The new Chairman of Shaftesbury Civic Society has a goal. Roy Mitchell wants his organisation to help find a new use for the former Budgens store on Bell Street.
Roy takes up his new position at a time of some uncertainty. The proposed development of the Cattle Market has divided local opinion and the future of the site remains undecided. Next year, there’ll be significant changes with the arrival of the new unitary council, which heralds the biggest shake-up of local government in North Dorset since 1974.
Roy was admiring the breath-taking view towards Melbury Hill from a tree-shaded bench on Park Walk when Alfred’s Keri Jones joined him for a chat. It’s this stunning scenery and the town’s treasured leafy, green slopes that motivated Roy to take on the Civic Society’s chairmanship at such a challenging time.
“Shaftesbury has a marvellous history. It has lovely people and it is a very special town. The wish of the Civic Society is to keep Shaftesbury special. This view identifies what a pleasant place Shaftesbury is to live in,” said Roy.
So what role does Roy believe that Shaftesbury Civic Society can play in local life? “We are very much an independent body and our remit is to make observations on developments within the area – to keep Shaftesbury a special place,” Roy replied. “We need to ensure that development is sensible and in keeping with the surroundings. I want to stress that the Civic Society is not opposed to development,” he said.
Roy was keen to make the point that he doesn’t want the society to be considered a group of ‘Nimby-ists’ – people who say ‘not in my back yard’ and want Shaftesbury preserved in cotton wool. “We believe that any community that has no development is in decline. We want to make sure that it is managed accurately, carefully and in line with the beautiful surroundings in which we live,” Roy said. “Trends occur. Changes take place in retail. We have to keep up with events as well.”
Roy says the Civic Society does want to keep a closer eye on planning proposals and make representation and share comments, on behalf of its membership. “We intend to scrutinise all planning applications. That’s the way forward. The main thing is to keep a watching brief, not only in Shaftesbury but also in neighbouring Wiltshire because we’re very close to the border and developers in Wiltshire can have an impact on the town also. We intend to hold occasional public meetings to give people a chance to present their views about what will happen to the town,” Roy said.
The Civic Society has decided to hold an open meeting in the autumn to update the town on events and to recruit new members. Roy believes that’s an important way to increase the society’s profile. “The more people who participate, the wider spectrum of views we have. I would like our membership to increase. It is pleasing that the membership has grown by just over 50% since our AGM last month,” he said.
The level of expansion is impressive but Roy is modest about the society’s growth. “It’s come from quite a smallish base, to be fair. The membership is in the 40s. It was in the 20s before. It’s very pleasing though, because there are other towns where the civic society has folded. Warminster is an example. I think people react better to a body that has a higher membership. It’ll have a higher influence within the community.”
So what about specific areas of interest or Shaftesbury Civic Society campaigns? The group has been keen to address North Dorset District Council’s decision to sell the Shaftesbury Cattle Market site. But Roy feels that other bodies are now tackling this issue.
“Our view has always been that we had no solution for the Cattle Market. We had no view as a society on what would happen – whether it would be a supermarket, health centre, whatever. We just felt there should be some debate over what will happen to this last, central, publicly owned and iconic site. We welcome people’s views and comments but it’s outside our hands now,” Ray said.
Roy feels that the Civic Society should become a local think tank. “We will put ideas forward from all of the community. We’ll see which ones are sensible, which ones we can sustain. That’s the key thing. There’s no point in doing something that is not sustainable. You develop it and within twelve months it cannot function. We want ideas of what we can do with a building that can have a least a medium-term future.”
The former Budgens supermarket building is still unoccupied. Roy says that he wants to encourage conversation about its potential use. He believes the appearance of the building ‘bothers’ many locals. “It looks as though no supermarket wants this site in its current format so are there other things to do with it?” he asked. “The supermarket closed over a year ago. It’s looking increasingly unpleasant, more and more derelict. We want to work with the council and developers to see what we can do. At the moment, it’s looking like an eyesore,” Roy added.
“It’s in private ownership but there comes a point when you think, ‘that doesn’t look good.’ Surely the person who owns it would want to do something with it, even if it is only to say ‘can you take it off my hands please?’ It is costing them in terms of maintenance. It doesn’t look good for the town so can they do something sensible with it, something that people want and which will have some commercial benefit for them as well?” Roy asked.
Roy takes over the Civic Society Chairmanship from Mike Madgwick, who stepped down from the role,following the society’s Annual General Meeting. “Mike remains a trustee and a member of the civic society,” said Roy, adding, “Mike has done a great job in increasing the profile of the organisation and putting ideas forward. I’d like to pay tribute to what he’s done in the past and also to our current honorary secretary, Jackie Upton King.”
Roy has been a Civic Society member for two years. He’s also a member of the town’s Twinning Association committee. He was keen to become involved in local life because he’s passionate about Shaftesbury and chose to retire to the town, with which he has a special connection.
“I bought the house in Shaftesbury eight years ago. I’m from Leeds and my background is in transport management. I was a bus company manager and local authority transport manager. We decided to move to Shaftesbury when I retired because the town appealed to us. We spent our honeymoon here in 1976, at the Mitre Inn. That was when they had rooms,” Roy recalled.
Our chat ended where it began – admiring Shaftesbury’s stunning setting. “I love the place and the people here. It’s a really inspiring place to live and with a view like today’s, looking over the hills, it is just beautiful here,” he said. And it seems that retaining the town’s special qualities against the pressures of development is a challenge Roy is keen to accept.