Why community leaders must learn to thrive on rejection

While the British Urban Regeneration Association’s (Bura) community inspired regeneration awards ceremony at the House of Lords was all about motivating people and showing how change is possible, a recurring theme in the day was how difficult it has become to transform our poorest neighbourhoods.

Lord Andrew Mawson, co-founder and president of Community Action Network, a national charity supporting 850 social entrepreneurs across the UK, said we have all contributed to creating an environment in which it’s getting harder to build community facilities and generally ‘get things done’.

Community groups often accomplish far less than what they’d initially set out to achieve, he added. Fellow speaker Dan Sequerra, chair of the panel for the awards, said he had met very few winners over the years who hadn’t had considerable battles with local authorities and government departments in achieving their goals.

One of the runners-up for the category involving projects with full-time paid employees, Xsite skatepark, Skegness, was an example of a scheme that encountered much resistance. The campaign for this sports venue, now considered one of the best of its kind in the UK thanks to its indoor and outdoor facilities, started in 2000. Young people in the area had been looking for somewhere to practise their sport other than the streets.

But in the early days when the group of young skaters managed to get their project discussed at a Skegness Town Council meeting, only two councillors supported it. Despite the potential benefits of the scheme, such as curbing antisocial behaviour by giving young people sports opportunities, it took around five years for the whole council to back plans for the project.

Now the skatepark has more than 900 visitors a month and was even called the town’s leading regeneration project by Bura judges. Xsite manager Nick Bray said the scepticism of some of Skegness’ councillors helped spur him on. ‘They more they said it wouldn’t work, the more we wanted it to work.’

The battle faced by community groups in winning support and money for new facilities has been made even more difficult by the recession. But while many public bodies and funders may remain unnecessarily sceptical of community groups, the Bura award winners and runners-up are an example of how you can still achieve your goals if you have enough determination and perseverance.

Just like Mr Bray, community leaders must learn to thrive on being rejected.

  • Tributes were paid at the ceremony to former Bura chief executive Jon Ladd who died in January. Baroness Andrews, parliamentary under secretary of state at the DCLG, said he always had great ideas and was an ‘irresistible force’. There was a minute of clapping in his honour.
  • Bura chief executive Michael Ward said his organisation will be working with its partners to produce a regeneration manifesto ahead of the next general election which must take place by June next year.
  • A description of the winning projects and runners-up has been featured in the March issue of New Start. See Learning Zone page 33.


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