well as local people. It may seem extraordinary to some today that this was innovative, radical and subverted the natural order of things. It was particularly taxing for the public sector. A typical instance was a negotiation with British Waterways. BW was so shaken with the idea that we might implement environmental improvements on what they regarded as “their” land that on one site visit they fielded no less than seven people. There were only two of us. We were undeterred by their blockbuster approach and won through in the end.
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Lesson from this — it is easier said than done, but partnership working can make 1+1 = 3, better together. Groundwork Macclesfield went on to become Groundwork Macclesfield and Vale Royal — the first Trust in the growing Groundwork network to expand its geographical coverage. This presented a new dimension of “challenges” as well as opportunities. Then there was evolution into Groundwork Cheshire. Now, in 2012, I believe that further expansion is being considered. Was it all worth it? That was for others at the time to judge. Was it worth it for me? Yes, it was a great privilege being able to set up and lead what would now be described as a social enterprise — an integral part of the embryonic “great movement of ours.” No regrets. Deja vu — The Macclesfield Canal is back in my life and I can sense a government youth unemployment scheme just waiting round the next corner. As for the brownies, I’m still not sure of the answer.
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Salford and Trafford Groundwork Trust Tony Struthers I first came across the Salford and Trafford Groundwork Trust at its launch in March 1984. I had taken up my appointment as City Technical Services Officer and Deputy Chief Executive with Salford City Council in January and was still getting my bearings, but this struck a chord. Salford was suffering acute economic and social distress at the time, as was most of the conurbation, particularly at its core of Manchester City Centre and Trafford Park. Unemployment of over 20%, population loss, poverty and a lack of social cohesion, environmental dereliction and water pollution all contributed to a sense of malaise and provoked real concern amongst the public authorities. By the time of my arrival, steps were being taken to address the issues — the Urban and Derelict Land programmes were being progressed through a Joint Inner City Partnership of Manchester and Salford and an Enterprise Zone encompassing parts of the then Salford Docks and Trafford Park had been introduced in 1981 as a partnership between Salford City Council and Trafford Borough Council. This was despite differences of politics — Salford very much Labour Party dominated and Trafford usually Conservative. At a strategic level, the Greater Manchester County Council had been active in promoting and undertaking major environmental improvements through its river
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valleys programme. This had involved a range of partnerships including all the Boroughs, the Countryside Commission, the Regional Water Authority, British Waterways Board but at its essence it was public sector initiated, led and implemented. I was very aware of the need to develop new initiatives to tackle environmental dereliction. Not just the vacant sites abandoned by industry or the run down housing estates or the huge expanse of polluted and derelict docklands but also the opportunities through planting and greening the roads, old railways, river and canal corridors that threaded through a very dense urban city. I was also familiar with concept that this had to be at a scale that would make a real difference and that it would change perceptions of traditional urban areas and introduce a green infrastructure with environmental improvements into the heart of built up conurbations. My experiences in Merseyside with early work in St. Helens and in the West Midlands and in the Black Country and Sandwell creating country parks, revitalising the canal network had shown what could be achieved. However, the idea that a partnership between the public, private and voluntary sectors should get involved with environmental regeneration was innovative and controversial. The Greater Manchester Council (GMC) was facing abolition in 1986 and there was considerable animosity to the Thatcher Government which was undertaking this reorganisation of local government. There was particular concern about the future of the River Valley Programme and the work undertaken on countryside schemes. GMC was spending in the order of ÂŁ4 million per annum on its environmental programmes and many of the officers employed by the Council were concerned about their futures. There was also genuine concern that the restoration and improvement work that had been achieved would be at risk in the future. Whilst to an outsider, the introduction of a Groundwork Trust might be seen to be innovative, to 4â€‡ First steps
an insider it appeared a rejection of all the good work undertaken. There was almost certainly a trade union perspective on this — the 1970s and early 1980s had been a time of great industrial unrest and the trade union NALGO (now UNISON) had been an active participant in local government demonstrations, including taking strike action and walk–outs. The Groundwork Trust, by bringing in the private sector as an active partner and encouraging voluntary sector involvement, was anathema to many of those who would have to take on the task of developing its programme, finding sites, funds and securing local support. There was concern that it would be amateur in its approach, not professional. That it would use cheap or unskilled labour and that it would open up public sector work to competition from the private sector. I had a taste of this amongst my own staff at Salford, when I proposed using outside consultants for planning, landscape and engineering work to undertake the Salford Quays redevelopment plan in the summer of 1984. The idea of outsiders getting involved in environmental improvements which traditionally had been understood as public sector work proved highly controversial. For the Groundwork Trusts being set up in Greater Manchester in that summer, it was not an easy introduction — suspicion, competition, funding concerns were all part of the mix. Added to that was the demise of the Greater Manchester Council and the fears about jobs, future environmental programmes and its countryside work. Yet, despite the difficulties they survived and thrived. Why was this? The answer as always is a mix of reasons but the first is John Davidson. He gave the leadership and the ideas that inspired the Trusts but crucially in Greater Manchester he came and challenged the Chief Planning Officers to give it a go. My own
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role in this is now obscured by history and only a partial memory, but in October 1985 I was asked by Don Burns, GMC County Planning Officer, to convene a meeting between the Planning Officers Group (POG) and the Groundwork Foundation to see how relationships could be improved and developed for the future. I got involved because I had known John whilst I was working for West Midlands County Council and was familiar with the Countryside Commission, I had championed the Salford and Trafford Groundwork Trust and had had my own battles with my staff over the Trust and the use of the private and voluntary sectors. I remember little of the meeting, but I know that John was forthright and very clear about how the concept should be taken forward. He was clear that new ways of working to tackle the problems of environmental regeneration should be explored and that new partners should be encouraged to get involved. There was some degree of scepticism by those present but I think that it is fair to say that the critics were won over, the meeting was successful and it set the agenda for the future of the Trusts in Greater Manchester. Another reason for their success was a combination of personalities and a recognition that environmental regeneration was not the preserve of one group or organisation. It had to involve a range of partnerships — in our case between Salford and Trafford Councils — here the politicians were critical and Salford’s Planning Committee Chairman Ben Wallsworth crucial. He had the vision to see that the Trust could do things that others could not, he was prepared to back it financially and to encourage his colleagues to do likewise. He was happy to work with the private sector despite being a lifelong socialist and recognised the value of community involvement. He also provided continuity, being Salford’s representative on the Trust’s Board for over 15 years. John Grayling, a former senior Dutch Shell manager, the Trust’s Executive Director until 1990 was also
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an important contributor to its success — he was an assiduous networker and good friend, who maintained excellent relationships and developed key partnerships with the private sector. So looking back from a perspective of nearly 30 years, how do I see Groundwork now? It broke the mould, it was innovative and developed projects and partnerships in new ways. In particular, it pioneered the involvement of the private sector in regeneration and encouraged the community to support local schemes such as tree planting, land clearance and volunteer wardening. It was the ‘Big Society’ in action before it was invented. It challenged preconceptions about the dominant role of the public sector in undertaking environmental improvements and opened the door to a wide range of participants and funders. Despite the successes, the problem of long term ‘core’ funding remains an issue and whilst the model was right for the 1980s and 90s it may be that new approaches are needed, now that public funds are so limited. However, I remain a supporter and enthusiast and recognise the huge contribution made by John Davidson in developing the idea and providing the leadership at the right time and when it was needed most. Salford and Trafford are very different places now, as is Manchester City Centre. Whilst some might be critical of the regeneration — it is a fact — the docks are now the Quays, employing many thousands, the water is clean, Trafford Park is brimming with businesses, the City Centre is humming with people and Salford is now the home of BBC North and mentioned every day on the airwaves. Derelict land has been reclaimed, the city has been greened, private and voluntary sector involvement recognised and celebrated. The Salford and Trafford Groundwork Trust played a key role in these regeneration programmes and can rightly claim to have made an important contribution to their success.
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Groundwork in Wigan Alan Wenham
Groundwork arrived in Wigan in the early 80s following the successful trial in St Helens. I’d become familiar with the enterprising spirit that characterised the Groundwork initiative. As Head of Local Plans and Environment at Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council, I welcomed Groundwork with open arms. The previous work at St Helens had focussed primarily on the urban/rural fringe. In Wigan however, the regeneration of hard urban areas was the clear priority. To its credit, Groundwork gave full support to the Council’s regeneration initiatives and played a key role in helping to restore community pride and investment confidence. Thirty years ago, the wholesale clearance of areas of unfit housing was still underway. But in the absence of strong demand for development land, cleared sites could remain empty for several years. Without remedial treatment they would hasten the downward spiral of confidence in their area’s future. This was particularly so along main road corridors.
