In his recent letter to Members, Civic Society Chair, Andrew Booton gives an update on Covid-19 and its effect on the Society's activities.
1 May 2020
I trust this note finds you well and coping as well as can be expected under the circumstances. I thought this might be a good time to update you on Civic Society business.
AGM. Due to Covid-19, we were forced to cancel this year's AGM. We followed Charity Commission advice on trustee succession and welcome new trustees Steve Bryson and Sarah Harvey. Steve has already taken over as Our Town Editor and Communications lead and Sarah will lead on Heritage Open Days. Claire Attenborough will assume the role of Treasurer from Andrew Chard. Andrew has kindly offered to remain as a trustee as has Richard de Carteret. We say goodbye to Fiona Clarke and thank her for her tremendous hard work and sound judgment.
Events. This year, we sought to make our events programme more active and less sedentary so it is with some irony that we have had our wings clipped by Covid-19! You will appreciate that all our trips and talks have had to be cancelled. We will obviously keep an eye on the changing situation and will seek to reinstate some of them as soon as practicable. We would certainly like to get together, if possible, for the summer party to re-establish friendships, although given the reports of many whilst under lock and key, I suspect dieting and drying out might be preferable to some!
Planning Forum. The Planning Forum has continued to submit responses for planning applications and listed building consents to Cheltenham Borough Council. This has been facilitated by relaxation of government rules on remote working and submission dates but, like so many changes to our lives, I suspect this model will be retained after the crisis. It was a pleasure to welcome David Oakhill, Head of Planning at Cheltenham Borough Council, as an observer at the last online meeting. Interestingly, he reported that, unlike some local authorities, there has been no discernible reduction in planning applications in Cheltenham during 'lockdown.'
Projects. Many of us are rediscovering old interests and hobbies. Just because we are cooped up doesn't mean we can't make ourselves useful or look ahead to when we can start to return to normality, so here are a few projects and activities we have either underway or lined up, to which you might like to contribute:
a. The Society has long discussed collating photographs of Cheltenham. With time on our hands, we would like to pull together a few volunteers to start that project off with a simple methodology, archive and index as well as the collation itself.
b. Phil Collins has started digitising the Civic Society Scrapbooks by photographing them, editing them and saving them for future reference. We have plenty of volumes to go through so if anyone is interested in helping out with this task from the safety of their home, please email Phil (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we'll look to make arrangements.
c. Linked with the previous projects, we will probably never see our town as quiet as this again so when you are popping out for your exercise or provisions, perhaps you could capture some photographs of quiet Cheltenham to add to the archive. Signs of the crisis and changes to our everyday routine are likely to be most interesting to those following us.
d. We're preparing the June Issue of Our Town and would like your input. We've learnt a lot about ourselves, other people, our habitat and our institutions during this 'lockdown' and we'd like to hear your brief reflections on them as they affect the Civic Society's interests. What have you missed in town and that is therefore now more valuable to you? What haven't you missed that perhaps you could live without? Thinking of the consequences for businesses and organisations, what do you think will change in Cheltenham? What measures might help the town? How do you think the Civic Society can help the town to adjust to its new operating environment? These are the sort of questions we'd like you to address but there may be others. Please email your brief comments to Steve Bryson email@example.com.
If you have any other ideas about our role in the 'bounce back,' we'd be delighted to hear from you. Please feel free to share this letter with friends and family. In the meantime, stay safe and we look forward to catching up in person before too long.
Fed up with getting nowhere with its previous attempts to draw attention to the poor condition of the public realm in our High Street, the Civic Society’s Successful Streets Group (SSG) is upping the ante this year.
Old lamp-post, now ashtray!
SSG saw little point in updating its two-year-old list of 253 issues of concern such as broken paving, grubby bins, cluttered signage and street furniture only to see few - if any - improvements.
It is adopting a new, more proactive approach to working with both local councils that between them control the streetscape, and the various private companies that can help to improve matters (Ubico, BT, Virgin, etc.).
The group’s three-fold focus in 2020 will be to: highlight the categories of problem items; identify and engage constructively with the person or team in the Council or company who have responsibility for these; and follow up to see tasks carried out or, if not possible, to develop new ways to somehow get the jobs done.
NO TO THE DOUBLE ‘NO’!
SSG points out that a significant number of the issues could be sorted quickly and at minimum cost. But despite this, the councils will too often say ‘No’ to something due to lack of budget. But then they also say ‘No’ to alternative constructive suggestions. In future, SSG wants to hear “Yes, we can”!
See here for the full Successful Streets Group Report
As the scheduled talk on 4 February on roads and pavements, or Boots Corner, couldn’t be held as planned, Andrew Booton, the Chair, made a presentation focussing mainly on the current crisis in the retail sector in Cheltenham. The retail sector is struggling due to factors common to all high streets these days.
