Having just returned from the first Local Government Challenge, I feel a multitude of emotions – exhaustion, elation, a little bit of disappointment but most of all pride for what my team and I accomplished in little over 24 hours.
We arrived at Christchurch Station at 11am on Thursday to start the first challenge and went straight into a briefing with Claire Holloway, Head of Corporate Governance at the LGA and Matt Reeks, former finalist for the LG Challenge who works for the local council. Our task was coming up with ideas for the regeneration of Highcliffe, a beach in the area of Christchurch Borough Council, Dorset. It’s a pretty amazing place – gateway to the Jurassic Coast, birthplace of the fossil classification system used to this very day and a site of specific scientific interest – yet is largely unknown.
There was barely enough time on our arrival to choose our team name (Pioneer), team leader (Dave McCollum, Lambeth Council) and get cracking with some ideas that could really transform the area when we were whisked away to visit the beach, take a ferry around the harbour and then return for a ‘speed dating’ session with people who could perhaps help us and give us ideas for our business case. What struck me was the enthusiasm and energy that these people had to transform what is currently an under utilised and unknown beauty spot and it gave me real motivation for the project.
I can honestly say that the whole experience was not one I could have ever anticipated and think this comes across in my short video diary from the evening:
Over the course of a long night of research and discussion and after a few hours of broken sleep, we regrouped in the morning and finalised our business case. Following meetings with two Councillors, 2 community groups and the organiser of ‘Highcliffe Revival’ food festival, we knew it was vital to revive Highcliffe using the support and energy of the people who love the area. So, set on co-producing any ideas with local stakeholders, we ran with 3 key ideas for reviving the area:
- An eco ‘hub’ with an open air amphitheatre that could be used for a variety of purposes – enabling the community to meet; offering educational facilities for schools and surrounding universities; a space for cultural events; and a launching pad onto the beautiful beach;
- A Jurassic Trail along the seafront that would cater for all ages, celebrating the diverse history and culture of Highcliffe/Christchurch whilst encouraging more people to the area; and
- A ‘jurassic jetty’ connecting Highcliffe by boat to other seaside locations, enabling commuters to take a more sustainable mode of transport to local towns and encouraging tourists into the area.
It was a frantic morning and there were a few tense moments as we battled with putting together the final report and perfecting our presentation, but my team came together with such great spirit and I felt lucky to have such great people by my side throughout this first challenge.
Then it was presentation time in front of an impressive judging panel and some of the people we had spoken to during our time in Highcliffe. On leaving the judging room, I remember feeling elated – we had put our hearts into this project and had presented something we all felt really proud of.
My team did not bring in a victory for this round of the LG Challenge but I feel like a winner inside. In just over a day, we produced ideas to transform Highcliffe and we could not have done anything more within the time allowed – we had given it our all.
Despite the sleep deprivation, the time pressure and being thrown into something completely alien to me, I can’t wait until the next challenge!!!