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The Groundwork solution was brilliantly simple, yet highly effective. As property was demolished, the hardcore was kept on site and pushed into a long mound running parallel with the main road. Considerable savings were made from not having to transport material off site and dispose elsewhere. The rubble mound was then covered in topsoil and planted with a variety of shrubs and whips. A low chain link fence was erected along the crest of the mound; initially to discourage folk from walking across as a short–cut. The growth rate of the planted material was little short of miraculous as roots delved down to the hardcore below. The fence along the crest proved ideal for the rapid spread of creeping plants. In hardly any time at all a substantial and attractive green frontage was established. Apart from screening the cleared land to its rear, the green mound would be used as part of the infrastructure for future redevelopment. Substantial lengths of main road corridor were treated in this way and there is little doubt that it contributed to a belief that better times lay ahead as well as attracting interest in site redevelopment. Simple idea, low–cost scheme, rapid impact, great value. By the mid–80s urban tourism was very much in vogue as a tool of economic regeneration. The (in)famous Wigan Pier had been a thorn in the side of the town for generations. The music hall joke was in reality a collection of derelict canalside warehouses. It was located near to the town centre and on a major approach road — highly visible, highly embarrassing and highly depressing. Wigan MBC took the courageous decision to turn this liability into an asset. It resolved to confront the joke by inventing something of particularly high interest and quality. And so the Wigan Pier project was born. Canalside buildings were renovated and turned into offices, an education centre, a pub and restaurant and a heritage centre with a team of actors playing out turn of the century roles.
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The canal basin was located at the centre of a runâ€“down commercial area and one of the aims of the Pier project was to create an environmental quality benchmark that would ripple out into the surrounding area.
Wigan Pier warehouses, after redevelopment.
Groundwork was a key partner in the process; helping to fund the restoration of canalside towpaths, building a pedestrian bridge and walkways and landscaping car parks. But perhaps the best example of Groundwork support was the creation of a Victorian garden. A couple of years into the project it was announced that an adjacent cotton mill would be closing because the premises were too big for the remaining workforce. The Council intervened immediately by buying the mill and its grounds and renting floorspace back to the manufacturer and saving 250 jobs in the process.
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Plans were then set to use the surplus mill floorspace and the surrounding land for purposes that complemented the Pier project. Office space was created and let to Keep Britain Tidy. One of the world’s largest mill steam engines was brought back into use and opened as an attraction. A museum of cotton machinery was created. Adjacent to the mill and standing in the grounds alongside the Leeds–Liverpool canal was a derelict weaving shed. Incapable of refurbishment, the roof was removed and the walls taken down to a three metre height. A walled garden was being created. Groundwork funding and advice played a key part in replicating the character of a turn of the century garden. Experts secured plant, vegetable and shrub species typical of the period; many of them very rare by that time. The Accrington Brick Company was persuaded to use some old mouldings to manufacture barley–twist path edgings. A local blacksmith made some ironwork arches to form a rose bower. In one sense none of this was particularly unusual; but in the context of springing a surprise on the ‘I have never been to Wigan, but I know what it’s like’ brigade, it was priceless. The Pier project went on to win many awards, but none of the achievements would have been possible without the support of partners like Groundwork.
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Fast breeding The early years of the Groundwork Foundation John Iles
Lend me your ears David Trippier
Merthyr Tydfil Sue Price
A Japanese perspective Yoshi Oyama
Groundwork in Eastern Europe Rob Morley
Groundwork hops the pond Douglas Evans
A chameleon in our midst Richard Sharland
The early years of the Groundwork Foundation John Iles
Others will have told the story about the development of Groundwork as a concept, forming the basic principles around partnership working and the initial expansion in the North West building on the early success of Operation Groundwork in St Helens and Knowsley. I join the story at the point where the Countryside Commission, as founders and sponsors of the idea behind Groundwork, was looking to set up an independent national body that would take the initiative forward. I had been working since 1978 for the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV) in the North of England as Director (North and Northern Ireland) and had been working closely with the Countryside Commission, especially in Yorkshire, to engage a mainly urban population in practical conservation projects. The Commission had been real encouragers and financial sponsors and enabled the development of volunteer training centres in Leeds and Doncaster. In the early 1980s there was an upsurge
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in interest around the wildlife in our towns and cities and a growing urban conservation movement was born with advocates like Chris Baines, the late Christine Bradley as well as John and Joan Davidson. People had started to realise that in our towns and cities there were wonderful reservoirs of wildlife that had survived despite intensive development and were not subject to pesticides and fertilisers as in more rural areas. In this movement we also recognised that a majority of urban people needed to be convinced that wildlife and conservation was relevant to them if we were to persuade politicians to vote the required financial support. In this context Peter Hardy, the MP for Rotherham and the sponsor of the Badger Bill, was a great supporter. I met John Davidson on several occasions – in Leeds, Newcastle and in Cheltenham – to broker funding propositions with him. I had witnessed the creation of Groundwork in the North West and realised it was only a matter of time before it would appear on the national scene. John spoke several times about the need to pull together a team to build a small national organisation that would work in partnership itself to push forward the Groundwork initiative. I met him in Gland, Switzerland — while Linda and I were on holiday and he was at an IUCN meeting — to hammer out the details of a potential secondment from BTCV to Groundwork. The secondment was for two years and I would be working with John to spread the network beyond the North West. At that time the Groundwork Unit, formed to develop the North West trusts, was based in the Countryside Commission’s offices at 184 Deansgate. The Unit brought together a small multi–disciplinary team including Jackie Seddon from the Manpower Services Commission (job creation), Eric Belfield and Jim McQueen from the Countryside Commission (CC) to look after the spending of
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the additional Section 9 grants that Groundwork Trusts and their local authority partners had access to, Nick Sanders and Peter Epton from ADAS (Agricultural Development and Advisory Service) looking at the penalties that farmers suffered from their urban fringe location, Richard Knightsbridge from Land Use Consultants on contract from the Nature Conservancy Council (NCC) who provided additional nature conservation advice for the projects and we had access to communications specialist Paul Tyler from Good Relations based in London and partnership exponent David Wilcox. John Iles.
These were exciting times with a tremendous ‘can do’ attitude and a team led by John Davidson that joined us together and kept reminding us of the bigger context that we were operating in. John really led on the work to bring in the business community. He advocated a process of engagement to seek to try to understand their issues and persuade them that a concern for the environment and the reduction of the impact on it was in their business interests.
The Foundation is born Working with lawyer Stephen Lloyd from Bates Wells and Braithwaite, Paul Tyler and David Wilcox, John brought together the concept of a national Groundwork Foundation that would have as founding partners the Countryside Commission, the Nature Conservancy Council and the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers with support from Business in the Community. It would have a small staff team led by John that would include myself as Development Director, a Director of Marketing (and fundraising) a Finance and Administration Director and a small support team.
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John consulted with the existing North West Trusts who supported the idea although expressed some concern about spreading the network too fast and too thin, mindful of their need to raise finance themselves. The Foundation documents were signed on a visit to Salford by Sir Derek Barber from CC, William Wilkinson from NCC and Rob Morley from BTCV. The Foundation then had to decide where to be based. By this time we’d been moved out of Deansgate and Jim McQueen had found a temporary office in Bolton – hardly the easiest place to reach for a national organisation! The choices were either the North West (where the existing network was strong), London (good access to ministers, the media and business but expensive), Cheltenham (where the CC HQ was and John lived) or Birmingham (which is central, within reasonably easy reach of London and the North West).
Sir Christopher Chataway, the Groundwork Foundation’s first Chairman.
Birmingham was chosen and premises located at 6 Bennetts Hill – five minutes walk from the station with space for a decent sized meeting room, and up to about ten staff. Recruitment began and I recall the first interviews of Alison Bainbridge and David Bettis being held in this empty office space which we had not signed for but just borrowed the keys from the estate agents for the day! We held a launch party in Birmingham with John inviting Graham Shaylor, the Birmingham City Council Planner, and local politicians. After discussions with the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, Councillor David Sparks from Dudley was nominated to serve on the Board.
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The team gathered and work began in earnest to start to spread the idea of Groundwork Trusts working in partnership with their local authorities, local business and the community to regenerate the environment in towns and cities. At the same time the existing trusts needed to be supported by the lifeblood of publicity and funding. Ministerial visits were organised, press articles commissioned and the business community engaged – all essential components of growing the Groundwork movement. John had been able to persuade senior civil servants in the Department of the Environment to support the proposal for a £3million a year rolling programme that would support the existing network of Trusts and enable three or four new trusts to be started each year. Ministers gave their support and John was then able to secure business interests in the initiative through links with Business in the Community and the CBI. The approaches to business paid off with secondments arriving from Esso (Bert Millar) and BP (Brian Glyde) who shared their business experience and approach with us all. Most importantly they provided evidence to Ministers that Groundwork was engaging with the business community and so was a true partnership. The Foundation’s first chairman, Sir Chris Chataway, was with the Royal Bank of Canada at the time and lent his name and his offices to our cause – hosting business breakfasts and meetings and widening the circle of Groundwork’s friends in the business world. By taking stand space at the annual CBI conference, Groundwork was able to continue to raise its profile with the business community. We would host a business breakfast with a keynote from a recognised heavy hitter from the business world – such as Tony Cleaver, then Chief Executive for IBM in the UK — and then follow with a Groundwork message and seek to enlist more people in supporting the movement.
