Water OMG!

It was a fascinating day in Southampton at the Labour Party #NewEconomics conference on Saturday.

What stuck with me the most was being presented with the evidence behind the complete and ongoing rip-off and harm done by the privatisation of water. The pictures below are all from the talk by Dr Kate Baylis (SOAS University of London). I really hope she doesn’t mind – I’m just so cross and worried about this – I need to get it out there!

The amazing ‘denseness’ of the company structures. This web of companies is just one of the water conglomerates – Southern Water. The yellow highlighted company is the only part of the structure that is regulated. 

The fact that these water lords own *all the assets* – every last pipe and tap and pump and filter system. Unlike the railways where at least Network Rail has been kept whole. The debt they have loaded on includes the cost of buying the company in the first place – the amount of actual equity (ie shareholders funds) has dropped.

The water suppliers have a complete monopoly on all the customers in a defined region. They have ‘securitised’ future water bills (ie borrowed against them). So the money we will pay on our bills for water in several years time has already been used up. Does that bode well?

England is out on a limb internationally by having privatised water. Water in the US is 85% publicly owned and managed. When states do privatise they use fixed term management contracts, not give away the infrastructure itself.

So what does our water bill pay for? 26.8% return on capital (dividends to shareholders) and just 3% tax.

And finally, what does all that do to affordability? Guess…


The upper line is the average annual water bill. The line below it is average hourly earnings. The crunch date where the lines diverge is 2010. I expect there’s data now for dates beyond 2012 – would be interesting to see it.

Anyway, rant over for now. Vote Labour, get our water back! (not to mention the railways, energy and the rest)

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Investing Upside Down (ppt)

Here’s a link to the slides I showed yesterday at the Labour Party #NewEconomics conference in Southampton. Plus the narrative notes.

Investing Upside Down – Jess Steele

Investing Upside Down – narrative

Posted in Hastings, Hastings Pier, Jericho Road Solutions, Ore Valley, Self-renovating neighbourhoods, Thinking | Leave a comment

Friends Again!

The Friends of Hastings Pier (FOHP) has been re-established a decade after it handed the baton of the People’s Pier to the Hastings Pier & White Rock Trust which later set up the Hastings Pier Charity.

The Friends are shareholders and supporters who want to be active and constructive in this second crisis for our pier. There are currently 150 signed-up members and 400 members of the facebook group, with many more joining all the time.

We want to look forwards not backwards. Just as in the horrible days and weeks after the Fire of 2010 we refused to be drawn into blame and despair but instead focused on the urgent matter of the Pier’s future, now again we must put all our efforts into proposing alternatives to a direction of travel that would put our Pier and therefore our wider local economy at risk.

That does not mean we shouldn’t learn from the past. And we certainly don’t want to disown it. There is so much to be proud of and grateful for – a fully-renovated, structurally-sound pier that won the most prestigious prize in architecture; a truly impressive community reach that brought over 400,000 people to the pier including many thousands of schoolchildren; a minimal debt-burden and an opportunity to take the Pier to the next stage in its long life.

From direct experience over the years I know for sure that the people who governed, led, worked for and volunteered for the Pier worked extremely hard, with good intentions and great skills. Together they achieved the impossible, saved the Pier from the brink of destruction and took every effort to make the transition from successful renovation to successful operation. Throughout that time the trustees in particular took on a huge burden, worked without payment, gave their best expertise for free including through very difficult times without a CEO or general manager and without secure funding making long-term planning and partnerships very difficult.

Lots of things got in the way of transition – not least that funders tend to see ‘completion’ as the end of the renovation, when in fact the end of the project should be when the building is in a ‘steady state’ which is likely to be several years after. Every business needs working capital in the early years to cushion the almost inevitable losses as it becomes established. Funders are beginning to understand this and we can expect to see more focus on ‘post-completion support’ in future.

