One of my saddest moments from the last six months came when I left our office in Bristol for the last time before lockdown started. *
It was 19 March and news broke that all but ‘essential’ travel for work was discouraged. Full lockdown was four days away, but we decided at Social to work from home until further notice from that point. Although we were used to flexible working, vacating our offices en masse took things to a different level.
On the bus home from Bristol, my head was spinning with questions. How are our clients coping? Would clients leave us? What would happen if they did? When would we see the office or colleagues again? After all our work over the previous two-and-a-half years to build a viable business, this felt wounding and deeply unfair. Swapping WhatsApp messages with colleagues, sitting on the top deck, I felt alone.
That week, I spoke with each member of the Bristol team and felt that while there was a chance of getting through this, we had to dig in and work for that outcome. And that’s what we did.
We’ve kept most clients and found new work. We’ve moved into new areas, helping clients engage communities, manage issues and grow. We’ve grown and created new jobs. This week, a new starter joins my team. We’ve done all of this from home, having left our office in the summer.
When I think of how I felt on the way home in March, what’s happened since feels incredible. For me, it’s been a steep learning curve. It’s been physically and emotionally draining. Above all, it’s been hard work.
This is my personal backdrop to recent stories about the emerging narrative to persuade people to get ‘back to work’ in a bid to save city centres.
I went to the fantastic Heartlands regeneration project in Pool yesterday, which helped kick off the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall’s three-day visit to the county.
They were greeted by lines of local people who braved the dreadful weather, makeshift rain macs and all, to greet the couple on their visit to the former tin mine, which has been transformed into what’s been described as ‘Cornwall’s cultural playground’.
There was plenty do during their two hours at Heartlands, including a tour of the adventure playground which has been designed by local kids, meeting supporters of the project, checking out the local businesses who make up the market place on the site and unveiling a stone engraved to commemorate the visit and draw links to the area’s mining industry.
Some pictures, which show the weather in its glory, are below. Thankfully, the rain didn’t take the shine off the day for those who were there.
This week’s announcement that the HCA is investing almost £2.5m in a vital estate regeneration project in Devon was particularly welcome.
The Forches estate in Barnstaple is not at the front of many people’s minds when they think about the lifestyle that Devon offers. But the area poses some very real issues of substandard housing, deprivation and unemployment which exist in pockets across the county.
I was delighted to hear today that one of the most important estate regeneration projects in the South West had got the green light to begin large-scale improvements in earnest.
Plymouth Community Homes’ ambitious plans for North Prospect were granted planning permission by Plymouth City Council this afternoon. The news is a welcome boost for the city’s first council estate, which was initially built for former soldiers returning from the first world war but became known as the ‘Cinderella of Plymouth’ by the 1960s. Work to replace the homes is needed today because many of them have fallen into disrepair. Long-term, there are plans to replace 800 old homes with 1,200 new ones as part of the £80m, 10-year regeneration programme.
Today’s committee decision is about more than planning, as it also triggers an investment of almost £4m from the HCA to support the delivery of the first 80 affordable homes on the new estate.
It’s a story that has kept some of us at both organisations busy over the past week, but it’s great that things have hit a positive note.
Contrary to how it sometimes must feel when negative headlines are flying at you (unfairly), today’s result is well deserved good news for an impressive, young organisation which is leading a sizable and complex programme of improvements in a great city.
It’s been one of those weeks, which I am sure happens in every job, when you charge through every day at full pelt, tackle all tasks at hand and still find that half of the ‘to do’ list remains unfinished. The reason for this is the subject of another post (when I have a bit more brain power to think about it).
It has capped a busy week for the HCA’s developer partner St Modwen, who took the effort to inform local residents of the work by leafletting their homes on Monday. A website dedicated to the development is due to follow soon.
It’s great when things go well. I could do with a couple more like that next week.
I was up at the crack of dawn today to travel to Plymouth, where the city council hosted a day’s session with partners to help it map out its housing strategy.
Having witnessed the scores of partners in attendance, listened to intelligent, high-profile speakers and seen some amazing regeneration taking place, I left feeling impressed and energised by the the city’s ambition.
Attendees included some of the South West’s leading housing figures and the city’s two MPs, Alison Seabeck and Oliver Colvile. They heard from Grant Shapps’ parliamentary aid Jake Berry MP, Chartered Institute of Housing’s deputy chief executive Richard Capie and my colleague Colin Molton about the challenges and opportunities facing local communities.