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Gradually the concept grew of national campaigns on issues that were common to many different Groundwork sites and a national sponsor secured. For example, all areas had unsightly and run down industrial premises that needed a facelift and the Brightsite programme, supported by Shell, funded a Groundwork Trust to draw up a sketch scheme showing the owner what the site would look like. One of the clever bits was to mount these drawings in a decent picture frame and make a presentation of it to the management suggesting it be hung in reception. The constant reminder of what the site could look like was sufficient for many a managing director to instruct Groundwork to implement the scheme.
Growing the network The expansion of Groundwork in the North West was done through an open competition with local authorities submitting bids as to why they should win the prize of having a Groundwork Trust – which included five years core and project funding from the Department of the Environment and the Countryside Commission. In this process there was little opportunity for any partnership development. In our thinking about the expansion into a national programme we wanted a proper process of engagement – for new areas to see what a Groundwork Trust was like, how the partnership worked and for there to be a local steering group supported by the local authority but clearly establishing the foundations for a partnership approach. An example is the dinner hosted by Albright and Wilson in their hospitality facility (a lovely old farm) near Cockermouth in Cumbria when we were seeking to get a board together for the new Trust in West Cumbria. Sir Chris Chataway came up on the train from London and top executives from BNFL, Thames Board and Albright & Wilson learnt about Groundwork over dinner. In principle commitments were made and the local authority partners
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had the confidence that Groundwork was truly going to add an additional dimension to their efforts to regenerate West Cumbria. The Groundwork boards brought together people who had a common interest in making their area a better place for people to live and work even though at times they might be in conflict. A good example was in East Durham where British Coal was in the process of closing many of the coal mines and the local councillors (most of whom worked in the pits and were key NUM officials) were bitterly opposed to the closures. But at the Groundwork East Durham board they buried their differences and sought to do the best for their area. We canvassed candidate areas for Groundwork through the contacts of the Countryside Commission and some clear early prospects included the East Durham coalfield, the steel area of Workington and Whitehaven in West Cumbria, the coal mining valleys of Merthyr Tydfil and south Wales and the chalk works of North Kent. Our sponsors in the Department of the Environment recognised the benefit of a rolling approach and although ministers were always pushing for a new Trust to announce, on the whole we managed a reasonably robust process. The existing Trusts in the North West were engaged in hosting Open Days and visits to enable new potential areas to come and see. Twinning arrangements were set up between the old and the new and a national training programme developed and delivered. Not everyone was supportive of the growing Groundwork network. Some local authorities saw it as a threat â€“ taking away potential government resources from them, some saw it as a form of privatisation while others in the voluntary sector, perhaps jealously, saw it as a well resourced fundraising machine with top level contacts in government and business.
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Nonetheless the network continued to grow and eventually the Groundwork Foundation outgrew its home on Bennetts Hill and needed to find bigger premises in Cornwall Street to realise the challenges put to it by Minister David Trippier to extend the network still further. But that, I feel is part of another story.
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Lend me your ears David Trippier
I recognised the importance of tackling environmental problems at a local level. I had been one of the founders of the Groundwork Trust in Rossendale and had seen the success of their environmental work in the local community. I had also seen many improvements in Darwen in the other part of my constituency, which was covered by the Blackburn Groundwork Trust. So, rather like the Local Enterprise Agency movement, I was determined to spread the Groundwork Trust movement throughout the country. The Groundwork Trust was already a success in those areas where it had established itself in the community. It was a practical organisation which would tackle eyesores, clean up rivers, plant trees, repair footpaths and bridleways, as well as running environmental education in some schools. It was becoming the outward and visible sign of environmental partnership in action. The Department of the Environment made money available to the National Groundwork Foundation via the Countryside Commission. They
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would then dispense whatever money they thought appropriate to stimulate a new Groundwork Trust in an area or to support an existing one. As with many other Government initiatives, the private sector was prepared to sponsor the trusts and they would also receive assistance from the Local Authority in the Groundwork Area. Much of Rossendale and Darwen had been transformed by their work and even prior to me becoming the ‘Green Minister’, Ruth and I and our boys had been involved in working on local initiatives to improve the landscape. The local Director was a ‘workaholic’ named Peter Wilmers, and although I was able to replicate the Rossendale and Darwen experience throughout much of the country, I knew that I owed Peter Wilmers an enormous debt of gratitude for showing me how local conservation could be not only effective but enjoyable.
Sir David Trippier visiting the Rossendale Trust in the early 1980s.
The National Chairman of the movement was Christopher Chataway, the well known Olympic runner and former Tory Minister, and the Chief Executive was John Davidson, whose enthusiasm I found to be infectious. When Chris Chataway paid a visit to the Groundwork Trust in Rossendale and stayed with Ruth and me in Helmshore, I was mad enough to agree to do a sponsored run with him which nearly killed me. There were shades of the green beret course at Lympstone.
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Merthyr Tydfil Sue Price
I arrived in Merthyr Tydfil in March 1985. Much of the countryside surrounding the town was still black from the remains of the coal and iron industries. It was also denuded of wood after the prolonged and bitter minerâ€™s strike. What it did have, however, was tremendous community spirit. From the beginning, when I gave my first presentations, trying hard to pronounce the welsh place names, people enthusiastically gave their support to an English girl (albeit with Welsh roots) who said it was time to do something positive for the communities and to restore the beautiful environment surrounding those communities in the welsh valleys. The Merthyr Trust did not start as a Groundwork Trust. It had the support of the council, the Countryside Commission for Wales, several businesses and Groundwork nationally but its first incarnation was as a local urban fringe trust called Greenspace. Named through a competition with schools, there was some immediate ownership, but the downside was limited initial funding, insufficient for the core staff critical to the Groundwork Trust model.
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The practicalities of starting up were hard. Just a desk in a house in the local park and my own portable typewriter on which I made slow progress using the one finger typing method. There was no money for staff, but there was the first of the governmentâ€™s Manpower Services Commission Schemes whereby the unemployed were assisted into work. It enabled the Trust to have project staff and a landscape architect. Also, a team of lads who, under the watchful eye of their supervisor, were able to undertake practical works. We planted trees, landscaped local business sites, ran educational campaigns, created ponds, built footpaths and dug drains. And then we dug more drains because of the amount of rain in Wales and the steep sided welsh valleys.
Secretary of State for Wales, Peter Walker and Sue Price at the Welsh launch of the Brightsite initiative.
The early years were an exciting adventure. Staff were totally enthusiastic and creative. We had lots of volunteers. There was
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a supportive Board of Management to which we reported every three months, but no blueprint of exactly how to run a trust or what projects to do. The Groundwork principles, however, were the bedrock of how we worked and why. We always worked alongside partners, a novel concept in 1985, and we worked to ensure that projects were environmentally positive and sustainable, socially inclusive and purposeful, economically viable and made a contribution to the economic development of the valley. Projects were different from anything that had been done previously in Merthyr. We tackled sites that were unused or unloved. The local school, business or community group were part of the design and part of the implementation. There were partners helping us with every site. Projects looked different; they were attractive, very conscious of their environmental impact and the heritage and history of the area which was hugely important. People enjoyed being involved and constantly pushed the Trust to do more. Many of the schemes had original designs with unusual artworks. For example, if a project had gates or railings of any sort, they always included artwork, often made with local schools. You could tell they were Groundwork schemes. In Merthyr, iron capital of the industrial revolution, one of the early landscaping schemes included iron flowers – harder to steal and looked great all year round! Groundwork projects were groundbreaking and innovative, we designed and resourced them and we built a reputation for delivery. As the Trust proved it could make a difference, the early campaigns and more simple individual projects were not enough. Groundwork led the way in working on some of the most deprived housing estates in the valleys, working up wider strategies for regeneration with full residents’ participation. This was totally new and at first very hard for the Council to accept. The Gurnos housing estate, famous for its levels of deprivation, saw us under-
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take an environmental project first, erecting barriers and planting to stop motorbikes racing around the estate. Thereafter, the first residents’ project was a family centre to care for young children, to help their development and to build parenting skills. The community prioritised the projects it wanted. Groundwork put the strategy into ‘bid speak’, secured the majority of funding and supported the residents as project manager for some 7 years.
