Pier-to-Pier peer learning

I think we just won a competition on the basis of a good pun. But my co-conspirators say it’s because what we’re doing is really important and worthwhile and brilliant. Could be both?!

I’ve always been a believer in peer learning and that’s been reinforced by my pier experience. Inspiration is oxygen. Short-cuts, tips and warnings can make all the difference. The trust and mutual respect between equals (wherever they are on the journey) is crucial. And most important of all is the sense of solidarity in the face of seemingly impossible odds.

Hastings Pier & White Rock Trust has built up significant experience around how local people can come together to save a pier, in the most challenging of circumstances. Having been consistently involved from the start in 2006, I am often asked to share that experience and the lessons we learned from it with other communities trying to save their piers (as well as other assets in difficult ownership). We have already done some of this with Bognor Regis Pier Trust and South Parade Trust (Portsmouth). In both cases the groups had the chance to ask all the questions that were holding them back from making progress. “Now we know what we’re doing and we’re re-energised. We’re on a road where we can see the path. Hastings took 6 years – we hope to be able to do it faster and perhaps with less heart-ache, by learning from them directly”.

Over the past several years we have also gone on our own Seaside Tours, meeting with community groups and local authorities in relation to piers and other seaside assets in Southend, Southwold, Great Yarmouth, Cromer, Scarborough, Blackpool, St Anne’s, Stockport, Weston-Super-Mare. This led to an extensive knowledge base and understanding of the variety of opportunities and pitfalls for the rescue and redevelopment of these precious assets.

Now we hope to formalise the process by establishing the People’s Piers as a UK-wide sharing network between communities seeking to take ownership/management of their piers. The People’s Piers (PP) will be a simple membership network with a member-only webspace including:

  • Updates, presentations and stories from member groups
  • Listing of all 55 surviving piers in the UK and their current ownership and condition (along with warning fables about the 8 lost piers)
  • Forum for discussion, questions and sharing experience
  • Specialist contact listing, with descriptions of work undertaken and ratings provided by PP members who have used them
  • Space for professionals to showcase their work
  • Knowledge bank – copies of HLF and other funding bids, engineering surveys, consultancy briefs, etc

We will also have a small fund to support exchange visits between pier groups, leading to short reports published on the website

The People’s Piers UK is being established and managed with support from Jericho Road Solutions.

The competition we entered was managed by Locality in partnership with IVAR and Third Sector Magazine as part of their research for Big Lottery Fund into Peer Learning. They asked about challenges:

The main challenge is having enough time to be able to provide the support. Plus a lack of even small resources to fund the costs of travel and accommodation for exchange visits. There is a sense that we shouldn’t just “give it all away” but should make a proper peer-to-peer (pier-to-pier) space in which we can provide mutual support and strengthening. It is particularly difficult to know what the legal and moral ‘rules’ should be around handing over work done commercially for one group that may be useful for another. That’s why we want to ensure that the expert professionals are fully engaged with the People’s Piers and willing to share existing materials.

… and about key lessons

Taking on a pier, especially one in need of renovation (which they all are!) and in difficult ownership (which many of them are), is a major challenge. There are lots of groups who want to do something about their local pier but don’t know where to start. Those that start anyway have a long route to travel and are helped enormously by being able to share the lessons from the pioneering experience at Hastings. Beyond that general exchange of experience are a series of more specific questions which they need to explore, how to deal with irresponsible ownership; how to campaign to get the local authority to take action towards compulsory purchase; how to get costings for the necessary repairs; how to prepare a business plan for a major leisure attraction.

In 2011 I gave a talk about our Hastings experience in Tottenham (the day the riots started!) and later this month I’m going to a heritage conference in Derry/Londonderry to talk about it – just shows that pier learning is transferable to many other situations that communities find themselves in, that what matters is the sharing, the example of making the impossible possible, and then making it happen through dogged persistence however the odds are stacked.

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