Fresh eyes

Why listening is vital to successful stakeholder relations

why listening is vital to successful stakeholder relations
Simon Turner Freshfield Managing Director

Published by Simon Turner,
Chief Executive & Group Client Director at Freshfield

In the small city of Preston we have made a breakthrough. A major one in fact. We have started working together. It’s almost like a eureka moment.

Visitors to will have noticed that we have helped set up a company looking to drive the revival of our fantastic – yet tired – Winckley Square.

We have an architect, two lawyers, a finance specialist and a property adviser. Last but not least, we have Freshfield, the communicator – arguably the most important role.

For those of you strangers to Winckley Square, a redevelopment plan that involved totem poles, lavish water features and £3million were scrapped last year. The plans were unsympathetic to the Victorian heritage of the Square and received widespread condemnation.

So our group started working behind the scenes in January 2011. Our first task was to contact all the stakeholders of Winckley Square and simply listen. They included Preston City Council, BID, businesses, residents, the church, and historians.

It was obvious that every group wanted to see the Square sympathetically restored – to create a public space that the people of Preston could be proud of. Many were also critical of the communication process during previous plans. The reaction to the formation of the group was very positive.

We have yet to spend any money but achieved a milestone. Unification. The Winckley Square Community Interest Company’s founding members and elected directors include: David Gill, consultant, Moore and Smalley Chartered Accountants; Simon Turner, managing director, Freshfield; Mick Goode, director, Croft Goode Architects; John Chesworth, managing partner, Harrison Drury; Richard McDowell, partner, Napthens; and Mark Clarkson, partner, Eckersley.

In addition to the founding members, the board of directors includes representatives from Preston City Council, BID and is seeking representation from Lancashire County Council, St Wilfrid’s Catholic Church, Preston Historical Society, and UCLan.

We have looked at a similar model in New York. A stunning location called Bryant Park (pictured). It’s a model that impressed us not just because of its physical features but the fact that in the 1970s some local business people adopted a Big Society concept and worked with the community to drive change. I have been there twice and the results are stunning.

On Friday July 29, our city newspaper (Lancashire Evening Post) ran our launch story and the online comments bowled us all over. David Coates (business reporter LEP) told me very rarely had he seen such positive reaction from Prestonians, who in the past have been wrongly pigeonholed as negative.

Some people say we pulled off a masterstoke.

This is a lesson to any public and private sector organisation. You can achieve so much more by working together. By listening and communicating. In a digital world it is refreshing to engage with people face to face and achieve great results. This is the heart of good public relations and stakeholder engagement.

A masterstoke? We’ve simply gone back to basics and adopted a common sense approach.

And if we can achieve half of what Bryant Park did, we’ll all be very proud Prestonians.

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