The launch of neighbouring Groundwork Islwyn.
A special early milestone for the Trust came in 1988. We secured the agreement of nine local authorities, to work together with the Trust as project manager, to create the Taff Trail cycle route. 55 miles completed, it ran from Cardiff Bay, through the Valleys and into the Brecon Beacons. It was the first cycle route in Wales and is a lasting legacy used regularly by thousands of local people and visitors to Wales.
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Distinctive ironwork was a feature of early projects.
From the beginning many businesses were hugely supportive of the Trust. They saw the importance of the partnership approach and embraced the opportunity to talk to the council in such a positive forum. Not only did they regularly support the early community projects, but they were desperate for environmental improvements to their own poor quality sites. The early Brightsite programme was a hugely successful industrial site improvement project. It matched funding obtained nationally by Groundwork from Shell, to funding from the Welsh Development Agency and the firms themselves. This was the first time the older industrial areas had ever had funding to improve them and a proactive organisation to draw up designs and implement them. It transformed the look of major parts of the town as well as helping local businesses with their customers. More than one company told the Trust that without these improvements they would have moved their factory elsewhere. Local authority support was paramount for the Trusts. Not all councillors were supportive in the early days, however. Many thought that Groundwork projects should be done by the local authority alone. Fortunately, there were always key individual councillors and officers who embraced the Groundwork ethos and they were crucial to ensuring the ongoing support of the councils for finance and project involvement. A very welcome milestone was reached, after some four years of operation, during the presentation of our annual report to the Merthyr Council.
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One of the leading councillors stood up and publically apologised that he had been wrong. Groundwork was undertaking projects that the Council was unable to do and doing them well. Groundwork nationally gave enormous support to the fledgling Welsh trust. When I arrived there were seven other trusts, mostly in North West England. Directors meetings were held at different trusts and the Groundwork network, all eight of us plus John Davidson and John Iles, could sit round one table to learn and make our plans. Being able to see what other trusts were doing was always an inspiration, but I was delighted when the next trust was formed and I was no longer the new kid on the block always asking ‘and how exactly did you do that?’ and ‘ how did you fund it?.’ Without the support of Groundwork nationally, Greenspace would not have survived. As it was, after 18 months, Greenspace became the Merthyr Tydfil Groundwork Trust. It meant that core funding was secured for key staff and there was access to project funding. The Trust ‘took off.’ The faith of partners in what could be delivered by the Trust increased and they were prepared to offer project funding for programmes of work. This made a huge difference to forward planning and ensuring we had staff with the right skills. I gained a place as an equal partner at the table of all the key environmental and community initiatives developing in Wales. I helped to establish some of them. Projects became more challenging and more communities became involved. Growing success in Merthyr led to an invitation to work in the adjoining valley. In 1989 the Merthyr and Cynon Groundwork Trust was established. We moved from an office above the Merthyr bus station, to Fedw Hir, a former hospital site with 14 acres of land, which provided a practical base for the growing work programme and an opportunity to develop an exemplary
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environmental centre. Each valley had its own Board made up of local authority members, businesses and community representatives. Each valley had its own list of projects developed to respond to its communities and to the funding secured. At the same time, supported also by the Welsh Office, I became an enthusiastic ambassador for Groundwork in Wales and helped to set up another three trusts â€“ Ogwr in 1989, Islwyn in 1990 and Wrexham in 1991. With a pale blueprint to guide them, all three trusts quickly became established carrying out similar distinctive Groundwork projects. Within a few years all extended to work in neighbouring valleys. This established Groundwork in approximately one third of the Boroughs in Wales, but in nearly all of the most deprived areas. Groundwork in Wales continues to thrive today. What began as an experiment in 1985, with myself as the one member of staff, has become a network employing some 150 staff and working with hundreds of volunteers. The Trust now all run large programmes of work that are cemented into the fabric of community, environmental and economic regeneration in Wales. We have made a real difference.
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A Japanese perspective Yoshi Oyama
My first encounter with Groundwork happened in 1984 when I had an opportunity to see Groundwork for the first time. Four years before that, I had been at the University of Birmingham studying town and country planning. My supervisor from that time told me that a very interesting initiative, called Groundwork, had started in the UK and advised me to come over to see it. On my request, John Davidson kindly organised a visit to two Groundwork Trusts: St Helens/Knowlsey; and Macclesfield, in the North West of England. It was a real eyeâ€“opening experience for me for many reasons. The concept of partnership was exciting and I felt its potential could be limitless, generating many unprecedented opportunities. The idea of focusing on people, and developing people and environments together was also refreshing. But for me, the most striking was the fact that young members of staff at Groundwork Trusts were free to express their visions and dreams and how they would like to change the areas for the better for local people.
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Yoshi (far left) welcomes Groundwork staff to Japan, including Sue Price and John Davidson.
In Japan, where the bureaucratic and seniority systems were the order of the day, the political and administrative structures forced top–down, fragmented operations for one–size–fits–all solutions, and professionals were acting as the guardians, maintaining the system. There was no serious attempt to pursue bottom–up local solutions for local people. And, young people had to wait until their forties for their ideas to be taken seriously! Anyway, this Groundwork experience, in particular meeting John Davidson, made a mark in my mind, and influenced the course of my life.
My Involvement with Groundwork Immediately after my UK visit, John was invited to a green conference which was organised by the governor of Kumamoto Province,
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in the southern part of Japan. I met John again on this occasion and we talked about the possibility of me getting involved in Groundwork in the UK. In due course, John kindly created a space for me to work at the Groundwork Foundation office in 1987. My role was two–fold. One was to approach Japanese companies for sponsorship. They were an important economic force in the UK at that time and we thought they might be able to support the Groundwork movement both at the national and local levels. The second role was to look into the feasibility of developing a Groundwork model in Japan. For this idea, we managed to get research funding from the Toyota Foundation based in Japan.
UK–Japan Groundwork Exchange Events My final report drew attention from the academic sector first and, in 1991, a research institute called the Centre for Environmental Information Science (CEIS) decided to organise the 1st UK–Japan Groundwork Exchange event. At CEIS’s request, John and I selected nine delegates with representatives from Groundwork, the Countryside Commission, CBI, and a local authority. The delegation was headed by Lord Jenkin of Roding, ex–Environment Minister. John also contacted Richard Branson at Virgin Atlantic who instantly came up with a sponsorship offer which provided air tickets between the two countries. This first event was a great success with much enthusiasm expressed from different sectors. The early 1990s was a time when everybody was looking for new ideas. People’s interest in the environment was increasing, and there was recognition that a government–led top–down approach alone was not enough to accommodate it. The business sector was expected to support public interests, and their involvement in supporting cultural and art activities was becoming prominent. The time was there-
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fore ripe for the Groundwork concept to be taken as a serious new model to link up rising but separate public interests. This first attempt was followed by the second Exchange Event, the following year. Unlike the first event, which was mainly for talking about what Groundwork was, this time we sent two representatives who visited two particular localities to suggest what Groundwork could do and achieve in a particular Japanese context. One such area was Mishima City, about an hour by bullet train from Tokyo. The area was blessed with spring water which was created through the geological structure of Mt Fuji. However, due to continuous urban and industrial development, and the greater use of water, Mishima City started to be starved of this once blessed spring water. Local people were very concerned about the situation, and we visited the area just as they were starting their own voluntary initiative. After our visit and our suggestions for what they could achieve through Groundwork, twelve voluntary and community groups quickly came together and formed the Mishima Groundwork Action Group and started applying the Groundwork methodology to their own area. This was the beginning of a success story which has lasted to the current day. These two exchange events laid the firm foundation for Groundwork to develop in Japan and, in 1995, the Japan Groundwork Association was formed with backing from five Ministries to symbolise the partnership concept. The subsequent development is another story.
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Groundwork Impacts in Japan Although it cannot be said that Groundwork in Japan has made such a ground–breaking contribution to solving social and environmental issues as it has done in the UK, it has had distinct impacts in Japan in several ways. The first is that it introduced the concept of ‘partnership’ to Japan and started challenging the traditional Japanese ways of doing things. It has led to the coining of a new Japanese word ‘Kyodo’, reflecting the concept of partnership, which has now become a common operational term, among the public, private, and voluntary sectors. Secondly, Groundwork has contributed to creating a successful local regeneration model, Groundwork Mishima, which has received numerous local regeneration and environment–related prizes over the last decades of activities. I also believe that Groundwork has made an impact on the minds of many Japanese people. Since the first exchange event, more than 2,000 people have come to the UK to experience Groundwork. This has included politicians, government officers, academics, and those from the voluntary and community sectors. Groundwork Mishima has also been receiving about 3,000 visitors every year from different parts of Japan. People are increasingly working together to achieve common aims under the ‘Kyodo’ concept and many people know what Groundwork is and what it can do. I think what Groundwork has achieved in Japan is beyond the individual impacts coming from local Groundwork groups and projects.
