A new Motorway Services might not seem a good thing for the environment. Mark Gale thinks differently. Mark Gale is a Social and Environmental Entrepreneur. Here he shares his vision for the high profile project that he is masterminding. His work is profiled in ‘Hard Shoulders, Soft Heart’ BBC Radio 4‘.
Mark Gale is Chief Executive of the charity Gloucestershire Gateway Trust (GGT). He Chairs Co-operative Futures and Gloucestershire Fair Shares and is a trustee of Play Gloucestershire, GL Communities and Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust
How do you describe your role?
I am a co-operator and a connector. I work to encourage and enable the poorest neighbourhoods in Gloucestershire to recognise and value their community assets – the people, the environment and wildlife; their geography . For the last 30 years my focus has been the largest social housing estates in the county.
What do you do?
I help communities recognise and secure potential assets. I take an entrepreneurial approach to maximising the return to communities on their assets often connecting them and more traditional businesses around common aims for mutual benefit.
Currently the Gloucestershire Gateway Trust has joined with Westmorland`Limited to create Gloucestershire Gateway Ltd which is about to start work building a new motorway service area on the M5 between junctions 11a and 12 in the next few weeks.
This is a fantastic opportunity to promote important messages to the 50 million people who pass this site each year, to create sustainable local jobs and income sources for our local charitable and community partners. The site sits on the edge of Gloucester where the Cotswold, Severn and Forest Wildlife Highways are so clear to see.
On a day to day basis I am in Matson , White City, Podsmead, Tuffley or Stonehouse utilising the momentum our business has created to support and develop community assets and services, making sure we maximise local labour opportunities, planning for our new linked community business opportunities that will be rolled out in 2013.
Why do you do this?
GGT brought together social entrepreneurs and traditional business leaders who are committed to help build stronger more sustainable communities which recognise the value of local residents and the environment. We know long term change on the largest social housing estates needs more connectivity between neighbours, between people and their environment and communities and businesses
What has been your biggest / best achievement?
When we start building our services in the next few weeks – that will be a proud moment having worked on this project for the past 7 years. When we launched GGT back in 2007 we had nothing except a vision, no money for anything like wages or running costs. Despite not even having started to trade yet our project has enabled us to inject substantial new support into our target communities. Our determination to stay in our communities has created poles of attraction that have kept a wide range of other services within these communities as well.
Through my work with resident managed Neighbourhood Projects I launched the Furniture Recycling Project, Community Foster Care and a Neighbourhood College. We setup one of the first Healthy Living Centres in the UK, ran community shops and established a co-op of 10 Neighbourhood Projects that helped get council estates back on the local political agenda. I also have fond memories of helping establish Gloucester Law Centre in 1985 and then being a member of the first staff team….but now I’m showing my age!
I have been a UK Social Entrepreneur of the Year and I am an honorary fellow of the University of Gloucestershire but I think our work now connecting community and business is most exciting. In the current climate we all need to find our common ground.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to make a big difference?
1. Think the unthinkable and don’t be put off by people who think it can’t be done
2. Make sure you recognise all your community assets and ensure they are secured for community benefit
3. It almost always takes longer and costs more than you originally anticipate
What are you planning on next?
First we must deliver our motorway project and get the local benefit flowing more fully before we think what next? So I think I will be occupied for a while yet. So far we have probably only delivered 1% of the planned benefit so the real work is yet to start!