Blazing a trail

Approaches to leadership evolve, and one man's vision for an art centre enriches the whole community

In recent weeks there has been a series of meetings organised by the Foundation and the New Findhorn Association (NFA), on community building. The theme of the latest was Leadership. I did not go to this meeting, so I will not write about it - but it has got me thinking about leadership in the community and how it’s perceived.

Leadership is a word that comes up often here. It features in the titles of workshops and meetings - and is generally a topic of interest. This is perhaps not surprising as we don‘t have really have leaders in the generally understood sense of the word. The Foundation has a management group who make decisions about budgets and policy and so on. Their function is basically administrative which is not the same thing as leadership. This is not to say that members of Management aren’t leaders, but it doesn’t necessarily go with the territory. In any case, Management’s writ does not run outside the Foundation and the majority in the community are not Foundation staff members.

In the early days, leadership was very straightforward. Peter and Eileen Caddy with Dorothy Maclean founded the community through following divine guidance. Eileen got the guidance from a higher source and Peter, to whom God did not speak but who had utter faith in the validity of what came through Eileen, carried out whatever that guidance suggested. The style was autocratic but appropriate for the time. Without Peter’s intense focus, the community might never have been built.

This changed when Eileen received guidance that she should no longer give guidance to the community. Her inspirational messages could be found in her books but she no longer gave practical directions to the community. It was now on its own and had to experiment with new forms of leadership.

Today the concept of leadership has evolved into the idea that anyone can be a leader. It is not dependant on position or popularity or divine authority although inner authority is a necessary part. For me, leadership is demonstrated when someone has a clear vision that they firmly believe in and then take the necessary steps to bring it into being. If the vision is a good one and the timing is right, support will naturally follow.

A good example of this is the Moray Art Centre. Until very recently the arts at Findhorn were housed in a few shabby pre-fabricated bungalows, which apart from the pottery, were little used. Randy Klinger, a painter who lives here had a vision for a proper art centre, one that would serve not only the Findhorn community but also all of Moray. There would be studios, exhibition space and room for craft shows, classes and lectures. It would be a focal point for the arts in the area. It would not be cheap.

Randy had no money himself and the Foundation were unable to help, but he held to his vision even through times when support was lukewarm, found supporters and funding and the Art Centre is now a reality. Not yet completed nor totally paid for, it is already active and providing a venue for the arts at Findhorn.

I find it very inspiring to see how one person, without financial resources, without sanction from any other ‘authority’ has a vision and makes it happen. That is real leadership.

An inspired individual is one thing but the question that comes up for the community is, how do we, as a collective, demonstrate leadership. Guidance, group process, being the change we want to see—these are among the elements that go into the ongoing work of defining and embodying that elusive quality known as leadership.

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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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