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John Davidson’s Message In the 1991 exchange event, on 30th May, John Davidson sent the following message* in his speech to the 350 people in the audience: *As I do not have John’s original English version, I have had to translate back into English from the Japanese version I made at the time for the delegates.
“Talk to the business community, understand their views, discuss with them and work together. Become a professional organisation that can provide high quality service and results. Encourage participation from the beginning of projects, and ensure that children will play an important role. Deepen the involvement of local authorities and councils, and ensure that they feel they are playing a part. Make the activities to improve the environment more enjoyable. Please put these ideas into practice. And never give up — nothing is too big or too difficult to be done.” This message remains in my heart, and I feel that it is still very relevant to present day Japan after 20 years.
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Groundwork in Eastern Europe Rob Morley
Zhivkov’s Bulgaria ranked with Honeker’s East Germany, Ceausescu’s Romania, and Hoxha’s Albania amongst the most hardline and repressed of the Soviet era states. In Bulgaria it was the mass expulsion of ethnic Turks that proved to be the beginning of the end for Zhivkov. He was the target of near–unanimous condemnation from the international community, and even the Soviets protested. But in October 1989 the Commission on Security and Co–operation in Europe had been invited to hold an environmental summit in the capital Sofia. An independent group of Bulgarian environmental activists, Ecoglasnost, had been invited to participate. Ten days into the conference, several Ecoglasnost activists and supporters were brutally beaten up by the hated DS secret service — on orders from Zhivkov — and to further international condemnation. Within a month Zhivkov had been forced to resign. Thus it was that the environmental lobby had played its part in the overthrow of communism.
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Concrete pillboxes were a noticeable feature of Albania’s coastline.
In 1992, the Bulgarian Ministry of the Environment, through dialogue with the British Embassy, asked for assistance in forming productive relationships with an emerging but disparate environmental voluntary sector. Under the auspices of the Know–How Fund, Groundwork, in partnership with BTCV, was invited to work to support the voluntary sector in Bulgaria. We made regular visits to the Bulgarian Ministry of the Environment located in William Gladstone Street, named in recognition of the British Liberal Party leader’s campaign against Turkey’s Bulgarian atrocities in the late 19th century. Not a lot had changed post communism. The first free elections in June 1990 had been won by the Bulgarian Socialist Party who were essentially unreformed communists.
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Economic, social and political conditions had not yet begun to change and living standards continued to suffer. Our first conference attracted a wide range of voluntary organisations and the proceedings were filmed and recorded (perhaps we should have wondered why that was). The participants enjoyed being fed and housed in an ex–communist party rest house in Bankya on the outskirts of Sofia probably as much as the conference itself – even if the fried slabs of cheese we were served for breakfast one morning might, in the view of one wit amongst our guests, have been more suited as crash mats for jumbo jets… A principal outcome of our first conference was the need to engage in dialogue with industry — and in particular some of those who had the worst environmental impact. Thus our second conference was held in Bachova monastery in the mountains overlooking Plovdiv and the lead–zinc smelter at Assenovgrad. The KCM owned plant had created serious environmental problems including pollution of the surrounding area. The main causes were the deterioration of the plant facilities introduced during the 1950s and 1960s from the former Soviet Union and the company’s failure to take adequate environmental measures under the former socialist regime For 14km downwind of the smelter no crops for consumption were allowed to be grown. However, this apparently didn’t stop tobacco being grown — now, lavender is grown and converted into essential oils. Unprotected vats of molten lead and glass falling from the windows of the building as the travelling crane went past were among the abiding memories of this visit designed to engage dialogue between the factory and the community. We were able to make some basic suggestions for improving the environmental performance of the plant and at the same time reducing costs, but the environmental health implications of this facility built in a
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prime agricultural area continued to be felt in the local community. In order to prepare for the accession to EU membership in 2007, the Bulgarian government subsequently adopted policies to bring its emission standards into accord with those required by the EU. Due to a three line whip, environment minister David Curry’s planned visit had been cancelled at the last minute and a civil servant came in his place, culminating in a somewhat surreal meeting with Bulgarian Environment Minister Dalchev late into the night. In Bourgas we were invited to help develop relationships between the refinery, the municipal authorities and the wider community. As with the smelter near Plovdiv, environmental standards were poor — mainly due to the age of the plant and lack of investment – but there were many things we were able to recommend that would actually provide cost savings and improve the environmental performance at the same time. In 1999 the refinery — the largest in the Balkan peninsula — was taken over by the Russian based LUKOIL company which has since invested heavily in modernising the plant and improving its environmental impact. Having investigated the former dictator’s summer residence further down the coast as a possible location for our meetings (where fresh mountain air was pumped from a pine forest 15 km distant), we made our base in another former communist party rest house in the seaside resort of Sunny Beach near Nesebar. During all of this period wars were continuing over the Bulgarian border with the breakup of the former Yugoslavia and culminating in July 1995 with the Srebrenica massacre. The Dayton Agreement in December 1995 provided a temporary respite. As a result of our work in Bulgaria, Groundwork was asked to participate in an EU funded pre–accession programme named
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PHARE to assist Central and Eastern European countries in their preparations for joining the EU. This project entailed working with voluntary sector organisations in Bulgaria, Romania and Albania. Getting participants from each of these three countries — from very different cultures — to work together was challenging and took place prior to the war in Kosova between Serbs and ethnic Albanians on Albania’s border. We carried out programmes in each of the three countries and hosted participants on a visit to the UK — where visits were organised to different voluntary organisations. In Romania we witnessed the aftermath of Ceausescu’s regime and his bloody overthrow in the revolution of 1989. One of the Romanian participants lived on a smallholding that had been days away from demolition to make way for one of Ceausescu’s grandiose avenues of soulless high rise apartment blocks. In Albania we saw for ourselves the evidence of Hoxha’s paranoia and his concrete pillboxes standing like sentinels down the beach ostensibly protecting against invasion. We were not sure who might want to invade, but perhaps they were there to prevent people leaving. Living standards were poor and infrastructure was lacking. We witnessed the stumbling steps to a black market democracy when we were shown a compound of all sorts of cars, tractors and construction machinery assembled amongst the pine trees by the beach. Apparently you could buy a brand new Mercedes for $10,000 and as long as you didn’t take it out of the country there were no questions asked. But we were also told that the government ministries also bought their cars there. Western airlines had been reluctant to fly into Tirana airport because of the state of the runway, so it was with some relief that we paid our $40 exit tax and safely departed, having played our small role in helping these Balkan countries in their move towards democracy.