In the case of Hastings Pier that transitional period was even more important since it was never the intention to leave the revitalised pier with ‘nothing on it’. The aim of phase 1 was: stable ownership, a stable platform, and an initial business plan that could sustain it while seeking further investment for phase 2 of the ‘21st century pleasure pier’, which included additional shelter, a major events programme, and, eventually, the reinstatement of the landing stage.

We feel that it was wrong to put the Pier into administration without involving the shareholders or giving them a chance to put forward a different solution. But, we are where we are. So now FoHP aims to work with shareholders & supporters who agree with our three main principles:

  1. There is a way for the pier to return to community ownership to protect its long-term future while working with a private operator to run it as a sustainable commercial operation.
  2. It is essential that the freehold of the pier is not sold into private ownership to avoid the position it reached by 2006 when it was closed for safety reasons due to neglect by a private owner.
  3. The shareholders and other community supporters have an important and ongoing role to play in the People’s Pier.

The task we set ourselves is to return to the original strategy – 1) stable ownership, 2) stable platform, 3) commercial operation). We will focus on:

  • Lobbying and campaigning to protect community ownership of the freehold of Hastings Pier
  • Reconfirming and implementing phase 2 – which was always going to be an approach rooted in commercial realities rather than grant-funded heritage and learning

We are blessed that many people who have played a role in the Pier over the last 12 years are still in Hastings and still in love with the Pier (it gets under your skin as I may have mentioned before!). It’s important that we hear what they know and think, information about what was tried, what worked, what didn’t, what has been learned, without anyone feeling they are going to be blamed. We also need to recognise that lots of suggestions people make have already been considered. One thing the Friends are doing is gathering together all the suggestions we know about into a spreadsheet with outline costs and implications (such as, if you want to add a building or a ride you may need to reinforce the structure underneath).

So let’s have no sniping. It’s not just unfair, it’s also unproductive. Everything we do should be about working together and with others to create and present a clear proposition for dynamic commercial management alongside long-term protected community ownership.

To join FOHP email friendsofhastingspier@gmail.com and/or join the facebook discussion at https://www.facebook.com/groups/FOHP2018/?ref=bookmarks

P.S. While I believe we should ‘look forward not backwards’, as a historian by background I still like to keep the records! Here’s a summary timeline that may be of interest and puts the current predicament into a wider context and a longer view.


Posted in Hastings, Hastings Pier, Piers, Seaside | Leave a comment

I am losing my heart to Ore Valley


I feel like a love-struck teenager. I’ve always been in love with places, and always attracted to the underdogs – my towns Deptford and Hastings and all the other-people’s-places that I fall in love with: Blackpool, Scarborough, Bradford, Greater Manchester, Liverpool 8. If I had more time I’d like to get to know Maryport, Jaywick, and the scruffy bit of Swindon!

But I don’t need to leave town to find the most perfect example of a place that has been continuously stamped on by an outside elite for 200 years. A place with both acute and chronic poverty, but where that is only one of the facts of life within a lively, distinctive culture and a valley-full of greenery. A place where dereliction has been created and sustained through state policy, private greed and dysfunctional ‘regeneration’ policies. Here the land and the people have been separated since the power station closed in the early 1980s. In the imaginations of the Regenerators, the land would be ‘solved’ through capitalism – private developers building boxes. The people would be ‘solved’ through social services. And never the twain shall meet.

Well, they’re meeting now!

The Heart of Hastings Community Land Trust took a licence on the power station land in August last year.The ‘Bottom Up Development’ (BUD) Team has opened the site pretty much every Saturday since then, growing to include Dan, Darren, Brian, Ian, Andros, Jenny and more all the time.  We’ve had 101 people at site days as well as the 150 who came to our events like Warm Up Ore Valley in November. The land seduces people – everyone who comes falls for it, at least until they get really cold! As the spring arrives, we’re hoping to grow our container into a little homestead.

Meanwhile, Sam Kinch, our community organiser, and his outreach team – Joe and Thilika – have been out knocking doors in the Valley – 1848 of them! Over 400 people in Ore Valley have said they want to be part of it or at the very least kept informed. 277 of them have been ‘listened to’ – a strange idea until you think how rare and wonderful just being listened to is!