Retailers here also have the added burden of high rates and historically high rents levied by landlords. In conjunction with the borough council, the Civic Society has made efforts to speak to landlords about rents with a view to mitigating some of the effects. Progress is slow though. The matter of rates rests with Whitehall and it is hoped that some redress will be made in theforthcoming budget.
Douglas Ogle died peacefully on 3rd December 2019, aged 85. The celebration of Dougas's life to be held at Pittville Pump Room is now postponed until later this year.
Douglas has been a longstanding and active member of the Civic Society, freely giving his time and professional expertise as an architect and gallerist to further the aims of the society. Whether as a member of the Executive Committee, the Civic Awards Panel or the Planning Forum, his insightful contributions were much valued; and for many years he has brought renowned speakers to Cheltenham for the annual Paterson Memorial lecture. It is fitting that his final contribution was to ensure the Grade II listing of Cheltenham's Hepworth sculpture.
Jeremy Williamson, Managing Director Cheltenham Development Task Force, gave another spirited presentation at Parmoor House on 5 November in his annual update. This year he focussed on the specifics of the West Cheltenham Cyber Park. The nature of the cyber sector means that Cheltenham’s net outflow of younger people could well be stemmed, although the cost of housing in Cheltenham is still likely to challenge many would-be residents. Whilst the proposals are exciting and address a number of overdue issues, the success of West Cheltenham Cyber Park will be defined by its ability to integrate ‘old Cheltenham’ with ‘new Cheltenham’, especially the transport system. The town centre and retail centres around it must be updated, rejuvenated and properly integrated to ensure Cheltenham’s longer term prosperity and vitality.
In accordance with Charity Commission guidance, the Trustees have taken the decision to cancel the 2020 AGM. The Annual Report and audited 2019 Accounts will be approved by the Trustees prior to submission to the Charity Commission by 31 October 2020.
Trustee and Officer Changes
Three trustees were due to step down at the AGM and be replaced by two new appointees. By an email process the Executive Committee of Trustees have accepted the resignation, with effect from 18 March 2020, of Fiona Clarke and have thanked her for her long and much valued contribution to the Society. The other two Trustees who were due to resign at the AGM (Richard de Carteret and Andrew Chard) have agreed to remain for the present. Two new Trustees – Steve Bryson and Sarah Harvey – have been appointed with effect from 1 April 2020 and they will serve until the next AGM (whenever that is). Officers will remain as previously: -
Chair – Andrew Booton
Hon. Treasurer – Andrew Chard
Hon. Secretary – Andrew North
We should, according to our constitution, hold our AGM not later than 20 June 2020. However, it seems unlikely that this will be possible. Given this we have been in touch with the Charity Commission and explained the circumstances. The Commission’s response was as follows:
“If you feel that in the best interests of your charity and to follow the governments public health guidance it is necessary to cancel or postpone your charity’s AGM (or any other key meeting) that will be fine. You should record the decision you have made to show good governance. […] whilst it is not ideal to not follow your charities rules, these are exceptional circumstances and the Commission would support any decision made by the trustees that was necessary to follow the governments public health advice during the COVID-19 period.”
The report has been on the website since early March. Hopefully you found it informative. If you have any questions on the report you could email the Chair at firstname.lastname@example.org
Statement of Accounts for 2019
The adjournment of the AGM has provided an opportunity to do further work to the accounts to ensure accuracy and clarity. They will be published on the website as soon as possible and will need to be explicitly approved by members whenever we hold our AGM.
Winter party banishes the blues
About forty-five members and prospective members enjoyed a delicious array of canapes, savoury and sweet, on Sunday 12 January at Parmoor House. Vice Chair Peter Sayers welcomed the guests and outlined preliminary plans for talks and visits during the year. Watch for details on the Events page of our web site. Thanks to Richard and Hilda de Carteret for arranging the party and to Pat and Aiden Rose for so ably assisting.
Charles Landry with Civic Society Chair, Andrew Booton
Charles Landry, renowned cultural urbanist and inventor of the Creative City, held the packed audience spellbound at this year's Paterson Memorial Lecture, as he expounded his philosophy on The Creative City in a Nomadic World. At dynamic pace, accompanied by an eclectic, yet perfectly synchronised slideshow, Charles whizzed us through the return of the nomads, the city in motion, the end of ownership and the impact of the digital world, and finally to creative bureaucracy. It was a tour de force of hugely important ideas for the future of our cities, including Cheltenham, and a profound message for us all to absorb and in some small part, implement.
A must read is Charles' new book The Civic City In A Nomadic World available online here.
The planned programme of Events for 2020 has been cancelled until further notice
Planning applications considered at the online Planning Forum meeting on 26 May 2020 included:-
Land adjacent Oakhurst Rise: Outline application for 43 dwellings
114/116 High Street: Change of use of upper floors to provide 6 flats
Manor Farm, Church Road, Swindon Village: Demolition of outbuildings and construction of 5 dwellings.