Most people who live here know that Shaftesbury is special. But it’s good to be reminded! And Thursday’s Civic Day events left locals in no doubt over the strong sense of local pride here.
“It is a very unique place. A lovely close-knit community in beautiful surroundings,” said Julie from the Shaftesbury-based Hope charity.
Carolyn Cox, Chairman of The Friends of Westminster Memorial Hospital, agreed. “Shaftesbury is special because it has this beautiful community hospital so that people can come and be looked after closer to home, where their friends and relatives can visit,” Carolyn said.
It is Shaftesbury’s creative community – the people who give up so much of their time to enhance local life – that impressed Jenny Parker, Chairman of the Arts Centre. “The town is full of talented people and lots of enthusiastic volunteers,” said Jenny.
On Thursday afternoon, anybody visiting the Town Hall would have heard dozens of messages like that as representatives of local clubs, societies and community groups celebrated Civic Day. “Nearly thirty groups turned up to show people where they are and what they do and what they can do to help. It’s a good example of how everybody pulls together in Shaftesbury,” said Robin Miller of the Royal British Legion.
Robin summed up one of the Civic Society’s two main goals of the event – designed to showcase how our community groups are making a difference. Civic Day’s second aim was to encourage discussion about democracy in an informal setting, over a cuppa and a cake.
The programme, inspired by the UK Parliament Equalities events, included a talk about Shaftesbury social reformer John Rutter by author Sir John Stuttard. South West Wiltshire MP Andrew Murrison also spoke about the changes in society, which occurred between the Civil and First World Wars. He gave fictional examples as he read excerpts from his historic novel ‘Redemption’.
North Dorset MP Simon Hoare was present for most of the afternoon. He said that it is important for political representatives to meet people face-to-face, in an era when Facebook and email are often used to communicate political messages.
“Politics is about talking but it is also about listening,” Mr Hoare said. “We politicians are great at standing up on our hind legs, telling people what we think. I really like the opportunities where you can meet in small or medium groups and in places where people feel comfortable. Where you can have a cup of tea and a natter, a chat about life.”
Dr Murrison’s constituency doesn’t include Shaftesbury, but Ludwell, The Donheads and Semley lie within his seat. He says he wanted to take part in Civic Day because he recognised Shaftesbury as a ‘pukka place’. “It is a proper town,” he said. “A quintessential English market town.”
Dr Murrison said Shaftesbury was “a place that has an extraordinary history and a sense of itself.” He said that he had been pleased to be associated with Shaftesbury over the years since many of his constituents used the town for services.
Many residents who were in town on Thursday afternoon were drawn towards the Town Hall by the harmonies of the Shaftesbury Community Choir. And if they ventured inside they would soon have discovered how much is going on in Shaftesbury. They would have been impressed by the vibrant atmosphere and the colourful rows of tables, club banners, wall displays and dozens of volunteers sharing their stories and successes.
Some groups brought interesting objects associated with their work to add interest to their tabletop displays. Enmore Green’s Community Field representative brought a frisbee to represent their activities. The Camera Club’s boards were covered with incredible photographic images. The town’s Silver Band displayed a cornet.
A 3-foot tall bronze tube, decorated with the RAF emblem of an eagle on a globe and pictures of service founder Major Trenchard, dominated the Royal Air Force Association’s space. Elfed Jones explained that this token had been sent to mark the RAF’s centenary year. ”This arrived today on an aircraft. We have it for one week. It will be on display at Gold Hill Fair on July 1st before it goes back to Compton Abbas and it is flown to another branch. It goes around the country. There are three of them in total and every branch has one for some stage,” Elfed said with pride.
Some of the Shaftesbury organisations attending are well known. Swan’s Trust came along to share their news. “Many people may know about Swan’s Yard, the little artisan units that we rent out, to help kick start small businesses,” explained Anna McDowell. “We can also promote the projects that we have supported, like the Snowdrops Festival, Food Festival and a small publication about the history of Shaftesbury – A Town Of Slopes and Views.
Whilst Swans Trust, Gold Hill Museum and the Abbey Museum are established, Civic Day provided an opportunity to introduce new volunteering opportunities. Members of the White Hart Link, a network of footpaths around North Dorset, were represented.
Members of Walking For Health, which is backed by the Ramblers Association and Macmillan, were all wearing name badges and inviting people to chat. “We’re encouraging lots of people locally to come on walks of up to 90 minutes,” said their leader, Peter Wells. “We cater for all abilities and we can adapt the walk depending on their abilities. It’s great getting people out for exercise in the fantastic local countryside.”
Each walk ends with a cafe stop and that’s allowed Henrietta Edwards to forge new friendships. She moved to a village near Shaftesbury last autumn and she said that meeting people in an isolated, small rural community would have been more difficult without the group. “Especially in a village. That’s why I joined. I now walk three times a week. I do the early morning walk and there’s one at midday and an early evening walk,” Henrietta enthused. “I’ve met a lot of people and many of them come from other villages as well. Some of us meet later as well. We’ve really enjoyed it,” she said.
There are social and wellbeing benefits but Peter is also keen to highlight the healthy aspects of regular walking. “We’re hoping that we’re going to get referrals from the medical centres,” Peter said.
As with any new event, aspects of Civic Day will require tweaking before it happens again. Most groups that went along said that they found the afternoon useful but public attendance levels were a little lower than had been expected. The sunshine, competing events and the time of day, or day of the week, chosen might all have been contributing factors.
Shaftesbury Civic Society Chairman Mike Madgwick was pleased, though. “So many people were really buzzing about what’s going on and the opportunity to network. It is testimony to what we have always said – that there is a huge amount of volunteer opportunity that really creates the glue of this community,” he said.
And Civic Society Honorary Secretary Jackie Upton King says the day achieved it’s objective in sharing a pride of place. “The feedback we have already had just confirms that we are starting a process where people are beginning to talk to each other and learn what all the other organisations in the town are doing,” Jackie says.
Mike says he’s committed to continuing with Civic Day and he welcomes more comments, which will help ensure that the next event is even better. He says that the most important question is how frequently should Civic Day be held? “Do we do it as an annual event or do we do it bi-annually?” Mike asked.