The Goodwin Trust, Hull, 1994 to the presentRevitalising a community from the grass roots

The Goodwin Trust was set up by residents of the Thornton Estate in Hull to offer housing advice to local people. Over the past 14 years it has grown into an organisation able to offer residents a whole range of services and facilities.

Key Points

  • A Development Trust model focused on improving quality of life for residents in a particular community
  • An approach to stewardship that remains flexible and responsive to residents' needs
  • A financially independent organisation
Improving life for the residents of the Thornton Estate

The Goodwin Trust was set up as a charitable organisation in 1994 to improve the quality of life for residents of the Thornton Estate in Hull. Since that time the organisation has grown substantially and now has a staff of around 350 and a turnover of £12.5 million. The Trust has long had an organic approach to its work, choosing to tailor the services it provides and the projects it invests in to the needs of local residents. This means that it is now involved in a spectrum of projects from managing the local children's centre, to hosting community-based art projects.

‘The poor leave nothing behind'

Hull has always been geographically isolated from the other towns and cities of the North East, sitting as it does between the Humber estuary and the literal end of the road (the M62). A generation ago it was home to the largest deep-sea fishing fleet in the world and yet now there are no boats left and almost nine per cent of working-age people are unemployed.

There are few reminders of Hull's fishing past to be seen in the town, aside from the numerous take-away fish and chip shops. In some ways this is a pattern that has been repeated for centuries. A few years ago Hull received a visit from a group of New York's civic dignitaries. They were adamant that they had to visit the building now know as ‘the Lair', a local social club, which left their hosts a little bemused; the building is just a small stone shed sat next to the train station. Their guests from America explained that the building had sheltered around two million Jews who had fled the pogroms in Eastern Europe in the last century. They had waited in this building to travel on to Liverpool, and ultimately New York. No one in Hull had been aware of this, and when it was discovered the Trust discussed the idea of creating a museum but as a local curator pointed out, there were no photographs or artefacts from which to make an exhibition.

This anecdote helps to explain the Goodwin Trust's approach. Some initiatives have results and measurable outputs, but there is also a need to build a community's sense of itself, its history and its worth, something difficult to quantify.

Small beginnings

The Goodwin Trust began life in 1994 when several local tenants associations (TAs) formed a partnership and rented an empty unit on the small parade of shops in the middle of the Thornton Estate. The housing in the area was almost entirely managed by the council at that time. Though the Thornton area is geographically small, there was no particular sense of a neighbourhood; many people described their home in terms of the housing stock they lived in. However the TAs involved in the Goodwin Trust felt that they had been let down by public service providers for years and wanted to take a more strategic approach to dealing with the area's problems.

Volunteers started providing free advice and support for local people, especially over housing issues. Their services proved popular and soon the volunteers were inundated. It was at this point they invited a consultant to help the organisation with its business planning. The immediate priority was to cut back the number of hours the volunteers were working to 35 a week. The Trust decided to start charging for its services, the knock-on effect of which was an increase in the workload of the local authority's housing officers. Tenants were coming back to the council, often frustrated and emotional. Recognising the quality of support the Trust was able to offer residents, the local authority then decided to offer the organisation funding to continue providing their services.

Branching out with new services

From this point onwards the Goodwin Trust began to expand, offering an ever widening range of services and facilities. The consultant, initially hired to help the organisation with business planning, stayed on, and became the organisation's Chief Executive. Ironically, since this time the organisation has prided itself on not having a business plan, instead preferring to respond to opportunities as they arise.

The Goodwin Trust took on a nearby empty building that had once been an old people's home and from this base was able to expand its operations. Some of these services were responses to the direct needs of the community, for example, developing a warden scheme for the area. Others were an opportunity to provide services on behalf of local or central government for example by being the accountable body for the nearby Sure Start centre (now a Children's Centre). The menu of services the organisation now provides is extensive and includes:

  • a nursery
  • a community café
  • youth support workers
  • a fitness centre
  • an accessible transport fleet
  • ESOL (English as a Second Language) classes
  • Office space for the local MP's surgery
Supporting residents in developing their skills

When the organisation took on responsibility for the local Sure Start centre it made the decision not to parachute-in trained experts to provide advice and support for parents. Instead they recruited 12 local parents as ‘community friends' and provided them with the training needed to take on those roles. One of these parents, Margaret, a single mother, was initially quite daunted by the prospect of the available jobs and took some persuading to apply. Her application was accepted and since then she has developed her skills and knowledge, recently completing a university degree and supporting her own children through their education.

This approach was mirrored when the Trust took over the management of a pub in the neighbourhood; something it initially thought would be relatively simple. At first the pub could not make a profit and the organisation began to consider different ways of cutting its costs. A decision was made to stop paying for a satellite television subscription, but was almost immediately overruled by the pub's customers. They made it clear that they wanted the television to stay and were happy to pay more for the beer. Since then the pub has been profitably run by the customers and the bar staff who meet once a month to set the drinks' prices.

Building Goodwin

In order to offer more services to local people and to generate revenue to fund its work the Goodwin Trust developed a new neighbourhood centre, known as the Octagon. The centre was the result of five years of consultation with the community. The Trust hired its own architect rather than contracting an outside organisation, specifically to avoid the typical breeze-block style building that now house many modern public initiatives. The area has long been blighted by unattractive tower blocks and this was a chance for the community to have something unique and individual. The Octagon won the 2006 RICS (Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors) Community Benefit Award, recognising its value to the local community.

