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 Garden
s 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.