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The Civic Society column with David Winpenny

High Trees, Steven Way, Ripon. (Copyright - Andy Burningham)
High Trees, Steven Way, Ripon. (Copyright - Andy Burningham)

It’s always pleasing to be recognised for our achievements. Whether we’re awarded gold medals at the Olympics, a knighthood from the Queen or a new badge to be sewn on to our Brownie or Scout uniform, getting some form of tangible praise is good for our ego.

So the Ripon Civic Society 2018 Awards, which took place a week ago, were an opportunity for the Society to spread a little of this good cheer among the people whose work in building, landscape and other projects have contributed to making the city and surrounding area better.

The Spa at Swinton Park. (Copyright - Swinton Park)

The Spa at Swinton Park. (Copyright - Swinton Park)

The Society is very keen to acknowledge that in the care that each of them takes about how their property looks it is not just for their own satisfaction but also, directly or incidentally, contributes to the enjoyment of others.

The awards are a special ‘Thank You’ to them all.

The awards have several categories; a full list of them, and of the winning and commended projects, appear elsewhere and on the Ripon Civic Society website.

Here we’ll look at a few of them; the awards are held every two years and each time they have their own distinctive flavour.

Folly! at Studley Royal. (Copyright - Christopher Hughes)

Folly! at Studley Royal. (Copyright - Christopher Hughes)

Perhaps the most obvious of projects are new buildings.

As more houses are built or proposed (some say ‘threatened’) in the area, the Society tries to be optimistic that large house-building firms might show some innovation; so it was disappointing once again not to be able to recognise candidates from the continuous march of suburbia.

It should not be impossible, even with slender profit margins, to come up with more innovative and attractive designs than many of them produce.

It is fortunate, therefore that there are individuals who build innovative houses; the Society was please to recognise them in the awards – along with the major development of the Spa at Swinton Park.

As an historic city, we should expect, perhaps, to get more than our fair share of property restoration projects.

The Society recognises that there is a difference between property maintenance – which should be regular and timely; William Morris wrote that all building owners should ‘stave off decay by daily care, prop a perilous wall or mend a leaky roof’ – and a comprehensive project where building elements and details have been carefully reinstated.

The Society praised a number of restoration projects and gave its top award to the restored Orangery at Newby Hall, mentioned in this column a few weeks ago.

The awards also included one for Environmental Improvement, which went to the Himalayan Garden and Sculpture Park at Grewelthorpe, for the content and quality of the project and the opportunity for the general public to visit what was called ‘this extraordinary endeavour’.

Craftsmanship was rewarded with an award for the new Shell Pavilions at Newby Hall, while the Sustainability award went to a new house, High Trees, near the former College site.

The Society has two special awards.

Its Helen Whitehead Salver went to St John’s Church, Sharow, for its comprehensive restoration, re-ordering and enhancement, turning it into one of the Ripon area’s newest and most versatile performance venues.

The final Award was perhaps somewhat controversial.

The John Whitehead Award went to the National Trust for the Studley Royal World Heritage Site’s Folly! project.

Folly!, which sees modern pieces of art placed in the 18th-century Studley Royal landscape, was described by the Society as ‘a candidate that both reflects our aims as well as challenges us for the future’.

The World Heritage Site is recognised as ‘a true masterpiece of human creative genius’. John Aislabie and his son William achieved wonders in the story of landscape planning at Studley Royal – and they did it with undoubted confidence.

The National Trust has spent the last thirty years or so in repairing, restoring and revealing the water gardens and deer park – efforts that the Civic Society has recognised in its past awards.

Recently the National Trust has paid greater attention to revealing historic views at Studley Royal and revealing the ‘eye-catchers’.

But like so much conservation, attention has had to be devoted to protection of what was already there.

But the landscape has never been unchanging.

We know that the Aislabies included more and different features in the water garden and deer park, updating or changing them over time.

A significant number have been lost – especially garden sculpture – and that is something that should be addressed.

Ripon Civic Society believes that Folly! this year marks a promising change in the way we should look at landscape.

Folly! may be a temporary initiative, and it has stirred strong opinions – not all of them complimentary.

That is understandable; cherished landscapes have a very personal appeal, and we often want to keep them as we have first loved them.

Sometimes, though, it needs a bold move to enable us to see places in a new light.

The Society’s Awards team is always looking for the innovative, not just in architecture (though it would like to see more buildings in a modern style) but in the landscape, too.

So the Society has commended the National Trust for being brave.

Folly! invites its visitors to put themselves in the Aislabies’ shoes.

It helps excite the visitors’ experience of a wonderful place, and suggests that caring for landscape means moving from simply protecting what is there already to introducing and supporting creative genius in the 21st century.

Ripon Civic Society’s John Whitehead Award for 2018 is given as encouragement to the National Trust to keep going – however much the critics may carp and cavil.