John Davidson, who has died at home in Cheltenham, was the charismatic leader of the Groundwork movement whose vision grew it into a powerful force for environmental regeneration.
By the time that John retired in 1996, Groundwork had become a network of 42 local trusts with 750 professional staff, 400 non-executive directors, countless volunteers, a £30 million turnover and international recognition for its achievements. The Groundwork approach was being deployed in Europe, Japan and USA.
Fired up by the MSc Conservation course at UCL and with a background in planning, John rapidly rose to become Assistant Director of the Countryside Commission, responsible for the commission’s national experiment in urban fringe regeneration. This was piloted as ‘Operation Groundwork’ in St. Helens and Knowsley, using a partnership model involving business, community and local authorities and directed by John Handley. Michael Heseltine was inspired by its early success when he came to Merseyside after the 1981 Toxteth riots, and demanded rapid expansion into five other areas of Northwest England. Leading the work, John Davidson established The Groundwork Northwest Development Unit.
By 1985 the Groundwork Foundation was established with a national remit. John was its first Chief Executive and Chris Chataway its Chair. With the enthusiastic support of David Trippier and other Ministers, it grew rapidly into a UK-wide network.
John, often working as a team with his brilliant first wife Joan, was ahead of his time in seeing the connections between local action for the environment and global issues, the benefits of partnership working and the value of business involvement. His charisma and leadership engaged remarkable people in the cause - he was at ease with Ministers, mandarins, captains of industry and hard-bitten local councillors, and engendered loyalty, affection and the dedicated commitment of the Groundwork team.
John was deeply affected by Joan’s tragic death in 1992 but continued to provide inspirational leadership to Groundwork. He received an OBE in 1997.
For the past 15 years, he had more time to devote to his passion for global development and environmental issues, giving leadership to the Interclimate Network and Global Dimension Trust. And with the strong support of his loving wife, Judith - a talented ballerina - and her two children, he found again the contentment of family life.
He is survived by Judith, Ben, Dan, Thomas, Isabel and five grandchildren.
John Davidson, environmental entrepreneur, born 5 July 1939, died 26 May 2012.