Nine of our members, led by our President Dr Celia Clark, had the pleasure of representing the Portsmouth Society at ‘Southern Comfort’ at Comfort’ at the Ghurka Museum in the former Peninsular Barracks in Winchester on Saturday 10 July. This was a formal meeting of local Civic Societies in the South-East, hosted by the City of Winchester Trust and included attendance of about 40 delegates from as far afield as Reading and Weymouth.
The meeting was held in the Ghurkha Museum which itself is located within the redeveloped Peninsula Barracks and which, in the afternoon, formed an impressive back-drop for a guided walk in the scorching sunshine.
The morning session
Delegates were welcomed by Ian Patton Chairman of the City of Winchester Trust who explained the purpose of Southern Comfort – to facilitate co-operation and understanding between neighbouring Civic Societies. He recalled that almost four years had elapsed since the last Southern Comfort. This had been hosted by the Portsmouth Society in 2006.
Judge Clark later made some amusing comments about the potency of the liquor, Southern Comfort. Sadly, he was unaware that, at the time that we held Southern Comfort in Portsmouth, through Roger’s diligence, the distillers of the brew presented us with no less than two free bottles (in lieu of accepting an invitation to sponsor the event). These were later presented to two ‘lucky’ winners of our raffle, though we know not their fate.
The President of the Winchester Trust, His Honour Judge Christopher Clark played an excellent role in chairing the morning discussion and restraining the panellists so that the delegates were not only able to pose questions but also to explain the situations that prompted them. We were represented by Celia Clark on the Panel and she was joined by Tony Fookes, Ian Harvey and Michael Carden who respectively represented Civic Trust (SE), Civic Voice and The Winchester Trust. Celia was asked about Ministry of Defence’s practice of disposing of surplus MoD property and estates to the highest bidder – commonly to the subsequent profit to a developer and she highlighted how this often failed to benefit the local community; Haslar being a prime example.
The Landscape Architect Kim Wilkie who delivered the Keynote Address, was a really inspirational and visionary speaker. He illustrated his theme with pictures of the transformed garden of the V&A He has converted this from a barren quadrangle to become an oasis (literally with a central pool) of calm and beauty that has spurred increased public attendance – at least to the garden , if not to the V & A itself. By even cleverer transition, the pool can vanish( beneath the surface) to form a solid platform for large scale parties.
His current proposals follow the rejection of other plans for the development of Chelsea Barracks, (as objected to by HRH Prince Charles). He illustrated a ‘Green’ environment, incorporating large areas of cultivated area to replace the former parade grounds with planned and self-sustaining horticulture for the benefits of the residents.
Celia Clark recently visited the V & A, and vouched for the beauty and popularity of the new gardens and has expressed the hope that Kim Wilkie’s plans for Chelsea Barracks will get built and not be watered down.
After a very pleasant lunch which presented opportunity for networking we adjourned to our chosen one of the four workshops. Their Themes were:.
1. The Future of Southern Comfort: A productive workshop, which set an excellent – and achievable – target to strengthen the movement for the next two years: first for each city or town to develop closer links with smaller societies and associations within its surrounding area, which will strengthen the Civic Voice movement nationally, and for Southern Comfort to be held in Guildford in 2012.
2. Membership of Civic Societies, recruitment and Subscriptions.The ability of societies to recruit new members varied. Significantly small communities e.g. Fordingbridge achieved a much higher proportion of membership than large urban area eg Portsmouth. No constructive ideas about recruiting younger members
Subscriptions varied, generally £10-£12 maximum £20. There was a consensus that subscriptions could be raised to reflect a valuable product/service. A suggestion for school (PTA)(£30) or corporate (£50) membership
3. Historic Town Status. The Winchester Preservation Trust encourage ex- councillors to join them . This is a way of influencing the City Council through indirect contact to members. The future of Historic Towns Status is impossible to predict until the Government give clear guidelines . The latest statements conflict with existing parliamentary legislation and can only be used as possible guide lines. The Winchester Trust is proposing a new layer of planning control, in addition to listed buildings/ancient monuments and conservation areas, in order to manage change in the most historic towns. This would presumably require government legislation.
4. Trustees, volunteers and managing our workforce. Other Societies have much greater memberships, 800 and 400 were mentioned and also money in the bank; eg £22k and £29k. Maybe they were selling themselves but I detected more organisation; Guildford had 4 sub-teams; planning, transport, heritage and communications. Possibly because we have just been investigating trusteeship the others had less well developed thinking of what a trustee is and who should be one. They were also less aware of incorporation although some had dual Charity and Limited Company status. To increase membership a new member’s party was mentioned and also each member had to introduce a new member concept.
We divided, equally for the choice of two Guided Walks:.
Queen Elizabeth II Court, Hampshire County Council. A successful remodelling and refurbishment of the Hampshire County Council headquarter offices in Winchester. Deane Clark commented that the County Council offices have been most imaginatively transformed since he worked there.
Peninsula Barracks: “The unfinished Versailles”. An impressive walk-about in scorching sunshine lighting the buildings to their best. Obviously no money had been spared to transform these former army barracks to palatial homes surrounding elegantly landscaped gardens. The dispersed structures on and below the hillside had also been sympathetically converted to graceful dwellings.
We thanked our hosts and departed for the very successful and convenient Park and Ride.
A lesson for many crowded cities and towns.
We all can learn from and benefit from the experience of others, by closer contact with each other and by tackling common problems in co-ordination rather than going it alone.
Moves to achieve this, not merely under the aegis of the national organisations of Civic Voice or Civic Trust (South-East), are now afoot, to arrange some local clustering of adjacent Civic Societies to exploit common interests.
As far as the Portsmouth Society is concerned, we could encourage the surrounding groups: Gosport, Portchester (two societies), Fareham, Winchester (southern edge along Portsdown Hill), Bosmere 100 (Havant), Denmead, Petersfield to share information and expertise and work up appropriate joint projects (the World Heritage site being one). The Isle of Wight Society is going to do the same, and on some topics, we could also have a loose Spithead Group with Ryde, Seaview, St. Helens and Brading. These need not be formally constituted, but networks and ‘clouds’ = communities of interest. We can use the data base built up by the Civic Trust South East, and added to by the Winchester Trust.