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Groundwork hops the pond Douglas Evans
Groundwork in the USA began as an initiative of the Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program (RTCA) of the National Park Service (NPS) of the United States. RTCA is the technical assistance arm of NPS, helping communities develop trails and greenways, conserve rivers and improve community access to the outdoors. In many ways, it was similar to the Countryside Commission of the UK. In early 1990s, RTCA was exploring how to better assist underserved urban communities which had limited access to quality parks, recreation and conserved natural resources. As part of this exploration, RTCA convened a meeting of leaders from inner city communities in the Boston, Massachusetts area to draw on their expertise. They had much to recommend on how to improve government’s approach to ‘helping’ their communities. People in the community should be engaged at the beginning of a project. Understand the needs and abilities of a community before presenting a solution to their problems. Build the capacity of the community to facilitate its own transformation. And, above all, do
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not expect to come into a community, do a good deed, leave and then expect the community to sustain the good deed. If you are going to assist, you need to be there for the long term, working shoulder to shoulder with the community At the same time, I was assisting a partnership of community groups and public agencies in the City of Providence, Rhode Island with the development of the Woonasqutucket River Greenway, which would be a ribbon of parks and natural areas along 4 miles of the Woonasquatucket River in the most underserved neighborhoods of Providence. Local and national foundations were on board to support development of the greenway and funding was available from federal programs to help build it. However, the question of maintenance, stewardship and programming over the long term had become a stumbling block. Local governments, especially in older post– industrial cities, were being stretched to meet their existing commitments for housing , education, healthcare, police and fire protection. Parks, recreation and other ‘amenities’ were the first budget lines to be cut each year. The City, on its own, could not afford to manage more acres of parks and recreation space. With this problem, we had the opportunity to explore other approaches to managing public open space, including public — private partnerships, a concept receiving increased attention. Two of the examples we considered were from across the pond – the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV) and Groundwork. Our awareness of them stemmed from the US – UK Countryside Exchange Program. My RTCA colleague, Steve Golden, participated in one exchange to the UK and was based at the Countryside Commission office in Cheltenham. In fact, he was working in John Davidson’s office and saw information about a new program called Groundwork, information that he filed away till several years later when we were discussing potential models
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to look at. Coincidently, early in his career with the National Park Service, Steve worked with a graduate intern from the UK on land protection for the Appalachian National Scenic Trail in the US. The graduate intern was Robin Henshaw, who would later become Executive Director of Groundwork Oldham & Rochdale. The stepping stones for Groundwork to hop across the pond to the US were falling into place. Steve and Robin kept in touch over the years. As RTCA was exploring new approaches to helping inner city communities, they began to talk about sharing the expertise of RTCA and Groundwork. Together, we planned a study trip for 2 RTCA staff members to BTCV and Groundwork Oldham & Rochdale. I was one of the participants. The year was 1994. The trip was a great success. Many aspects of Groundwork resonated with me and addressed the issues raised in our meetings
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with leaders from inner city communities on how NPS could best be of assistance. I brought home information to share about Groundwork and proceeded to meet with partners in several cities in New England to get their reaction to the Groundwork model, as I understood it. They encouraged us to explore the Groundwork model for development in the US. Our first approach was top down, reaching out to other federal agencies in Washington DC to engage them in development of Groundwork in the US. Though the participants thought Groundwork was an interesting idea, the discussions went nowhere. Finally, someone recommended we generate interest in communities that would most benefit from Groundwork’s approach and develop some pilot Groundwork Programs that we could show as examples and build demand for this type of approach from the bottom up. We decided to organise a Groundwork road show to reach a broader group of stakeholders and urban practitioners in a variety of cities in New England, New York and New Jersey and invited Robin Henshaw, Executive Director of Groundwork Oldham & Rochdale to join us for the tour. His presentation of Groundwork was much more informative than what I had been offering and generated significant discussions and interest. The year was 1995. More importantly, a group of stakeholders came together as the Groundwork USA Steering Committee and we met Marjorie Buckholtz, Director of the newly established Brownfields Program at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Marjorie attended Robin’s presentation about Groundwork in Bridgeport, Connecticut, stop number 4 of the Groundwork road show. Under Marjorie’s guidance, the EPA Brownfields Program would become a key partner with NPS RTCA to develop Groundwork in the US. A second study tour was organised for me to Groundwork Oldham, Rochdale & Tameside to learn more about the Ground-
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work model. The Groundwork USA Steering Committee began meeting on a regular basis to develop the parameters for a Groundwork USA program and advise NPS on how to proceed. In 1997, NPS and EPA entered into a memorandum of understanding to explore development of Groundwork in the US and access funding. The complementary interests of EPA and NPS were the foundation for this long term partnership. For EPA, Groundwork would build the capacity of communities to reuse brownfields and derelict land for economic development and other community benefits. For NPS, Groundwork would improve access to quality parks, green space and conserved natural resources. For both, Groundwork would substantively engage the communities themselves in planning and undertaking these projects and programs and help address the environmental justice issues they faced. The effort to develop Groundwork in the US was getting serious. And then it occurred to us. We had not contacted anyone at the Groundwork Foundation to let them know what we were doing, let alone ask if it would be ok if we developed Groundwork in the US. Robin counselled us that would be an important step, if we intended to proceed. He offered to initiate the conversation with the Groundwork Foundation. Over the next couple years, we began outreach to the Groundwork Foundation. Leadership at Groundwork UK was in transition. The first emissary from Groundwork UK was John Davidson. Over the course of two trips to the Boston area, he met with Steve and me to learn about our interest in Groundwork and how we were going about it. He toured Lawrence, Massachusetts where we were working to develop one of the first Groundwork Trusts in the US and was impressed by the potential and the level of need. He asked hard questions and challenged us on our commitment to ensure Groundwork in the US reflected the values
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and principles of Groundwork in the UK and was not just in name only. At the end of our meetings I remember walking with John toward his hotel. As we were about to part, he expressed his confidence in our work to develop Groundwork in the US, wished us luck, and said he would put in a good word for our efforts with the new leadership at Groundwork UK. As I walked away, I breathed a sigh of relief. We had passed the first test. In 1997, funding from EPA was secured to establish Groundwork as pilots in Lawrence, Bridgeport and Providence. In 1998, funding was secured to develop 3 more Groundwork Trusts. Our outreach to Groundwork UK expanded as we worked to inform the Groundwork Foundation on the developments in the US. With the new millennium, our efforts to build the bridge between Groundwork on both sides of the pond intensified. In early 2000, I attended the Groundwork conference in Birmingham and had the opportunity to address the Groundwork Federation and meet face to face with the Groundwork UK leadership for the first time. Robin Henshaw returned to the US to undertake an official assessment of the development of Groundwork USA to report back to the leadership at Groundwork UK in preparation for their participation in the first Groundwork USA Assembly that was being planned for April, 2000. Held in Boston, the Assembly brought together the fledgling Groundwork USA network, representatives of NPS and EPA ,and key partners and supporters from foundations and leading NGOs. Tony Hawkhead, Richard Sharland, Steve Grainger and Dilwyn Evans represented Groundwork UK. The capstone of the Assembly was the signing of an interim agreement between NPS and Groundwork UK, authorising our efforts and use of the Groundwork name and logo. The foundation for Groundwork USA was set.
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A chameleon in our midst Richard Sharland
One of the more challenging experiences of my working life was my first appearance at a Groundwork Executive Directors’ (EDs’) forum in 1994. I was invited to present an ‘external perspective’ on Groundwork – how was the organisation seen by those who worked alongside them? I was not the only speaker on the topic that day, but I was probably the only one whose apprehension was tinged with a little fear: it was well known that I had spent several years previously co–ordinating an increasingly effective public campaign of criticism of Groundwork and now I was being called to account: just me and all of them! Nearly a decade earlier, I had been appointed as the Director of the Lancashire Wildlife Trust, one of the first senior staff in that national network of organisations without an environmental science background. I was – like all those Groundwork EDs – what we might now call a ‘social entrepreneur’ and my brief at the Trust was summarized for me by my chairman, Ted Jackson “please coax and drag this organisation into the 20th century before it is over!”
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Ted and I were clear that we needed to adopt an approach to wildlife conservation that reached well beyond the Trust’s volunteer natural history society roots — we would engage with people, schools, businesses and communities; promote wider environmental awareness and action; work not just with rare or endangered habitats, but with the commonplace – and in towns and cities as well as areas of rural wilderness. And we would develop a business model that included securing public grants, business sponsorship and local fund–raising, that promoted the Trust’s brand as well as increasing Trust membership to a wider public, well beyond the groups of passionate botanisers and bird–watchers who had brought it thus far. It soon became apparent that there were other organisations in this market place with similar ideas, and one seemed much more brash, competitive – and even then, successful – than the rest! There were five established Groundwork Trusts in Lancashire (our area was the pre 1974 County of Lancashire including Merseyside and Greater Manchester north of the River Mersey) by 1985 – in time, five became eight – and it didn’t take long to realise that each one had a significant annual tranche of national and local government funding that
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Richard Sharland’s infamous pictorial take on the Groundwork movement.
