From the moment it was established 50 years ago, Ripon Civic Society has been a quiet force for getting things done in our city.
Its 150-strong membership and dedicated committee are independent of any council or planning processes, but that hasn’t stopped them carrying some clout and an authoritative voice when it comes to those important decisions which affect the future of Ripon.
And as the organisation celebrates its 50th anniversary, the ‘Gazette has spoken to their Chairman, David Winpenny, about the important role of civic societies in an ever-changing world.
Protecting our historical buildings and heritage are aims that have become synonymous with civic societies across the country, but in a city like Ripon where planning applications are often being submitted for housing and other new developments, it can be a constant balancing act and dilemma for civic societies to weight up the pros and cons.
David Winpenny, who attended Ripon Civic Society’s inaugural meeting at Hugh Ripley Hall 50 years ago, and has chaired the group for 10 years, said it is important that Ripon has modern developments and moves forward, whilst also maintaining a respect for the past.
He said: “We don’t say no to all developments, we want to encourage good, modern buildings, and we do want to see the city develop.
“But I think that we always need to be vigilant and keep an eye on the city - not letting go of things that we don’t need to let go of. There will be threats to the city coming up, and some opportunities for the city - it will be interesting to see the difference that the extra number of houses makes to Ripon.
“But I am reasonably optimistic - if you think about the state of Ripon now, it’s probably a lot better than it was in the 1960s or 1970s. Generally speaking, when shops are empty, they are not empty for long.”
Ripon Civic Society members have also played an instrumental role in the development of the Ripon City Plan, which has been described by committee members as “the city’s first opportunity in two generations to exert some influence on proposed development.”
Mr Winpenny said Ripon should be forward-looking, whilst also showing care for the past.
He said: “We can’t work out what we need in the future unless we know what has gone on in the past. Knowledge of the past is important in thinking about the future.”
From small victories to their larger victories, the civic society is proud of being vocal to champion the concerns of residents - though they realise that they can’t always please everyone.
Mr Winpenny said the society will always remember the role they played in the Ripon bypass decision, and helping to shape how the Market Square looks today. He said it’s heartening to see how many residents care about protecting Ripon’s heritage.
He said: “The more people are interested and concerned, and make their voice heard, the better. It can be a good thing when people say something isn’t going right, because if they didn’t and they were indifferent, that’s when we should worry.”
As well as having a say on planning applications affecting the future of Ripon, the Civic Society is passionate about honouring the city’s past.
The Society has spearheaded Ripon’s commemorative green plaques project, which publicly highlights the contribution of important Ripon figures. So far, 33 green plaques have already been put up around Ripon, and soon there will be 35.
Mr Winpenny said: “They bring a knowledge of the past, and we do think about visitors coming to look at them, as visitors are an important part of the economy. Our constitution also encourages education about the city and its history.”
Mr Winpenny said Ripon Re-Viewed has been the Society’s biggest project over the last 30 years.
As part of this, an amazing collection of photographs showcasing Ripon’s past went on display at Ripon Workhouse Museum. Thousands of photographs of Ripon from over the last 120 years are being painstakingly preserved and digitalised.
Mr Winpenny said: “The reaction to it has been very positive, there’s been so much interest and it really has been successful.”
Ripon Civic Society organises monthly talks about the city’s history and other topics of interest. Visit their website: http://www.riponcivicsociety.org.uk to find out more about their programme of speakers.
The Society’s next meeting is on October 4 at Ripon Spa Hotel, where there will be a golden jubilee awards evening. The ceremony starts at 7.30pm.
Reflecting on what Ripon Civic Society has achieved over the last 50 years, Mr Winpenny said: “I’d like to think people recognise that we are a voice for the particular aspects of the city we champion.”