New Internationalist

Celebrating 10 years of the Gloucestershire Services Project

16-06-2017-gloucerstershire-590.JPG [Related Image]
A group of workers at the project site, with the Gloucester Services in the background

The community behind the project provides a reason to be cheerful amidst the terrible news of the past few weeks, writes Mari Marcel Thekaekara.

On the eve of British elections, I received an invitation to have dinner at the House of Commons.

The reason was to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of a project: the Gloucestershire Services Project. Everyone, the world over, is sick and tired of hearing politicians promise more jobs, better prospects and better days – only without following through with actions. But the Gloucestershire Services Project is celebrating a promise kept: some 400 jobs created.

The Gloucestershire Services are a pair of Motorway Services areas on the M5 between Junction 11A and Junction 12, near Whaddon, Gloucester. The project does not offer outlets for chain food brands, and sells artisanal food. It has brought people together, absorbed local farmers’ produce, made a community work hard together, determined to overcome all obstacles.

Part of the success comes from Mark Gale, a visionary, charismatic man who is the Chief Executive of Gloucestershire Gateway Trust, the charitable partner which initiated the Gloucester Services project. Mark believes in people. He searched for an innovative way to turn a problem into a project to help local people.

‘We had 28 million vehicles a year carrying over 40 million people into Gloucestershire at one end and going out the other on the M5’ he says. ‘No-one in the communities it passed by got any benefit; it was just seen as a problem bringing pollution, congestion and noise.’

So Mark decided to do something about the problem. ‘Now we’ve turned the M5 into a community asset,’ he announces. The numbers speak for themselves. More than 400 jobs have already been created – with at least half going to people living in the Trust’s target communities of Matson, Tuffley, Podsmead and White City and the Stonehouse/GL10 area – and two community support hubs have opened.

The northbound services opened in May 2014 and the southbound services in May 2015, and at the time of writing, 400 people are employed, and the project also supports 150 local producers.

Last month Gloucestershire Gateway Trust started to distribute tens of thousands of pounds to community partners in their target neighbourhoods nearby and expects to share over £10 million with partners over the next 20 years.

So in fact, unlike the average politician, they’ve walked the talk.

On the site, the project also has a 3 acre community growing project (Growing Communities), a community gallery (currently featuring art from Play Gloucestershire), a beehive and murals and decoupages sharing community stories.

‘It’s a truly brilliant project,’ says Martin Simon, a trustee and close friend of Mark Gale’s. ‘The stories are so moving. There was one woman who said, “I couldn’t afford a haircut. Then I started selling my sausage rolls here. The volumes increased. I can’t believe how my life has changed. I even met Prince Charles when he visited the project”.’ The enthusiasm, the upbeat mood is infectious.

I look across at Mark Gale. Around him are his beloved Matson residents, trustees – both Labour and Conservative and even a Baroness. Yet, he is completely unpretentious, completely comfortable in his skin. Truly a Renaissance man. He can charm and enthuse anyone, of any persuasion. He doesn’t have a bad word for anyone.

Martin remarks, ‘Anyone who could accomplish this, must be able to tick the boxes in his life and say this was one of the most satisfying projects to have ever been accomplished.’

To take a negative, the ugly, noisy, much hated motorway, and turn into into a remarkable triumph is indeed a glorious achievement.

Especially in a month that has been ugly and violent, with multiple bombings and the London tower’s blazing inferno, it’s a huge relief to think about hope and goodness triumphing.

And in Gloucestershire, the motorway services see hope shining through for everyone.

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  1. #1 margaret 16 Jun 17

    Great story Mari. Thank you for reporting this.

  2. #2 ludwig pesch 17 Jun 17

    In times of confused priorities for communities anywhere in the world, this article gives valuable insights why some solutions work better than others. Because, if things seem hopeless, even beyond fixing locally, democracy itself is under threat - from all sides of the political spectrum!

    Thanks for these rare glimpses and congrats for earning the confidence of those making genuine contributions, proving that there is common ground beyond class or ideology.

    This blog gives reason for being both, hopeful and more assertive anywhere, provided we are prepared to listen and learn from others whenever decisions need to be taken locally. Showing what democracy and citizenship are all about!

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About the author

Mari Marcel Thekaekara a New Internationalist contributor

Mari is a writer based in Gudalur, in the Nilgiri hills of Tamil Nadu. She writes on human rights issues with a focus on dalits, adivasis, women, children, the environment, and poverty. Mari's book Endless Filth, published in 1999, on balmikis, is to be followed by a second book on campaigns within India to abolish manual scavenging work. She co-founded Accord in 1985 to work with Adivasi people. Mari has been a contributor to New Internationalist since 1991.

About the blog I travel around India a lot, covering dalit and adivasi issues. I often find myself really moved by stories that never make it to the mainstream media. My son Tarsh suggested I start blogging. And the New Internationalist collective are the nicest bunch of editors I’ve worked with. So here goes.

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