By Louise Barnes from Leigh Spinners
‘Well, as you know, we’re here to discuss why your application to the Heritage Lottery Enterprise fund has been rejected’. A very stark message.
Our project is the regeneration of a twin mill in Leigh in Lancashire, a beautiful reminder of our industrial heritage, still owned and operated by the family that built it. But the manufacturing has shrunk, the company only uses three of the twelve floors available (each the size of a football pitch), and the cost of maintenance for this iconic Grade II* listed building could bankrupt the business and lose the 60-odd jobs that remain.
Our vision was for a development that would continue to house the company and also encompass business premises, leisure and retail facilities, a heritage offering and plenty of space for community groups and sports activities….creating 150 new jobs.
Each of us there that day had a considerable personal investment in the project in terms of time and effort – one of our number actually owns the mill we hope to regenerate and was hoping for the money to come through so he could sell us the building for £1. He seemed the most disappointed of us all. He was the one who had to go back to his Board and explain that the project would need more time.
The rest of us felt a great responsibility too. We had to go back to our colleagues and our community and tell them why we had failed to secure the funding, and in the meantime, the fabric of the buildings would continue to deteriorate…
So, realising that we needed to pull ourselves together, we set about trying to ask some sensible questions that would help us to understand why we couldn’t have the crucial funding to undertake the fabulous plans for our fantastic project.
Our regional manager was obviously doing her best to be gentle with us as she gave us the feedback on our bid.
We were relieved to hear that a new bid would be welcomed; although, the message was very clear that it should be completely different from the one we’d already submitted.
Thankfully, some members of the team have a magic pillow – a good sleep on this legendary item of bed linen and the next day they bound back into the fray with new ideas, fresh energy and the ability to pick the rest of us up and drag us along with them. We are also lucky enough to have PRT to support us and supply clarity of thinking and a clear route to achieve our goals that makes it all seem do-able again.
We’d also had the foresight to take notes throughout the meeting, so we could remind ourselves of the strategic, objective messages we’d heard.
- It was clear we needed to really listen to and dissect what we’d been told. Reviewing the feedback it was easy to see that actually we did have gaps in our analysis, and that the criticisms were in fact fair and balanced.
- We began to understand that we had been so busy working towards our goals, fire-fighting and altering our plans to accommodate changes in circumstances and funding as we went along, that we were losing our vision.
- We lacked an external perspective to inform our assumptions and decisions.
Stepping back from the project, trying to be more detached and impartial, and acting on the HLF feedback has been a great discipline and enabled us to focus on the project in a way we couldn’t before. We now understand that we need to completely revisit our vision for the project. We will conduct our due diligence, link more closely with our strategic partners and local and regional development initiatives, and provide an externally assessed evidence base for our economic demand assumptions.
We shared our notes and individual thoughts on the meeting with our Board of Trustees, our core volunteers, and with Laura, our PRT mentor.
By taking this feedback on board, when we have done the work and we resubmit we will have a credible bid that will be difficult to dismiss, and we will be assured our project will be sustainable and deliver the regeneration benefits for our community that we have always aspired to.
So three months later. we are a very different organisation. That discussion at HLF headquarters has been the impetus for a more focused and strategic approach towards funding the project.
Personally, I am quite clear that the next HLF bid we submit will be so fresh, so evidenced and so impossible to refuse that we will have no need of magic pillows!!