One of the most amazing things is that it doesn’t feel like a clique. One of the team told me he feels completely comfortable and welcome turning up. There is an open feeling about the site that quietly welcomes and absorbs newcomers on the same level as anyone else. There’s enough room, it seems to be saying.

Each of us brings our own skills, and we all also bring our demons: that might be being a bit bossy, or it might be a physical or mental health issue. or the situation at home, or previous baggage, or just having bad days. Of course we fight – there are stand-offs and smears and squabbles. This is the stuff of relationships and it’s usually due to a strong sense of ownership. If someone new tries to take over it’s not long before they are told straight that this is a collective effort. Everyone’s welcome and not everyone is the same.

But for now, and by rights forever, the land is ours… and I’m lovin’ it!


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1,000 Days

Jericho Road Solutions is 1,000 days old today, and I’m determined to carve out a little time to reflect on the experience and some of the lessons so far.

It’s been an honour to work with ambitious, stubborn, creative leaders in communities across the country, to support them to take action on what matters to them. For me the focus is usually on buildings that are precious to local people but are for some reason ‘stuck’ – through delinquent ownership, unviable renovation costs, conflictual politics, dysfunctional land markets, or any combination of circumstances too risky for the market and too complex for the state.

In my experience, the solutions to these situations can only be devised and led by independent social-mission organisations created by local people. They will not do that alone, but their allies will not be the status-driven ‘regeneration partnerships’ that were such a feature of 1990s/2000s regeneration. Instead they make real action-oriented, risk-sharing relationships that can help deliver the rescue. Sometimes (eg Bognor) that is with the owner or (eg LRFS) potential new owners; sometimes (eg Ancoats, Flimwell) it’s a developer; in Hastings we do joint ventures between social enterprises. The attitude of the local authority always colours the backdrop to our work, where we’re lucky that’s in positive ways!

  • Helping Ancoats Dispensary Trust (Manchester) to partner with igloo regeneration, win £5m of Heritage Lottery money and appoint Karen Houghton as CEO

  • Helping Bognor Pier Trust to raise grant funds and work with the current owner to achieve ‘rescue before ruin’ 


Bognor Regis Pier

  • Helping Our Yard to take on and redevelop Clitterhouse Farm as a base for community business activity in the context of the massive Brent Cross redevelopment

  • Helping Friends of London Road Fire Station in their ultimately successful campaign to shift this beautiful building out of long-term delinquent ownership

  • Helping local residents form Action for St Mary’s Hall in Hastings, seeking to solve the long-standing problem of its dereliction proactively rather than defensively

  • Helping the civic society and cricket club at Mitcham (the oldest cricket ground in the world) to achieve the security it needs to grow into a year-round whole-community resource

Sometimes, rarely, there is a project where the only ‘problem’ is taking up the challenge by putting the very best practice in place

  • Helping the owner/developer of 50 acres of woodland at Flimwell with planning permission for an exciting development of 5 houses, 8 studio workspaces, a large educational building and some overnight accommodation, to make this ‘a community project’.

I love to work directly with local people and neighbourhood groups but it is often frustrating when they all face the same problems whose roots are in policy, legislation, funding structures or wider attitudes. That’s why I also work with government, funders, corporates and academics on programmes, organisations and policy that aim to make it easier on the ground. The Jericho Road is a two-way street between neighbourhood and national.

  • CADO – Community Assets in Difficult Ownership (aka Campaign Against Delinquent Ownership). Highlight and tackle delinquent owners of precious assets. We worked with 10 demonstrator projects providing expert advice, peer learning and small grants to make progress on ‘unsticking’ precious buildings from delinquent ownership. The CADO demonstrators have taught me so much, expanding and embedding my niche but useful knowledge in the field. And, inevitably, I have fallen in love with most of the buildings! 