The building is now home to the children's centre, the nursery, a local GP's surgery and is the only substantial conference centre in Hull. Being close to the motorway and the train station has helped the conference centre draw an income for the Trust, but it has also meant that outsiders have had a chance to come to the neighbourhood and see for themselves how much has changed.

Freedom and flexibility

The Goodwin Trust has always maintained financial independence, acting in a style perhaps more commonly associated with the private sector. As its profits have grown so too have its opportunities to invest in interesting and unusual projects. Recently the Trust's board were approached by a local resident for support in making a Kurdish animated film. The resident had worked as an artist before coming to the UK as a refugee, and wanted to make the world's first Kurdish animated film. The Trust took a 50 per cent stake in the film. With a substantial Kurdish diaspora, this might prove to be a wise investment, but whether it is a success or not the Trust sees part of its role as developing the capabilities and opportunities of the community.

Measuring outcomes

It can be difficult for an organisation like the Goodwin Trust to measure its success. When any initiative is assessed there is always a danger that the outputs that can be measured do not accurately reflect the success of a project or service. This is particularly the case with less formal arts-based schemes, which may have no discernable outputs but may have given a particular resident the confidence to meet new people or discover a new talent. These are the outcomes that are almost impossible to capture but which have a considerable bearing on the importance of an organisation like the Goodwin Trust to a community. The Trust has always maintained its financial independence for this reason. Of its now £12.5 million turnover, almost half a million is profit, giving it the capacity to invest in projects which it decides will benefit local people. These profits allow the organisation to avoid any dependence on grant funding and ensure it is free to make the decisions it wants to.

Despite these difficulties in measuring outcomes the Trust has had a tangible effect on the Goodwin area. Before they began working, around half the housing on the Thornton Estate, almost entirely socially rented, was empty and now there is a waiting list. Local facilities like the pubs are safe and open to all.

Who runs Goodwin?

The entire board of the Goodwin Trust is composed of local residents, elected to their positions by the other people living on the Thornton Estate. This has been a key strength for the organisation, allowing it to remain close to the community it serves. For the previous two years those that have been elected have received six months of training before they took up their post. The Trust is currently looking again at this procedure. Over more recent years it has become increasingly difficult to find residents willing to stand for elections, in part because the scale of the organisation's operations are now so large. The Trust is now considering how best to structure itself so that it can continue its work whilst remaining at a manageable size.

Relationships with local government, councillorsGlossary: Councillors are elected members of a local authority and other institutions have, over the past 14 years, varied between being close and at other times more strained. There has always been support for the work of the Trust among public agencies because of its success tackling some of the estate's problems, but the independence of the organisation has also caused a degree of tension, particularly when it pursued its own solutions to local problems. The Trust has always maintained that it remains accountable to local people rather than any other agency.

Success for the Goodwin Trust
  • The Trust has been able to develop an extensive range of services for the residents of the Thornton Estate, ranging from youth support workers, to neighbourhood wardens and a community café. The organisation has a turnover of £12.5 million and employs around 350 staff.
  • The Trust is managed by a board elected from the community by the community. This has helped it to remain open and responsive to the needs of local people.
  • The organisation has consciously steered clear of any business plans, to ensure that it can respond to opportunities as they arise. This has meant that it can invest in practical services for local people but also in more whimsical projects that involve arts and events for the community. These can help change the way residents feel about their area.
  • By building new community facilities the organisation has been able to generate income for itself and encourage other people to come into the Estate and see how it has changed. These buildings have been designed for their aesthetic impact on the area.
Challenges for the future of the Trust
  • Independence has brought many advantages for the Goodwin Trust, allowing it to choose the projects to invest in and to remain free from outside influences. Maintaining this financial independence is crucial in the long-term for the organisation.
  • It can be difficult for an organisation like the Goodwin Trust to demonstrate the value it can bring to a deprived community. Many of its successes are found in the personal stories of residents who have had an opportunity to change their own lives; stories that do not necessarily translate easily into measurable outputs.
Transferrable lessons for new communities

Many new communities will be planned with provision for long-term stewardshipGlossary: refers, in this context, to the ongoing process of managing, maintaining and tending a community in mind. This stewardshipGlossary: refers, in this context, to the ongoing process of managing, maintaining and tending a community will take a different form in each context, but for many the development trust model, like that of the Goodwin Trust, will be a suitable one to adopt and adapt for their own area. Some lessons that can be drawn from Goodwin's experience in Hull are:

Some future stewardship organisationsGlossary: are organisations, sometime charitable, that have a specific role to manage community assets into the long-term for the benefit of the local population as a whole will be charged with managing specific assets, be they parks, community centres or retail and leisure facilities. Successful organisations will be able to use these assets to generate an income that can then be invested in providing the services that local people need. Ensuring that residents have a strong voice in decision-making will help it to remain responsive and accountable to the community.

Stewardship organisationsGlossary: are organisations, sometime charitable, that have a specific role to manage community assets into the long-term for the benefit of the local population as a whole of the future will develop their own approach to working in their communities. For some it will be an advantage to follow the Goodwin Trust's lead and not rely on a presciptive business plan, instead remaining open to opportunities that appear over time.

All organisations, particularly those in receipt of public funding need to demonstrate that they can deliver value for money. However, often the positive effects of the type of work that the Goodwin Trust and other similar organisations can provide are not easily described in variables that can be measured. Stewardship organisationsGlossary: are organisations, sometime charitable, that have a specific role to manage community assets into the long-term for the benefit of the local population as a whole should focus on achieving their aims and supporting community wellbeing, rather than focusing on ticking boxes.

For more information asee: the Goodwin Trust