Doing it differently in Gloucester

Fancy a day out at Gloucester Services?

That’s how it was pitched to me, when asked to join the Active Wellbeing Society on a sharing day to learn from the work of the Gloucestershire Gateway Trust. Now, my experiences of a service station evokes a vision of fast food outlets, arcades and a random massage chair next to the toilets (Toddington & Leicester Forest East are to blame for this). Needless to say, my visit to Gloucester Services has completely transformed my views on motorway pit stops.

The fast food outlets are replaced with a ‘Quick Kitchen’, there is a restaurant serving food made from local produce, an eco-friendly indoor play area for children, and best of all, an amazing ‘Farm Shop’ complete with butchers, fish mongers and patisserie. All this in a building that blends seamlessly in to its stunning surroundings, with lake and walking trail for visitors to enjoy. I make no apologies for being snap happy – this place truly is a wonder on the M5.


What relevance does a service station have to community development?

Well, the uniqueness of Gloucester Services is that it is a model of social investment that has been created by the local community (Matson residents and other community organisations) in order to support local regeneration. Not without its teething problems, the project almost never happened due to opposition from other commercial operators further up the motorway. After 15 years in development, Gloucester Services has now been open for 5 years and is a successful community asset run together by the Gloucestershire Gateway Trust (GGT) and the Westmorland Family business. It offers a wide range of social, economic and environmental benefits. Its long-term plans are to open a hotel on site and aim to plough £10 million over the next 20 years back in to its neighbouring communities.

Gloucester Services facts and figures

It really is a success story. I spoke to 2 young people who were undertaking free pre-employment training at the services and will no doubt go on to secure employment. There was also the local business who supplied the farm shop with hog rolls. Such is the demand for these, she now employs a further 5 staff.

A service station with ethics 

Bit of a ‘Robin Hood’ ethos to the takings where, up to 3p in every £ of non-fuel sales at Gloucester Services supports local communities. We saw for ourselves the difference this is making. Our visit took us to four projects supported by the GGT:

  1. Play Gloucestershire (also supported by Sport England’s Potentials Fund), which is a local charity that transforms children’s lives using the power of outdoor play.
  2. The Venture (in White City), where they have big plans to refurbish a well-used community hub and play area in to a whole lot of swinging, climbing, sliding, spinning and challenging activities and a whole world of social interaction for the community
  3. The Power of Three – Matson, Robinswood & White City Community Partnership where local people have developed a plan that gives them more say and influence over what happens in their communities
  4. Gateway Café and the Loop Project, that is providing a multitude of community services including an after-school homework club

Driving around the social housing estates of Matson, Robinswood and White City, you can feel and see the sense of pride and ownership in these communities. The streets are clean, there is no fly tipping, shops aren’t boarded up and the only thing hanging around on street corners are sheep!

So, what makes these communities continue to thrive both socially and economically (with very little additional investment)?  

Each community is different, as are local circumstances and environments. There are however, several approaches which have been tried and tested here in Gloucester, that could be replicated elsewhere, and that have made asset-based community development a success:

  • Good quality community engagement is key. This has to be honest, meaningful and lead to a plan of action that is relevant to and owned by the community
  • Take the time to build trust within communities
  • It is easier to tackle issues / challenges by working collaboratively rather than competing for diminishing resources – we see this happen all the time at a hyper local level, especially amongst voluntary community groups / services. It really does make more sense to work collectively and support each other towards a common goal
  • Empower local people to provide leadership in their own communities and build their skills and confidence in community activism
  • Recognise the power of play. We need to move away from this notion that activity has to be structured and in formal settings – especially for our children & young people
  • Promote a positive reputation of our communities – the people living in these communities love it and this positive image should be well communicated. Always focusing on the negative can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy and low aspirations.
  • Helping local people to help themselves and their communities. Support some form of dedicated local capacity – even if it is a short hour contract under 16 hours to encourage those on benefits in to employment. Investing in a local person and a local resource to activate within a community can make a sustainable difference
  • Support local small businesses to start up and grow in our communities
  • Have a cavalier approach to system thinking which is to “get on with it and apologise later”

Some valuable learning to be shared here and certainly lots for us to take away and think how we can apply this form of community development to our own local delivery work in Birmingham & Solihull (the team pictured above).

Thank You to Mark Gale & Jo White from the Gloucestershire Gateway Trust for hosting us for the day. I encourage you all to visit Gloucester Services and spend money, knowing you are doing your bit to support local community development.


Shimul Haider

Local Delivery & Priority Places Manager, Sport England


March 2019