Hayward says BEST legacy is ‘people power’

  • Stuart Hayward enjoying Admiralty House Park (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

    Stuart Hayward enjoying Admiralty House Park (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Giving people the power to take action is environmental charity BEST’s biggest accomplishment, outgoing head Stuart Hayward said yesterday.

But Mr Hayward — who is to retire as the group’s chief advocacy officer after ten years — pledged he would stay involved as a consultant to the charity.

Mr Hayward said: “This is my life’s work and I don’t claim any ownership of BEST.

“It is owned by all the people who are involved — but I wouldn’t want to say I’m washing my hands of it.

“There will be a place for my analysis and ideas and assistance of one sort or another. As long as there is a need for it and I am capable of it, I would want to keep on going.

“It is soul enriching to do something for your community. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been able to work and get accepted in my community for doing something that means something to me.”

Mr Hayward explained that the handover to Kim Smith, BEST project co-ordinator, started almost three years ago when Mr Hayward was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

He said: “Since then we have been sharing the leadership mostly. I have been more and more a consultant while Kim has been more and more a leader.

Mr Hayward added: “It is going very smoothly, but my ability to remain as the focal point of leadership is diminishing and Kim is extraordinarily competent.”

He said that BEST’s biggest victory over a decade was not in the courtroom, but in the empowerment of the public.

BEST originated during the 2006 campaign against a plan to build a hospital building on the Botanical Gardens.

The organisation solidified the following year in a protest against the development of the Southlands estate in Warwick as a hotel.

Mr Hayward said: “It became clear to me that developers applying for a development knew the ropes whereas no one was in line to focus on, analyse and campaign against large developments.

“It’s about empowerment. Any individual sees themselves as powerless when they are up against the government or a big developer. They see themselves as not big enough to make a difference.

“What BEST provided was a vehicle and a pathway to have ordinary people become potent activists. That, for me, has been the biggest difference that we have made.

“Ordinary people see themselves as powerful enough and have the resources to mount a campaign of meaning, a campaign that works.

“The empowerment of regular people has been the biggest win in my books.”

Ms Smith became involved in the organisation during the Southlands campaign.

She said the organisation had evolved, but that the core had remained constant.

Ms Smith added: “What we did in 2007 in terms of just creating the mission and the action areas that we were going to work around and within are the same today.

“It really has stood the test of time very well.”

She said successful legal battles had helped to prove the charity’s worth and opened doors for community empowerment.

Ms Smith said: “I think being willing to take issues before a judge and let them decide was important because it helped show the people that our perspective was not just a small perspective.

“That has been successful in endorsing what we do and the way we see things and the way we approach things.”

Mr Hayward added: “Even with all the power a government has, they must behave responsibly. They can’t be dictatorial.”

Ms Smith hopes to increase public engagement and involvement in the environment.

She added: “I would love to not have to go to international business for money. I wish there was a way we could appeal to everyone and have everyone give.

“If we could get a big enough group of people, and if they feel that we represent their interests, that would be great.

“Really the idea is to spread the love and get more and more people involved.”

Mr Hayward said: “The future involves making it possible for more and more people to be a part of the solutions to the problems that exist around them.

“The closer that people can be to solving their problems, the more empowered they are and the healthier the community.

“The public should not be uninterested or ineffective observers of things going on around them. They should have the power to make things better.

“I think BEST provides a vehicle for that.”

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