What should I do?

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Sunday 26 September 2004 2.44am
One of the things that gave me most satisfaction in recent years was to set up a football scheme in Archbishops Park for local kids. I raised the money and we were getting up to eighty kids turn up each week. Several went on to play with the Fulham Academy.

Three years later, in July, I received a letter from WCRT (Waterloo Community Regeneratin Trust) saying they thought it prudent to inform me that I was not longer to run the scheme. Instead they wanted Waterloo Football Club to run it. The scheme was not funded by WCRT, and so not really their decision to make. But it appears that Fulham and Lambeth were both given the impression that we no longer wanted to run the scheme, so added their signatures to the letter. (There was also some potentially dodgy politics about some aspirations to increase the amount of football pitch in the park.) I got huge amounts of personal satisfaction from this work as the kids were really appreciative.

At the same time I have had to undergo mentoring from WCRT. This, so far has consisted of three hours of meetings with one of their community board members who harranged me and told me how useless I am. He also happily admitted that he had pushed for the football to be taken away from our group. I have never received the sort of berating that I have had to take from WCRT. And now even the prospect of the next 'mentoring' session fills me with dread.

WCRT are also requiring that our group attend more Waterloo community meetings and I regularly get told what I should be doing, adn told off for what i have not done. This is all supposed to build community capacity as apparently I and others have not shown enough commitment to the park.

We have some really good projects underway including proposals for a supported employment cafe, a bid for a new playground and money for a trim trail.

But I really don't think I can take any more. This morning just the sight of this Board member caused me to collapse into tears, and cider drinkers will have noticed how shakey I was on Tuesday. (TUMJ kindly shared the knowledge that she too had to back out of involvement in local regeneration because she found it emotionally draining.)

However at the same time I don't want to lose all the hard work that has been done on the varous projects. The current play equipment is 15 years old and this is the only accessible play area for miles around. Local kids need my bid to suceed. But it makes no sense if the process requires my confidence to be completely drained.

So what am I to do.

Can someone help me find the strength to stay in there, at least till we have the playground. Or give me a slightly more cnstructive form of mentoring.

Or is it really unacceptable that local volunteers should have to undergo this sort of treatment as part of a grant condition. (The grant is only for 3000 and the process has already taken so long that we no longer need the money. However if we meet WCRT capacity requireemnts there is scope for a further and larger grant next year - perhaps for the cafe.)

Am I right to demand that I be allowed to continue to fund and run the football scheme that means so much to me, my kids and other kids in the area.

Or should I recognise that if something is upsetting me that much that I can't sleep and my confidence is pretty shot., that it is time to call quits.

I know its probably the last, but I do feel I am letting so many people down. I have had great help from forum members in the past and even if we still have lots to do, we have already achieved a lot.

Sunday 26 September 2004 12.42pm

at the end of the day, if all else has been tried and failed, if things really are upsetting you that much then of course you must quit. You and your family are as important as all the local kids, and you can retire being very proud of what you have already done. All those who have read about your efforts on this site will surely support that.

However, there may be a few possibilities that can be explored first.

Its difficult to come up with solutions on the spur of the moment, and perhaps a public forum is not the right place anyway - I think you might have my phone no. and/or email, I'll mail it to you just in case, feel free to give me a ring or a mail to chat more openly if you want. I have lots of things to say to you that I would not put on here.

The main thing I want to say to you is: if anyone is saying that you have not shown committment to the park, they have not got much of a grasp of the true situation. Neither have they got much idea of how to do mentoring! If you are left feeling that you want to give up, then it is this so-called 'mentor' who is being inept, not you. (However, coping on an emotional level with unfair public haranguing is another matter!) Yes, it IS "really unacceptable that local volunteers should have to undergo this sort of treatment as part of a grant condition". Mentoring would be fine, indeed helpful, but only if you need it, and only if it is done in a competent and satisfactory way.

Ideas to think about (apologies if you've already exhausted these possibilities)

1. Ask to participate yourself in the design of any 'capacity building', and specify what skills/abilities you would like to concentrate on developing, with suggestions how that might be achieved.

2. Can you go to these difficult sessions with allies who know the situation and who would support you? Its easier for someone else rather than you to step in and say 'no, what you are saying is untrue, unfair and unprofessional'.