London Road Fire Station

  • ‘Demeter’ is a concept about the relationship between community and private sector partners – that it’s all about Dating, Mating, Translating, and Relating! The Demeter idea was tested through the BRICK Brokers project (funded by HLF, via PRT and Locality) which provided a broker for four pilot projects to support community-private partnerships around heritage buildings. 


Hades & Persephone – partners from very different cultures!

  • In the first year of Jericho Road I was retained by Locality as Associate Director for Community Organising to support the development of the legacy body (then called CoCo, now CO Ltd). During that time I worked with community organisers to develop this CO Scaffolding diagram. The idea was to fit on a single page something that would be recognized by all community organisers regardless of their background or methods. I’ve used it to structure all kinds of workshops and training and find it works well. All comments would be very welcome. The diagram is licensed ‘creative commons’ so anyone can use it. 

Scaffolding with CC

In the past year Jericho Road has ‘come home to Hastings’. I’m proud that I was able to bring together three social-mission organisations – JRS, Meanwhile Space and White Rock Trust – in the purchase and redevelopment of Rock House. It’s been an incredible journey so far; every day brings new levels of stress and new highs from watching this mad, risky, wonderful project take shape.


Rock House – Endless Possibilities


But just as, for me, Hastings Pier was most important as a symbol of community tenacity, Rock House is the pathfinder for a bigger prize – the development of the Heart of Hastings Community Land Trust with its two pillars:

  • buying property into community freehold in the White Rock area, including renovating difficult buildings, and then capping rents to make sure there are always affordable places to live and work.
  • promoting community self-build in Ore Valley, using the Organisation Workshop to transform hopeless derelict space, change people’s lives and build new collective community enterprises


“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places plains, and the crooked places will be made straight.” Martin Luther King, August 28 1963. Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.

Are we any closer to ‘exalting the valleys’ or transforming the Jericho Road? Maybe we’re closer to having the ambition and the tools to do so. If there is one capacity I aim to build in the people I work with it is AGENCY – the ability to believe you can do something. On the 1,000th day I want to pay tribute to all the ‘ordinary’ people who simply wont take no for an answer, and hope that I have helped to build their credibility, capability and above all, confidence.


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New Year’s Honours

I am delighted to have been awarded an OBE for Services to Community Assets in the New Year’s Honours list, largely for my role in the rescue of Hastings Pier from closure in 2006 to reopening in 2016.

Jericho Road Solutions helps local leaders across the country to take on challenging buildings that they care about.

Looking forward to many more exciting projects in 2016!

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Locality 2015

IMG_6511Jericho Road had a fantastic time at the Locality 2015 Convention in Liverpool. We caught up with old friends and made new ones, discovered some great projects and sold a lot of tea towels! We heard from some inspiring speakers from neighbourhoods all over the world including a particularly captivating talk by Jason Roberts of Build a Better Block from Dallas who, along with his neighbours, transformed the neighbourhood they live in. All the things they wanted to do to change their neighbourhood were against the rules – so they did them anyway and attached copies of the rules to their fine work, promoting debate. It was great to hear about the successes emerging from their sustained impatience (a favourite Jericho Road theme)

IMG_6518During the Convention, Jericho Road hosted two masterclasses which focused delegates on their own journeys to ‘investment readiness’, encouraging them to define their starting point or location (where they are now) and their destination (where they want to be) and to decide how to get from one point to the other. All journeys need fuel so we shared ideas about a range of different funding sources and other resources available to social enterprises. Journeys are also impacted by all varieties of weather. Sometimes it feels like travelling through fog; other times you have a fair wind behind you. Delegates considered the operating environment: how to navigate through difficult weather and make the most of it when the sun shines. You can see the write-up of the Fuel and Weather sessions here.

It was clear from talking to people on the JRS stand that there are many passionate and engaging people with interesting projects.

“What unites Locality members is a sense of ambition for their local neighbourhood, an enterprising approach to finding local solutions to local problems, and a clear sense that activity should be community-led and based on self-determination”
Locality Convention Newspaper 2015

And the same goes for Jericho Road neighbourhoods. We’d love to see you all in York at Locality 2016.


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