Having spent 15 years working in media marketing, my life was to change when I set up a small high street initiative designed to reframe its value and reignite energy. What I learnt through this process transformed my views on leadership and showed me how much more we can achieve with the right conditions in place. Thankfully, these conditions are freely accessible to all. This is where Scavenger began.
The High Street Challenge: It no longer can be what it once was, what can it be?
Even before the financial crash of 2008 it was clear that the high street was in trouble. Sophisticated competition had whisked the mantle of local and convenient from the arms of the high street businesses, leaving them without a clear offer or mandate to attract and retain customers.
Their value, associated with being local and convenient was rapidly disappearing but their ability to evolve was not being nurtured.
Building community around complex problems
On the surface I didn’t look like a promising candidate to address this issue. I had no experience of running a small high street business or working for local council. Nor did I have any money, resource or even permission. But, as it would turn out, this was probably to my advantage.
Not knowing requires active engagement. Lots of conversations and questions. This process helped to uncover hidden challenges that would have the potential to derail progress in the long run, but also highlighted unexpected opportunities.
Being Clear about direction, but open to the route.
Whilst I had a sense of what a solution might be, I had little power other than to motivate others to become involved and was unsure about what could be relied upon. Without any money this motivation had to come from a creating a sense of possibility and connectivity.
With very little money we had to think differently, focus and act to learn. This proved to be an exceptionally productive environment .
Starting small, but starting somewhere.
Initially the key was to establish a point of connectivity that all participants could agree on. To provide a navigation tool to reference overtime and keep us forensically focused.
The sense of engendered community allowed us to explore some uncomfortable truths, inject fresh thinking and ideas, and most importantly decide on actions.
Find an essential truth.
It was necessary to establish a point of unarguable truth to provide a foundation from which to build. Our essential truth was that people don’t want to live in a ghost town.
Businesses as community connectors: Invite people to the high street, not by begging them, but giving them good reason to return. Through engagement build relationships that build vested interest and add value to the high street offer, creating a vital sense of belonging and ownership.
Within 18 months we had worked with over 200 local businesses and organisations, including local library, charities, and hospital, media. We had created a trusted brand that left a legacy of possibility within the community and a sense of place that is still felt to this day. This is when Scavenger was borne.
There are some simple human truths that bind us and create the foundations for growth.
What I learnt
If you can no longer be what you once were, it is time to be better.
In every single community and organization that we have worked in since, we have discovered the very same potential and level of willingness to commit. The gap between meeting this potential and outcome actually achieved, has rested solely on the leadership approach; whether it has the capacity and confidence to build something significant by starting small and learning, letting go of old-style leadership.
Over the years, the leaders, companies and communities we have had the pleasure of working with have greatly enhanced our understanding and sense of what is truly possible.
Finding new levels of resource, requires building relationships that can participate with a sense of community that has capacity and willingness to learn and innovate.