Partnership history and projects

This is the text of a leaflet about Partnership Ltd, published in 1995 by director David Wilcox.

Leaflet copy

I set up the organisation which became Partnership in 1978 after 12 years of journalism, mainly with the London Evening Standard. While writing about the conflicts of urban development I found there was scope for more collaboration.

But where residents, businesses and Government did have shared interests they usually lacked a common language, and an organisation through which to work together.

I was living in North Kensington when the Westway elevated motorway was built, creating 23 acres of derelict land. Incredibly for an area rife with social tension the council and local groups agreed to create a charitable trust to develop the land, and the North Kensington Amenity Trust was born in 1971.

In 1977 I became chair of the trust, and realised that with a few similar organisations around the country, it could be a model for a new type of 'third sector' partnership.

Contracts in the late 1970s and early 1980s provided opportunities to test whether that was the case.

During the 1980s I worked in Partnership Ltd with Les Robinson and Diane Warburton to help set up more local trusts, and provide training.

In 1986 the Department of the Environment commissioned us to produce a good practice guide on sustainable local partnership initiatives.

Publication by HMSO of Creating Development Trusts in 1988 provided official recognition and encouragement to local councils and others to support a partnership approach. In 1992 I helped a steering group of practitioners set up the Development Trusts Association.

By the 1990s ideas of partnership were commonplace, and many funding programmes specified both partnership arrangements and the involvement of the wider community.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation gave me the opportunity to develop wider models for participation, research appropriate techniques, and publish these in a guide in 1994.

During this work it struck me that there could be much to learn from the processes of change in large organisations, where rigid hierarchies were being replaced by more participatory management styles. Could community workers advocating empowerment for local groups find some common cause with managers developing empowered work groups?

The answer, I believe, is yes. However, terms like partnership, once so useful, may now mask the complexity of relationships needed to tackle urban and rural regeneration.

I have recently explored these complexities in projects ranging from the development of community forests in 12 areas of England, to rural development in Northern Ireland and local economic development in Glasgow.

Throughout I have found common aspects of partnership and participation - the need to develop a shared vision, trust and commitment as well as efficient systems and procedures.

And while we can learn from the successes and failures of others, partnerships must be created by those who will run them. These lessons inform what I do now.

Recently I have started working on how computer networks can serve communities and help build partnerships.

On the one hand the journalist in me is excited by the the scope offered by these networks for democratic sharing of information.

These days communities of interest are defined by discussion groups on Internet as well as by local clubs. Voluntary bodies create home pages on World Wide Web rather than launch a new publication. Work groups need never meet.

On the other hand there is nothing better than the older technology of flip charts, pens and time in a group to work through problems and ideas.

25 years ago the chaos of motorway construction sparked the creativity to form a trust in North Kensington. These days pressures of change make chaos constant, and we must draw our creativity from new sources.

It is not enough to take our old structures - whether council committees of company Boards - and simply invite more people to the table.

Today's partnerships are often complex webs of alliances, which change as different funds become available from Government or Europe, all demanding a tick in the participation box.

We are only just realising that computer networks may provide both models for thinking about networks, and aids which will help to develop them.

Partnership projects 1978 - 1995

Setting up local initiatives

Support services and publications


..... now on to the story from 1995
David Wilcox

Apt1, 43 Bartholomew Close
London EC1A 7HN
Tel: 020 7600 0104
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