they didn’t need to ‘earn’ from projects or members. This might not have mattered much had the Wildlife Trust stayed in its voluntary natural history niche, but, in the rapidly diversifying market of interest and activity in local community environmentalism, there was a substantial and growing overlap between the activities and business interests of our two organizations – and that government funding represented a distinct advantage. Much later, I would recognize that some of the brashness of Groundwork in those early years came from the natural pushy exuberance that is typical of newly–minted organisations – the new kid on the block needing to shoulder its way into the light as it establishes itself. It was clear from early on, though, that there was also a genuine confidence and excitement in this organisation which emanated from the support from its partners and the breadth of creative opportunity in its flexible portfolio: this was allied to its newness — having little or no history to hold them to any given course, the EDs in my patch could do whatever they thought was needed – and they did! The creativity and energy this quickly injected into each Trust’s local area was needed, valued and often very effective — but it did not always make for an easy relationship with other organisations including the Wildlife Trust, which several EDs thought should remain in its narrow nature conservation volunteer enclave and ‘stick to the knitting!’ Each of the Groundworks developed their own characteristics, reflecting local priorities as well as the skills and interests of their leaders. In St Helens, John Handley’s vision and leadership was rooted in a scientific approach and a strong partnership grew between our organisations from a shared commitment to ecological principles. In Rossendale, Peter Wilmers seemed to include everyone in his expansive plans and schemes: even though his partners may often have felt taken advantage
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of, none of us could avoid being swept up in the dynamism of activity, change and enthusiasm that he brought to the valley. There were conflicts over projects with several of the Trusts, often over neglected land that looked untidy but had local value for biodiversity: wildlife value appreciated only by a minority. Where landscape aesthetics and the perceptions of businesses and communities were pre–eminent considerations, local habitat was occasionally lost, sometimes even before its value was assessed. Such small land–use issues lie close to the heart of the changes we were all trying to animate and passions and organisational interests sometimes ran high. At the same time, it was impossible not to see the effectiveness of the Groundwork model, in particular the way their federal structure nurtured national and local partnerships and balanced qualities from different sectors. These were businesses with a third–sector mindset that had networked support from the public sector – and they were expected to be creative, different, engaging in the ways they addressed the challenges of communities in the post–industrial landscape. And the model ingeniously provided that government funding which covered the relationship and programme development costs that otherwise would have to be generated from surpluses or reserves. These were advantages to admire and desire – and for some of us it didn’t seem like we were playing on a level playing field! There were many joint projects and positive partnerships as well as project disputes, but feelings about the apparent inequality over public funding were inflamed by plans to create yet more Groundwork Trusts in Lancashire – and thus more competition for grants and sponsorship in a crowded market place. By the time I was invited to attend that EDs forum, the concerns about funding inequalities and competition had been escalated from the back–yards and meeting rooms of a few Lancashire towns to the
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floor of the House of Commons. And ironically – because one is symptomatic of the other — in those same years, Groundwork had already achieved perhaps its greatest impact, helping to open the minds of other organisations – local authorities, businesses, charities, national government even – to different ways of working: creative and dynamic, yet more deeply engaging and participative, prompting stronger partnerships. Any anxiety I had that day was dispelled by a generous welcome, and I was received with that particular affection normally reserved for pantomime villains. I included in my presentation a single image of how I thought some others saw Groundwork. It was the cartoon of a chameleon, able to change its appearance when required — from a business to a charity to an arm of the local authority to a quango – because it was all of these things, and none of them. I thought then that this morphable model was one of the secrets of Groundwork’s success, that and the great people whose energies, skills and passions created it, grew it and were freed by it – John and Peter, John Davidson and the many, many others who I came to know so well in the years that followed. And the presentation turned out to be a moment of respect and recognition – not many months later I was a Groundwork ED myself!
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From FROGs to Big Society Phil Barton
From FROGs to Big Society Phil Barton
Immersing oneself in the pioneering first decade of Groundwork more than twenty five years on, I am struck at how much has changed; and yet how little. The sense of excitement, of experiment, of breaking new ground, shines through from all the contributors. Groundwork truly broke the mould in being constructed as a public/ private/ voluntary partnership from the foundations up. It had never been done before in this country. Now the approach is seen as old hat (although still far too rarely designed and carried through as a genuine partnership delivering maximum added value from the energies of all involved). We can see too a certain naivety: making it up as we went along; shaping each trust to fit the locality and the personalities involved; marrying public sector grants with local business concerns and unemployed young people. Then, as now, we were going through recession â€” although it was a more British affair before the tide of globalisation had been encouraged to sweep so much before it with a consequent weakening of the community of place.
I am struck too by the preponderance of white men and am led to reflect on the social changes of the past thirty years and the extent to which they have truly permeated the environmental movement. We still have a long way to go in this regard.
Recruiting the FROGs: an Operation Groundwork cartoon.
Since the early 1990s when this account concludes, Groundwork really took off, reaching a peak of fifty trusts by the turn of the millennium, with a collective turnover of over £90m. Under the new strap line of Changing Places, Changing Lives, Groundwork has developed and grown from its original aim of ‘linking town and country’ into a national movement committed to sustainable working at a local level. It went on to pioneer work to engage small businesses in reducing their environmental impact, learning from and extending early work in East Lancashire and elsewhere. It developed a major strand of work with young people — many of them NEETs (not in education, employment or training) a good decade before the term was even coined. And John Handley’s pioneering work on new uses for vacant industrial landscapes has led to a revolution in thinking about dereliction and how to tackle it, together with new organisations such as the Land [Restoration] Trust and the Community Forests. Today, as the coalition government responds to the financial crisis by simultaneously cutting public spending and encouraging the
‘big society’, another wave of environmental partnerships is being unleashed — from the Canal & Rivers Trust to the Energy Saving Trust. Many of the ideas and concepts developed and rolled out by all those involved in the early days of Groundwork, inspired and shaped by John Davidson, remain as valid today as they were then. The challenges facing us over the next thirty years are more urgent than ever. None of us can succeed on our own — partnership for action; town and country; action for the environment; changing places, changing lives. However you describe it, the early days of Groundwork have much to teach us, and the legacy lives on.
Partnership for action, 2012 “I’m developing the North Blackpool Pond Trail – a network of underused and sometimes abused ponds and wetlands. It’s about helping people local to the sites be able to access and enjoy this green space and learn new skills in the process. We’re changing places – through improving the footpath network, managing neglected woodland and clearing rubbish – but also changing lives. Some of our volunteers are gaining skills for employment, others improving their health and self-confidence. We’ve had the Blue Sky team of ex-offenders carrying out landscaping tasks on the site and our youth rangers are making a really positive impact.
Pauline Taylor and local children enjoying the North Blackpool Pond Trail – part of the Operation Groundwork 30th anniversary campaign.
I love working for Groundwork because of its ethos – making communities nicer places to live and using green spaces as a tool to achieve all sorts of positive outcomes for people. Groundwork has such a good understanding about how to move forward with projects like this, operating in partnership. This Trust is relatively new to Blackpool but we can bring three decades of experience to working on urban green space, first learned in Wigan in the 1980s. I live locally, so this really is the countryside on my doorstep. These sorts of green spaces need championing now just as much as they did thirty years ago”
Pauline Taylor, Community Development Officer Groundwork Lancashire West & Wigan
Biographies Where are they now? Derek Barber â€“ Lord Barber of Tewkesbury Phil Barton John Handley John Iles Lindy Kelly Walter Menzies Rob Morley Yoshi Oyoma Adrian Phillips Sue Price Douglas Evans Richard Sharland Tony Struthers David Trippier Alan Wenham David Wilcox Peter Wilmers
Where are they now?
Derek Barber – Lord Barber of Tewkesbury Born in 1918, Derek Barber had a long career in the Ministry of Agriculture before he was able to follow his first love for the countryside and for birds especially. From 1976 to 1981, he chaired the RSPB. In 1981 he became Chairman of the Countryside Commission, appointed by Michael Heseltine. During his highly successful time as chair, he oversaw a large number of innovative Commission programmes, working closely with his Director General, Adrian Phillips. He was an enthusiast for Groundwork and believed in its role in bridging the public, private and voluntary sectors. He was knighted in 1984; in 1992 he was made a life peer – Lord Barber of Tewkesbury. He was some years active in the House of Lords and engaged still in countryside work, though giving more time to writing. He is now retired and lives just outside Cheltenham.
Phil Barton Chief Executive of Keep Britain Tidy since 2008, Phil has spent his working life committed to community environmental regeneration and to the power of partnership working. On leaving Groundwork North West he had a spell running the Community Technical Aid Centre based in Manchester before establishing the Mersey Basin Campaign Voluntary Sector Network and converting it into the Mersey Basin Trust. In 1985 he established the Co–operative Bank’s National Centre for Business & Ecology before rejoining Groundwork, first as Regional Director North West & Northern Ireland and then as Director of Corporate Strategy. In 2003/4 he established Defra’s policy for supporting rural communities and tackling social exclusion in the countryside before setting up RENEW NW for the Northwest Development Agency, promoting interdisciplinary skills in regeneration to drive up quality.
John Handley John Handley is a Professor Emeritus in the School of Environment and Development at the University of Manchester where he is still actively involved in research. After an MSc in Conservation at UCL he became a researcher and lecturer at Liverpool University where he completed a PhD under Professor Tony Bradshaw FRS on restoration ecology. From there he joined Merseyside County Council as a principal planning officer responsible for all facets of natural resource management. The Countryside Commission’s major urban fringe experiment (UFEX80) came within his remit and that led eventually to his appointment as the first Groundwork Executive Director in 1982. In 1994, initially with support from the Groundwork Foundation, he moved to Manchester University as a Professor of Land Restoration and Management. A national status report on the post–indus-
trial landscape underpinned Groundwork’s bid for the Changing Places programme and led to the establishment of the Land Restoration Trust (now The Land Trust) of which he is a board member. His current research is focused on how to increase the resilience of urban areas to climate change impacts. John Handley is a laureate of the UN Environment Programme’s Global 500 and received an OBE in 1994 for ‘services to urban regeneration’.