2. Are you more or less doing this park single-handedly? Could you build up more of a group whose members support each other? If there is a good core group, that is a help in itself, but additionally, if the group is constituted and democratic, and can demonstrate support locally, its harder for the regeneration bodies to dismiss it.

Enough for now, give me a ring if you want to talk more. I have been though this type of thing several times over the last 20 years, not sure quite how I got out the other side, but I have done a lot of interesting examination of my own motivations for doing unpaid community work. The highs can be enormously satisfying, but dont expect anyone to know or appreciate what you have achieved. You have to be strong and confident enough to survive on knowing that yourself, without anyone to come and praise you! (when appreciation happens from time to time it is extra nice!) I decided in the end that my own criterion for whether to step out of situations should be based on my best judgement as to whether I could continue to make a difference in that particular case, or whether I and my groups would end up crushed by the combined wheels of local politics, Politics, personalities and most of all, regeneration bodies perpetuating their own self-created roles and agendas.


Sunday 26 September 2004 1.42pm
Thanks. It isn't just me, and I have had lots of very good help from a lot of people including members of the forum. Plus there is a great Commitee Member who has assured me that he can handle bullies. However we have already lost a committee member who though stongly supporting our aims is finding the politics difficult. I agree. Perhaps I only stick in there because I am stubborn.

But the work load is huge. We are trying to implement a 2.2 million management plan. (Not that much when you think a gfootball pitch is well over half a million.) Unfortunately the capacity support from Groundwork Southwark provided by Cross River Partnership, have said that their terms of funding does not allow them to write bids. Plus some funds are for community only.

In practical terms much of the bidding process has to be done by either me or the hard-worked and hard-working man in Lambeth. By and large like me, people in Lambeth have real jobs to do, managing 67 parks in the borough. Jumping through the hoops for regeneration boards is an extra every bit as much for them as for me. Plus some funds need a community group lead. And I suspect if we were not there pushing and taking up some of the workload, it would be difficult for these officers to justify giving up too much of their time to this project.

You are right about the mentoring. For some reason SRB is given to the community - or a community. I live two doors outside the SRB area so am ineligible to sit on the SRB board.
But community members are not given much training. It is usually a case of using whoever has the time to spare. Your suggestion that we try to be included in the drafting of the requirements for this grant is a good one. But there does not seem to be a structure whereby community groups can negotiate with the community board, and they meet in private.

No doubt I will be able to pick myself up and carry on. But it has been four years now, and about 20 hours a week. Which is probably why I found the suggestion that we would not be fundable as I and others were not showing enough commitment, so very upsetting. (I suspect the mentor's experience is mainly in larger arts organisations with some paid support, and I presume he thinks we are just a bunch of amateurish girlies - which in a way we are.) But back to writing terms of refence for a steering group.....

Thanks again. Picking me up when it gets too much seems to have been a constant feature of this Forum over the past four years. ASome how we will get there and when we do everyone can take some credit for the achievement. We now have a boat in the park that adults as well as children can sit in. Perhaps something to do after tasting the cider.
Sunday 26 September 2004 5.23pm
Hi Sarah,

I popped along to the agm of your group and I must say I am mightily impressed with what you all have achieved.

However at the agm I was fairly flabbergasted at the attititude of one of people attending (he was sitting beside me). I can't remember now what group he was from but I got the impression that he may have been one of these full-time regeneration bods. His behaviour struck me at the time as being a mixture of condescending and bullying (he was hammering home a minor point - I can't even remember about what right now - in a fairly aggressive manner). I hope this isn't the type of behaviour you and your group have to put up with all the time. I wanted to say at the time that I thought it was fairly out of order and, after listenning to you describe your reaction to further meetings since then, I wish I had done so.

That said, I would, if I were you, try to look at the situation as dispassionately as possible. While the football programe may have been taken from the group in an underhand way is it maybe a blessing in disguise? Does it give you more time to focus on other issues? But if in fact it is the kind of thing that makes all the effort rewarding and gives you and the group the enthusiasm to carry on the other work that needs doing then definitely get back to Fulham and Lambeth (I presume they fund it?) and tell them exactly that.

