Queens Honour for University of Leicester PhD student

A University of Leicester postgraduate student is going to Buckingham Palace next month to be honoured by HM The Queen.

Jess Steele (pictured), a PhD student in the Geography Department, from Hastings, East Sussex, was awarded an OBE in the New Year’s Honours for services to community assets in the UK.

Since 2013 Jess has run her own company, Jericho Road Solutions, which she says “works with neighbourhood groups across the country to take on challenging assets, and with government, a variety of funders, academics, and corporations on policies, programmes and organising to make neighbourhood change in the UK better and easier”.

She played and continues to play a leading voluntary role in the rescue of Hastings Pier, raising £14 million for its restoration;  the pier is now in community ownership with its official opening on 21st May 2016.

Jess said: “It is great to have this kind of grassroots community mobilisation work officially recognised. I feel proud of all the great people I’ve worked with in neighbourhoods who have  inspired me.”

Jess, who has lived in Hastings for the past 12 years, went to school in New Cross, then studied History at the University of York, followed by an MSc in Social Anthropology at the London School of Economics (graduated 1993).

She has been an independent community activist ever since, first in Deptford then in Hastings, and has also worked at national level - first in the National Community Forum (2001-5), then at the British Urban Regeneration Association, then as Director of Innovation for Locality (formerly Development Trusts Association) (2007-13).

She led the design and delivery of the national Community Organisers programme which trained over 500 full-time community organisers and nearly 6,000 volunteers (2011-15). 

Jess is now studying in the Geography Department for a PhD supervised by Professor Loretta Lees, entitled ‘Self Renovating Neighbourhoods as an Alternative to Gentrification or Decline’.

Loretta says: “I was very excited when Jess approached me to do a part-time PhD, she is extremely impressive not just academically but also in her dealings with local communities, government, policy, and industry. She is a public intellectual and community activist who gives her all for the benefit of others; and this OBE is direct recognition of that service. It is very, very well deserved!”