COLUMN: Civic Society with David Winpenny

YHACS members visit Fountains Abbey before the meeting. (S)
YHACS members visit Fountains Abbey before the meeting. (S)

Fountains Abbey has played host to almost 50 people from groups across the county who make up the Yorkshire and Humber Association of Civic Societies. David gives an account of the day and the issues explored.

Last Saturday representatives from Civic Societies and Civic Trusts from across the Yorkshire and Humber area converged on Fountains Abbey for a meeting of the Yorkshire and Humber Association of Civic Societies (YHACS).

You are probably unlikely now to be kicking yourself for missing this event – perhaps you are preparing to turn the page already. But hang on! Worthy (OK, dull) as it sounds, the meeting was important enough to attract nearly 50 people, from as far away as Hull, Beverley, Scarborough, Pontefract, Goole and Huddersfield, not to mention Wakefield, Bradford, Horbury, Selby, Skipton, Ilkley and even Harrogate! Some of them even braved the tricky public transport system to get to the meeting.

What was it that attracted them to meet for three hours in the Aislabie Room at the Fountains Abbey Visitor Centre on a Saturday afternoon, when they could have been out in the fresh air or slumped in front of the sport on television?

Some of them had the incentive of a brief tour of the abbey buildings by a National Trust volunteer in the late morning before the meeting – for several it was the first time they had been; others had come on school visits several decades before and were reliving their youth!

But this was just an hors de’oeuvre; it was for the meat of the meeting that most came – and to show that they value the links between the more than 40 civic societies that make YHACS.

They all share the vision that by taking an interest in their local environment and the buildings that make up the fabric of the cities, towns and villages of the area, they can help protect the past and encourage wise and sustainable development for the future.

As the YHACS website says, ‘Our member societies are independent, grass-roots groups of citizens who seek to enhance the quality of life in their communities. The movement has come a long way since the most recent phase of civic societies began in the 1960s and 1970s. While we still regard the protection of heritage in the built environment as a key aim, we see new development as a sometimes necessary step in the direction of vibrancy and prosperity in our communities.

Where civic societies once viewed development in a largely negative way, the civic society movement in our region looks to present development as an opportunity to create the heritage of tomorrow. At YHACS, we are driven by a desire to reconcile the past, present and future of our townscapes with a vision that is developed by communities in their local civic societies.’

Ripon Civic Society, which acted as host of the Fountains Abbey meeting, is a committed member of YHACS and is represented on its executive committee. As part of the afternoon’s proceedings we offered a very brief overview of Ripon and of the society’s role in the city – it was called ‘Blowing the Horn for Ripon . . .’ The main focus of the meeting, though, was volunteering, and the keynote speaker was Andrew Moss, National Trust volunteer co-ordinator at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal.

Andrew’s role covers all aspects of managing volunteers at the estate – from catering to archaeologists, organists (at St Mary’s Church, in case you were wondering) to guides. He provided many insights into the recruitment, training and motivation of the many volunteers who help the Fountains estate to run smoothly – and stressed that all volunteers, in whatever role, are part of the National Trust’s customer service.

He also looked at how problems with volunteers should be dealt with (they do happen occasionally!) and how sensitivity is needed in dealing with staff no longer quite able to undertake the role for which they were appointed.

The chairman of YHACS, Kevin Trickett, underlined the importance of Andrew’s message, and also gave tips to the delegates on how to recruit, motivate and manage civic society committee members. He stressed that all committee members should have a defined role – and that they all have a ‘corporate responsibility’ for their society’s well-being. This was of particular current relevance to Ripon Civic Society; we are currently looking for a new secretary. The role has been divided and slimmed, and any volunteers would be welcome!

The regular YHACS meetings also give the opportunity for member societies to bring local problems to the attention of the whole group and ask for advice and support. At the Fountains Abbey meeting we heard from a representative of Pickering Civic Society about that society’s concerns about the possibility of fracking in Ryedale, one of the areas that have been identified as a key site for developing the industry. The secretary of Skipton Civic Society raised concerns about the numerous sites that have been identified for housing in the Skipton area, about flood defences and developments on the flood plain of the River Aire. Members made several suggestions and comments, and the YHACS committee will consider how best the association can support the societies that have controversial planning proposals on their patch.

Yorkshire and Humber is one of the few English regions that has such a flourishing umbrella organisation for civic societies and civic trusts, and YHACS is valued by those societies as a source of information and for the exchange of ideas in its meetings and newsletter, for its regular campaigns, and for its links with regional and national public, private and non-profit bodies.

Ripon Civic Society finds its links with YHACS and with other societies and trusts around the region extremely helpful. We were proud to host the recent meeting, and we shall continue to support the association and our fellow members of the civic movement. Our city and our region are worth the effort! Why not join us?

– Kevin Trickett, chairman of YHACS and president of Wakefield Civic Society, will be the speaker before the AGM of Ripon Civic Society, at Allhallowgate Methodist Church Hall, Victoria Grove, starting at 7.30pm on Thursday, November 7; everyone is welcome – non-members pay £3.