But definitely please don't let the type of behaviour I witnessed at the agm of your group drive you or the committee away from what you are doing. It is shocking that you actually have to work against people that really should be there to support you. If it is possible bring someone along to these mentoring meetings (and maybe get someone else to go to the community meetings). But if it is not possible then arm yourself with the thought that you have worked damn hard, achieved an awful lot and there is nothing that these people can say (in whatever manner they chose to say it) to take away from that.

Monday 27 September 2004 7.52am
You got it in one. The WCRT Board have decided that in order for the park (not us) to receive any regeneration funding the group, and I in particular, have to be montored by this individual. So far it has been three hours of the sort of agressive treatment you witnessed But worse because I was on my own and it was non stop.

It now has to be the whole group (4 October) and I have to be there. (The group originally felt that since I was so distressed by the first two sessions they wanted to protect me.) We also have to show our commitment by attended a number of meetings, responding to consultations and so on. This is difficult for me. My aim is to engage as many people in our campaign as possible. More important when we were fighting against development and for a lease where if need be we would have been able to gather a huge number of people . (My contingency idea was to have organised a demonstration which would have involved writing a slogan using flour on the Redgra pitches. The pitch, and the park, is very visible from the London Eye, and I know that the lady who designed the London Eye is very involved in the Friends group of her local park (Larkhall) and supportive of our campaign.)

As I said over four years we have had lots of different help from lots of different people. Our aims are simple and most people sympathetic. But people need to know why they are being asked to contribute and it needs to be pleasant. (I ended up doing most of the political stuff and at times others have been honest enough to say that they were glad I was willing to take it on as they could take some of the punishment.)

The local Vicar was at the first meeting as he chairs WCRT, but was disappointing. I have known him a long time and we were on the Waterloo Town Centre Board together. Yet he just sat there looking embarassed as I became more and more distressed. Local Councillors, the lovely Clive and Charlotte Parry, are being much more proactive. They have hinted that I am not the first to suffer this treatment. As soon as they heard what had happened they immediately insisted that noone from our group should meet WCRT without them being present. The next meeting in this process will take place at their house. Despite this I really don't think I can face it and feel I am completely unravelling. It is really quite scarey.

Like LUMJ describes, being involved in a community project is hugely stressful. At one stage when Lambeth was a lot more more difficult, I and the amazing person who Heads Friends of Lambeth Walk Open Space (she took Lambeth Planning to judicial review and won) met for a drink and jokingly speculated about our chances of sueing Lambeth for stress. I suspect that in order to be successful you need to go outside your personal safety zone and be completely focussed and determined. My big concern is that the punishment we are getting at the moment will simply cause most people to walk away and do something else that is more rewarding and better appreciated. And why I am reaching out for reassurance.

One of the most difficult things is that in order to run a project like this, and ours is relatively simple, you need to have so many skills. You need to be able to network, influence, organise, motivate, be inclusive, have vision, write, understand finance, and on and on. Plus find the time. You also need to be reasonably affluent. All in order to ensure that local people have a voice in the future of their park., and kids have somewhere to play.

The problem is that you also have to be driven and to commit emotionally. I thought hard before taking it on four years ago, but couldn't see anyone one else stepping forward. But the emotional element is part of the problem. It is difficult for 'partners' (Lambeth officers etc) to sometimes understand or appreciate how much it takes to get up at 4.00 am to write a funding bid or somethng, go to work at 7.30 (which I did for two years), pick the kids up from school, take them to after-school activities and then attend an evening meeting. And why, having done that, I was so emotionally attached to the issue. The other problem is that we are in the process of changing from a campaigning group to something more mainstream, ideally so that we don't come to the table as emotionally charged as before. There has been quite a turnover of committee this time round which will support the process. Those of us that started the project off had given three years, and had achieved the objective of securing the future of the park as a park. In many ways it would have been a good time for me to stand down as well, but there is a steep learning curve on some of the regeneration and funding stuff and I felt I should stick around to we had raised the money to implement some of the management plan.

The football was very much my project. There is very little for kids in the area. The park lies on the boundary of the Waterloo regeneration area and much of the focus for provision for children has been around the Coin St/Colombo St area. Yet some of the estates to the south of the park are really grim, and that area had far less regeneration money. I spent a year getting Lambeth permission to run it. Their initial view was that there was no demand for it in the area. Funding was raised by me from over 12 different sources. We got up to 80 kids at a time, and several hundred over a three year period. One of the best asopects was that over time the kids had started building good relationships with the coaches and with each other. The element of discipline that the coaches brought with them appeared to be especially useful to those kids growing up without a male role model.

