Shaftesbury’s second annual Civic Day takes place on Wednesday 12th June. The event, which starts at 10am in the Town Hall, will recognise local heroes and showcase the best of Shaftesbury.
ThisIsAlfred spoke with Civic Society members planning the morning, which is intended to reflect our strong sense of community.
“One of our aims is to bring people together,” said Christopher Price, the main organiser of Civic Day. Christopher’s preparations have revealed the range of groups, clubs and activities on offer within our small town of 7,000 residents.
“There are over 140 different community and activity groups, from Age Concern, football, cricket, bowls, scouts and guiding through to painting, singing, bridge, snooker, yoga and Zumba. It’s absolutely amazing. I don’t know another small town that has so many,” said Christopher, who says that he lived in a number of neighbouring towns before settling in Shaftesbury three years ago. “I haven’t found a community as buzzy and as interesting as Shaftesbury,” he added.
Christopher would like Civic Day to help both new and established residents create contacts and forge new friendships. “The recent Shaftesbury Festival of Food and Drink with the Gold Hill Cheese Race and the Shaftesbury Fringe in July are just two examples of how you can bring people together in a social, happy environment,” said Christopher.
He would also like residents who are facing problems and challenges to understand that help is on offer from many of the attending groups. “What the society wants to do is give people a snapshot of the volunteer organisations in Shaftesbury and how they can provide enjoyment, and in some cases help, to those who might need it. That’s the young, the old and the disabled,” Christopher said.
Visitors will be able to browse the community groups’ stalls and learn more about their services. “You can go to one of these organisers and say, ‘I have a problem. What can you do to help that?’ It probably isn’t the place to discuss it in there, but at least they’ve seen the organisation, they can get the details and then make an appointment to meet up later.”
Christopher has filled the Town Hall space with as many clubs and organisations as he could fit in. “We can only put 25 stalls in there. That leaves about 120 unable to go,” he said, adding, “We have got some real biggies. The Shaftesbury Arts Centre, most people know about. Every week, they have more than twenty different activities going on.”
“Shaftesbury Library is going to be there for the first time. I’m a great fan of that library,” Christopher said. “It is a community hub. There have been plans in the past to cut these libraries, but over my dead body will they touch this one. They do so much, not just for the ordinary reader but for the elderly and for the children too. They have a lot of activities there.”
Christopher adds that the Visually Impaired Group, Father’s House and their Open House project will be represented during the event. North Dorset’s Disability Information service is attending along with the Shaftesbury-based Hope charity, which stands for ‘helping other people evolve’ which Christopher refers to as ‘a terrific organisation’. Newly-formed environmental campaign group ‘Planet Shaftesbury’ will be there too. “Diane Harris is going to give a talk in the early afternoon, after our annual general meeting.” Said Christopher.
Shaftesbury Camera Club, The Royal British Legion, RAFA, Shaftesbury Town Silver Band, Westminster Hospital League of Friends, Shaftesbury Youth Club, the Community Choir, Car Link, Shaftesbury in Bloom, Gold Hill Museum, Shaftesbury Twinning Association, the White Hart Link, Shaftesbury Fair Trade and Read Easy are amongst some of the other groups that have confirmed attendance.
Shaftesbury’s population has grown in recent years and the Civic Society Secretary Jackie Upton King hopes that new residents will discover new opportunities if they attend Civic Day. “We’ve got huge numbers of new people who’ve come into the town who don’t yet quite belong. And these sort of events, I hope, will start to make that happen.”
The groups and clubs taking part should also benefit from their attendance. Christopher says some of the returning groups have told him that they recruited new volunteers at last year’s event. That is why he wants to hold Civic Day every year. “I want it to develop and grow into something that becomes part of the calendar for Shaftesbury. There’s a lot of stuff going on in Shaftesbury and this is the place to find out.”
Civic Day offers residents a window into the work of Shaftesbury Civic Society, too. Broadly, the society wants to protect the aspects of Shaftesbury life that many residents value. They are keen to prevent development that spoils our views, slopes and the town’s setting.
Recently the Society backed a campaign opposing a housing development alongside New Road in Enmore Green. Dorset councillors turned down that proposed new estate. The Civic Society is also objecting to Persimmon’s plan to build homes south of the A30 on land that is ring-fenced for job creation.
“We have grown our membership by a reasonable amount this year because I think we have taken a higher profile on the planning side. That’s not to say that we are totally anti-everything,” advised Jackie. “We are not a group of ‘nimbys’. We want to encourage good design and good quality house building in the right places.”
At 1pm on Wednesday, after the open morning, the Shaftesbury Civic Society will host its Annual General Meeting and the presentation of an award dedicated to the late Rachel Caldwell, who launched the society in 1963. “We felt that we ought to remember her extraordinary life with an annual award for the organisation or the person who has contributed substantially to the life of Shaftesbury during the year, because it’s a perpetual way of remembering her,” said Jackie, adding, “She was very much the essence of bringing people together in Shaftesbury. She also was prominent with Swans Trust and the Task Force and all sorts of local organisations. She was always there.”
Last year the Civic Society trustees chose the Hilltop Litter Pickers as first recipients of the Rachel Caldwell Award. “They are a group who work quietly in the background and we all rather take them for granted,” said Jackie. “We found out that they didn’t have any funding, they just do it on a voluntary basis and they manage it themselves. They were really thrilled at being recognised.”
Civic Society President Sir John Stuttard will present the prize. “The award consists of a framed certificate and £50 towards the organisation or the person involved,” said Jackie.
In the meantime, Christopher wants you to call into the Town Hall from 10am to 1pm on Wednesday 12th June. “We’re going for a morning slot because Shaftesbury is a little busier in the mornings than the afternoons. I really do hope people will come and pop their head in for a few minutes and have a look to see what’s on offer.”