John Iles John joined Groundwork on secondment from BTCV in 1982 to help set up the national network of Groundwork Trusts as the Foundation’s Development Director. By 1998 the Groundwork network had grown to 42 Trusts and John felt that this was the time move on. He joined Anthony Collins Solicitors in Birmingham as their Regeneration Consultant to bring his skills and experience to bear to help communities in the most hard pressed housing estates. He now lives at Uncllys Farm in Bewdley, Worcestershire and plays an active part in the regeneration of Bewdley and the Wyre Forest. The farm is the base for the Wyre Community Land Trust which manages nearly 400 acres of special meadows and orchards, engages volunteers and provides services to those with mental and physical special needs. John holds directorships for Bewdley Development Trust CIC, the Guild of St George, Care Farming West Midlands and Thrive in Birmingham.
Lindy Kelly It’s now 27 years since Lindy embarked on a study tour of environmental organisations and discovered Groundwork. She started her career as a volunteer at Groundwork Oldham & Rochdale and still works for Groundwork today. She joined Groundwork Manchester in 1995 as Programme Manager becoming the Executive Director in 1997. She moved to London in 2004 as the Regional Director for Groundwork UK and became Executive Director Groundwork London in 2007. Groundwork took Lindy from dry and dusty farmland Australia to the vibrant and challenging housing estates of the UK. She remains as passionate about the work Groundwork does now as on that very first day when she visited Sholver in Oldham.
Walter Menzies Until 2010, Walter was Chief Executive of The Mersey Basin Campaign. Prior to that he was Chief Executive of Sustainability Northwest; 1983–97 Groundwork (starting with Macclesfield and finally as Regional Director Northwest); Special Projects Manager MIH (now Riverside) in Liverpool. He was member of the UK Sustainable Development Commission for five years. Educated in Edinburgh and Oxford as an architect and urban designer. Now visiting professor in the Department of Civic Design at The University of Liverpool School of Environmental Sciences; chair of Manchester and Pennine Waterway Partnership; trustee of The Land Trust; non–executive director of Encams Enterprises; board member of Atlantic Gateway Partnership; advisory board member of Salford University’s SURF and Places Matter!
Rob Morley Rob Morley was Chief Executive until 1993 of the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV), one of the founder members of the Groundwork Foundation. He became their nominee on the Board of the Groundwork Foundation in 1990 and served until 1995, when he joined the Board of Groundwork Thames Valley (now Groundwork South working across the South East and South West of England). He served again on the Groundwork Federation Board when it was reformed in 1999 until 2010, taking a particular interest in governance matters. Now retired, he is the Senior Member of the National Trust Council, a trustee of the Land Trust and a trustee of the Stowe House Preservation Trust as well as continuing as a Vice President of The Conservation Volunteers, Vice Chairman of Groundwork South and a trustee of the charity Blue Sky creating employment for ex– offenders.
Yoshi Oyama First came to the UK as a postgraduate student to study town and country planning and, after returning to work in Japan, heard about Groundwork and came to visit in 1984. He moved to the UK in 1987 and started working at the Groundwork Foundation. In 1991 and 1992, he helped set up the UK–Japan Groundwork exchange programme which initiated the development of local Groundwork groups and led to the formation of the Japan Groundwork Association in 1995. Between 1992–2001, he was a Deputy Director of the Japan Centre at the University of Birmingham and then became an honorary lecturer at the Centre for Urban and Regional Studies. He has received and supported Japanese delegations and individuals from academic, government and voluntary sectors and organised study programmes, not just
on Groundwork, but also on a range of other subjects including charities, local regeneration, rural tourism, and social enterprise.
Adrian Phillips Adrian Phillips CBE formerly worked for the UK government, UNEP and IUCN before becoming the Director General of the Cheltenham–based Countryside Commission (1981–1992). He then held a professorial post at Cardiff University and has written numerous articles on conservation and landscape. Between 1994 and 2004, he was chair of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas. He has served on the boards of the World Conservation Monitoring Centre, RSPB, CPRE, WWF–UK and the Woodland Trust; and chaired the Gloucestershire Environmental Trust. He is a trustee of the National Trust, a Ministerial appointee to the Cotswold Conservation Board, and an adviser to the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Sue Price Town planner for 17 years, last seen as the Borough Planning Officer for Hinckley and Bosworth Council. In 1985, she ‘emigrated’ to Wales and spent the next 13 years developing the Merthyr Tydfil Groundwork Trust from the original staff of one, to a significant delivery organisation employing 40 staff and with programmes worth £3million. At the same time, she worked with partners to set up the three other Groundwork Trusts in Wales and eventually Groundwork Wales as the central development and support organisation for the Welsh network. She was its Director from 1998 until retirement in 2006. Sue was a founder member of key programmes in Wales greening businesses and improving their environmental performance, developing the social economy and building Groundwork’s links with Japan. She ended
my career in Groundwork on a real high, with the award of an OBE for ‘Services to Community Regeneration in Wales’ On retirement she moved north of the border to Dumfries, hometown of her husband, where she has put all the project skills learnt with Groundwork to good effect happily renovating her house.
Douglas Evans Douglas Evans is Manager of the Groundwork USA Initiative for the Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program of the National Park Service. He has been involved with Groundwork since his first visit to Groundwork UK in 1994 and has led the selection and development of new Groundwork Trusts across the United States. He attended the University of Massachusetts for his graduate degree in Landscape Architecture granted in 1987. His course work included a semester at the University of Sheffield in the UK. He began work with National Park Service in 1990 after working in the private sector. He has received awards from the National Park Service and the US Department of the Interior for his work to develop the Groundwork USA network in the United States. The reuse of derelict land for parks, recreation and conservation has been a long time interest.
Richard Sharland Richard Sharland: artist, community worker, environmental animateur. My Groundwork history spans 27 years. I worked with nearly all the NW Groundworks while I was Director at Lancashire Wildlife Trust 1985 —1994; was ED, Groundwork St Helens/ Knowsley/Sefton/Liverpool 1994 – 1999; was RD, then Director of Development then Chief Operating Officer at Groundwork UK 1999 – 2009. After a short break in 2009, I was invited to develop and co–ordinate Manchester’s work on climate change
as the City Council’s Head of Environmental Strategy: so I am once again working in partnership with Groundwork Trusts!
Tony Struthers Tony Struthers is the former Director of Technical Services and Deputy Chief Executive, Salford City Council. He took up his post in January 1984 and retired in October 2000. He was President of the Royal Town Planning Institute in 1997/8 and was awarded the OBE for services to the regeneration of Salford in 1999. Since his retirement, Tony has moved to Steep, Petersfield, where he is active in the community of East Hampshire, being a trustee of local charities and remaining closely involved in planning issues, whether major applications or the preparation of Parish and Neighbourhood Plans. He has been married to Sylvia for 43 years and with 2 daughters and their families of 4 grandchildren is kept busy mixing their care and entertainment with voluntary work and enjoying walking in the glorious countryside of the South Downs National Park.
David Trippier Sir David Trippier RD,JP,DL was the Member of Parliament for Rossendale and Darwen from 1979 to 1992. David was a Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (83–85), Employment (85–87), and then for the Environment (87–89). He was promoted to Minister of State for the Environment and Countryside in 1989 by Margaret Thatcher, and served in that role until 1992, working with Chris Patten to deliver probably the most radical green agenda of any British government. Outside of politics David has been active in business and in a wide range of organizations across the North West and was president of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce and Industry 1999–2000.
He was knighted in 1992 and appointed High Sheriff of Lancashire for 1997. He is married to Ruth and lives in Rossendale.
Alan Wenham He worked as a planner in Northampton, Halton and Wigan. He was then appointed Assistant Chief Executive at Wigan and was responsible for a number of special projects such as Wigan Pier regeneration and conversion of the former School of Mining to a Town Hall. He moved to East Sussex County Council in 1988 as Head of the Executive Office. In 1991 he was appointed Chief Executive at Crewe and Nantwich Borough Council and retired from there in 2006. He now lives in Eastbourne and chairs a number of voluntary organisations.
David Wilcox David Wilcox helped design and establish the first Groundwork Trusts, as consultant to the Countryside Commission in the early 1980s, together with Les Robinson and Diane Warburton. Before that he was a planning journalist on the London Evening Standard, and then chaired or established several other trusts. Since then he has worked as a regeneration and community engagement consultant, and specialist in social media. He now combines much of that experience in the role of social reporter.
Peter Wilmers Peter Wilmers was originally an escaped Norfolk planning officer! He spent 25+ years building up four Groundworks in Lancashire from scratch, each delivering a valued £2–£3M contribution to local regeneration. He developed Groundwork’s business programme and took this into Poland. After an 18 month sabbatical, to restore a town house in the small city of Xativa, near Valencia, he spent five years with the NWDA, 3 of these on secondment to the Natural Economy North West programme, promoting the concept and economic benefits of “Green Infrastructure.” Now he is happily retired, but busy in Rossendale, and making pots in Xativa with his growing family.