I have been working as the Finance and Administration Officer for Civic Voice for almost one year now! During that time, I have had the pleasure of engaging with some fantastic civic societies doing great work within their local community.
Whether it is bringing like-minded people together, campaigning on environmental issues, assessing local conservation areas at risk or opening their own heritage attractions, here are ten societies which have particularly inspired me the past year…
- Southgate District Civic Voice
In June 2019, Southgate and District Civic Voice worked with the Civic Voice team to organise a mini charette event open to all in their community.
The design charette was held in response to a proposed development which would have radically altered the landscape of their unique town and was borne out the frustration which many felt of not being listened to. The event enabled local residents to learn more about development in an unbiased environment and gave everyone the chance to feedback and feel listened to. The event attracted a diverse crowd, from young families to commuters to elderly residents and lead to an impressive boost in membership for the civic society. Southgate District Civic Voice inspired us all by how willing they were to work with us and try out new ideas.
- Petersfield Civic Society
Another group which have done fantastic work in bringing communities together is the Petersfield Civic Society. Situated in rural Hampshire, Petersfield Civic Society realised the potential of bringing neighbouring societies together to learn from one another. The society is particularly dedicated to campaigning on environmental issues and they have affected real change in their town. Their hard work culminated in an event which bought around ten regional societies together, pooling their resources to address common issues which societies face and learning how best civic societies can work to combat climate change.
- Spen Valley Civic Society
Continuing the theme of bringing communities together through the environment and placemaking, Spen Valley Civic Society must be commended for their Jo Cox Community Wood project. In response to the tragic murder of Batley and Spen MP Jo Cox in 2016, the civic society decided to honour her memory by creating a woodland space for the whole community to enjoy. Spen Valley Civic Society were inspired by Jo’s belief that people have more in common than that which divides them and have used the wood as a way of bringing different groups together. Since 2019 they have planted over 1000 trees and have more exciting projects planned for 2020.
- Birmingham Civic Society
Birmingham Civic Society have used their platform as a way of engaging with an underrepresented group in the civic movement; young people. The society have worked with local schools and universities to create a free citizenship module for the Key Stage 3 pupils which encourages them to become active citizens that contribute positively to Birmingham’s future. The programme culminates in the Next Generation Awards, which sees teens work together to research issues in their communities and develop schemes to address them. Previous winners have gone on to work with the civic society on key issues such as elderly isolation within the community and creating sensory spaces for local residents with additional needs.
- Addingham Civic Society
Addingham Civic Society have also been pioneers in their response to how civic societies can work to combat the threat on climate change in their town. The society recognised the importance of community activity and raising awareness within the civic movement. Chair Jim Robinson gave a brilliant talk on the subject at the Larger Societies Meeting in Chester last year which inspired many other groups to coordinate their own green agenda. The civic society has also established their own environmental subgroup with its own website, social media and regular programme of activities.
- Peckham Vision
New members Peckham Vision must also be commended on the way in which they have successfully engaged with young people in their local community. The society joined Civic Voice in 2019 after engaging with us on Twitter and we have been very impressed by their use of social media and digital press. Peckham Vision have curated a great Instagram page which showcases a variety of upcoming local events and vibrant photos of previous events. Currently only seventeen societies out of almost 225 Civic Voice members use Instagram, yet it is arguably the most popular and social media site for young people. Peckham Vision have one of the highest number of Instagram followers for a civic society. Having an appealing Instagram with diverse and welcoming photos is one of the best ways which societies can appeal to young people and attract a more diverse audience to their events.
- Hunstanton and District Civic Society
In the past year, it has been incredibly inspiring to see a number of civic societies running and operating their own premises and local heritage attractions. The newest addition being Hunstanton and District Civic Society’s Hunstanton Heritage Centre. Hunstanton is a remote yet beautiful seaside town on the North Norfolk coast with a wealth of history and culture that the local society is helping to showcase. The Heritage Centre is staffed entirely by civic society volunteers and provides educational tours for schoolchildren and groups throughout the year, as well as opening for public admission. As the town of Hunstanton does not have a museum, the civic society have directly addressed this cultural deficit and provided a vital service for residents to discover more about the past and the fascinating town in which they live.
- Weymouth Civic Society
Weymouth Civic Society must also be commended on their outstanding commitment to furthering the cultural and heritage attractions of their town. The civic society manages and operates not one, but two amazing heritage attractions: Tudor House and Northe Fort. Both premises are run entirely by volunteers and society members who provide guided tours, costumed interpretation and specialised educational visits for schoolchildren and groups, as well as general admission. Thanks to the hard work of the Civic Society, Weymouth Tudor House remains one of England’s best-preserved Tudor buildings. Northe Fort is one of the most remarkable historic military structures along the Jurassic Coast and Weymouth Civic Society have saved it from falling into disrepair and disuse.
- Bewdley Civic Society
Conservation areas are an issue on which Civic Voice is passionate about campaigning. Unfortunately, due to government cuts over the past decade and subsequent staffing shortages, many local authorities are unable maintain all the conservation areas within their borough to an acceptable standard and they often fall into disrepair. Civic societies therefore have a vital role to play is assessing and recording key information on local conservation areas and ensuring that they do not lose their status. Several proactive civic societies have established projects to combat this issue and Bewdley Civic Society have impressed us all with their dedication to conservation heritage within their town. The civic society worked together using the Civic Voice conservation area audit guide to assess their 105-acre local conservation area. It was wonderful to see the civic society making the most of their membership and utilising our resources! The audit was such a success that the committee are planning event to share their experiences with other civic societies looking to enhance their conservation areas.
- City of Winchester Trust
The City of Winchester Trust have also been pioneering in their work on conservation areas and choose to work alongside Winchester City Council to address this issue facing their townscape. Council conservation officers helped to train a body of civic society volunteers to carry out onsite conservation area appraisals and collect key data from each of the towns many conservation areas at risk. Too often civic societies are accused of being uncooperative and combative towards their local councils and this belief is not always unfounded. Societies such as The City of Winchester Trust who work together successfully with their local authority and maintain a cordial working relationship are actively challenging this stereotype and projecting a welcoming, modern image of the civic movement.
Next week, Sarah James will share her thoughts on 10 civic societies that are championing good design in the built environment….