I recently briefed WCDG about progress on the overall project and explained how football, Easter egg hunts and the like, helped our group - which almost inevitably is pretty white and middle-class - ensure the involvement of a wider population. We want that involvement, as the park serves as the garden for all those kids growing up without safe play space, and so do funders.

The 'mentor', who was present, said afterwards that he hadn't appreciated how important the football was to the overall project. Two weeks later we get a letter informing us that WCRT and partners have decided that we should not run the scheme. I am told by the supplier Fulham that they were told that the 'mentor' had said that we no longer wanted to run the scheme. He also confirms that he initiated the letter, even though he was at the AGM where the gruop as a whole formally confirmed financial support for the scheme using our own funds. The really crazy thing is that we were not receiving funding either from either WCRT or Lambeth.

Behind this I suspect, is the wider sports agenda for the area. Both our group and Friends of GMH (the park around the War Museum) seem to be engaged in a process of ensuring a proper balance between intensive sports use and the ability to enjoy quiet recreation. (Go into Archbishops at a weekend and see the effect of the new Lambeth booking system.) People around Paris Gardens has already lost the battle.

Sorry about another long post, but the ability of local people to play a role in regeneration and to have their voice heard is an important SE1 issue. Four years ago South Bank Employers Group confidently proposed, in their Urban Design Strategy, that a private tennis centre in Archbishops Park was a priority regeneration need. Six other green spaces in North Lambeth were under threat. We lost two, but we are close to drawing a line in the sand on the loss of any more.

I am also sorry about sharing my distress, and hope I have not upset anyone. I am very grateful to both Neil and Jo. I really don't want to give up when we are so close. However I don't think it is fair on me or my family to subject myself to further 'mentoring' of the Waterloo kind. I am really in quite a bad way, and as on Tuesday, have become very tearful. (Not good as it diluted my cider.) Short of giving up altogeher I either have to find the courage to face more criticism and the time to be more 'committed', or find a way to cope with the barrage of personal criticism. I still don't know what to do.

Monday 27 September 2004 8.09am
Sarah, this sounds really tough - I'm not sure if I can help, but would be willing to give it a go - mentoring should be completely about support and it sounds as if this falls a very long way short of the mark. I've got a lot of experience of writing bids, have worked with a number of councils on big Neighbourhood Renewal and Regen stuff, (so am used to dealing with difficult folk on these subjects) and have also in the past run a very large Foundation in Oz - If it will help, I'd be more than happy to have a meeting with you or just catch up over a cup of coffee and see if I can help?

Tuesday 28 September 2004 7.31am
That sounds great. I will be in touch.

It is clear that the funding side is pretty onerous. But it took me at least two years before I could understand what it was all about, and so it has been difficult to share. Local politics are vicious. Mainly because local landowners are well organised and very successful at promoting their agenda (not all bad, there is a lot to admire.) The difficulty is when there is a direct conflict between their agenda and local wishes. This is happening over intensive sports. Not just us. Paris Gardens has/will become football pitches. GMH park is fighting - of all things - netball, lots of it. Plus many people are concerned that the new leisure centre and pool designed to serve an area as far away as Stockwell will be placed, not at the Elephant which most people can get to, but behind LWT. Therefore serving office workers and 'new residents', rather than the established community who live on the many large estates south of the riverside strip.

The trouble with opposing powerful agendas is that you get crushed, which is essentially what is happening now. And the problem is that when you have to put so much of yourself into it, it is pretty inevitable that you respond emotionally.

Tuesday 28 September 2004 8.36am
Can't think what practical help I can give Sarah (let me know if you can), but you have my best wishes. Don't let them grind you down.

...if you press it, they will come.
Monday 4 October 2004 7.31am
Good luck with the "mentoring" today Sarah. I hope the presence of others and the fact that it is being held in the home of your local councillors will be enough to make people think twice before being aggresive and bullying.

I hope you still feel like carrying on after today's meeting.
Monday 4 October 2004 8.10am
Best of luck today - let us know how it all goes. :)
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