This December the Civic Trust for Wales will celebrate its 50th anniversary. The raison d’etre of the Trust is to promote civic pride as a means of improving the quality of life for all in the places where we live and work. The Trust encourages community action, good design, sustainable development and respect for the built environment amongst people of all ages. Although compared to the wider civic movement we are youngsters, as the umbrella organisation for civic societies, the celebration is really one for the whole civic movement which was active before the Civic Trust for Wales was formed.
The civic movement has been integral to the development of planning The London (civic) Society’s membership included a majority of the founding committee of the Town Planning Institute, while Patrick Abercrombie and Raymond Unwin were both members of civic associations, and used the meetings to outline their approaches to planning. Abercrombie called for a network of neighbouring voluntary associations across the country to counteract governmental centralisation and to ensure that planning authorities heard public opinion.
Civic societies can trace their origins to the rapid urbanisation of the 1800s from which improvement or preservation groups sought to improve the changing landscape or preserve and maintain ancient or medieval remains. (See ‘A brief history of the Civic Society Movement’). In the 1920s an early conference of civic societies was organised but it wasn’t until 1938 that the first national body, the Central Council of Civic Societies, was formed. In 1957 the Civic Trust (a UK body) was founded by Duncan Sandys with the aim of acting in its own right to lobby over the quality of new buildings and public spaces and the conservation of historic environments, but also to support local civic societies
Societies around Britain affiliated to this Trust. In 1964, to reflect the increasing interest in the distinctiveness of the built environment – a consistent feature of the civic movement, The Civic Trust for Wales was formed under the aegis of its first President The Earl of Snowdon.
Reflecting the wider civic movement trend for close interconnections between societies,city council officers and influential people, the new Trust’s Board Members included Meryvn Jones (Jones the Gas); William Cartwright (High Sheriff of Glamorgan 1961); Shirley, Marchioness of Anglesey; Alex Gordon (architect); The Rt Hon Sir Frederic Elwyn Jones (Lord Chancellor); Lt Col Sir Grismond Picton Phillipps (Lord Lieutenant of Carmarthenshire); Dewi Prys Thomas; Wynford Vaughan Thomas (journalist and one time President of CPRW). The objectives of the Trust were set out in the constitution: “…the encouragement of high quality in architecture, building and town and country planning in Wales. And the preservation of buildings, of artistic distinction or historic interest A sense of civic pride amongst members of the public generally, the stimulation of public consciousness, and appreciation of the beauty, history and character of Wales.”
Over the past fifty years the evolving Board and staff have sought to achieve these objectives despite, as with all similar small organisations, struggling to make ends meet. From 1988 to 2014, thanks to an annual grant from Cadw, the Trust has been fortunate to employ a permanent Director, Dr Matthew Griffiths
The work of the Civic Trust for Wales
The core purpose of the Civic Trust for Wales is to foster and support civic societies. There are currently 52 affiliated societies in Wales. Concerned with sense of place and local character, they engage with conservation and development issues through planning casework and the promotion of public understanding. Civic societies are unusual amongst voluntary environmental groups in that they combine concerns for good design, conservation and economic vitality, and therefore have the potential to contribute to the character and focus of regeneration initiatives. Many societies are engaged in the planning policy process at local and national level, involved in the planning application process, Conservation Area Advisory Committees; presenting annual awards for design; and the development of blue plaques providing information on local settlement development and history.
The Trust has provided support to societies at public inquiries, policy briefings, and technical advice on planning applications, particularly conservation area and listed building matters. Successes include working with the Fishguard Civic Society to stop the development of a by-pass through the historic Lower Town.
In 1975 the Trust was asked to organise European Architectural Heritage Year in Wales on behalf of the Council of Europe. In 1993 the Trust was asked by the Rt. Hon Wyn Roberts, the Secretary of State for Wales, to pilot European Heritage Days (Open Doors) in Wales. This initiative came from the Council of Europe, and involved free access to buildings which normally charged or which were not open to the public. Open Doors grew to become an established annual event with over 400 sites and 1327 events across Wales in 2013. However, due to budget cuts the Trust has, this year, relinquished organisaton of the programme to Cadw.
Early on the Trust became involved in a range of projects including working on improvement schemes for conservation areas in Laugharne and Caernarfon. The Trust has also worked in partnership to undertake conservation studies of Llandeilo, Newport, Knighton and lately Morriston, Swansea. Working with the late Sam Romaya of Cardiff School of Planning, the Trust researched ‘Conservation Area Management in Wales’ and provided training for professionals. Amongst many seminars and conferences held by the Trust was “The Assembly, Planning and Design”, held in 1999 in association with Sue Essex. This set out to explore the development of a distinctively Welsh planning and environmental policy. The Seminar advocated an all-Wales approach to strategic planning, an international approach to planning and design, promotion of civic awareness, regional guidance to support UDPs, integrated transport policy, a raised profile for urban design and a public champion for design in the built environment. Subsequently, together with the IWA, the Trust was asked to present ideas for a Welsh Design Commission. This led to the formation of DCFW. Our current work focuses on Characterisation which is featured in the Spring edition of Cynllunio, and on our website. We are also a founding partner in the newly formed ‘Wales Heritage Network‘.
The Trust’s respected publication About Wales has become an on-line publication giving greater access to its articles (look in the ‘About Wales’ page of the Civic Trust website for current and back copies). The website also provides specific support and updates for societies, as well as characterisation work and Civic Trust responses to consultations.
We would like to compile the top fifty individuals in Wales who have been influential in the civic movement and we would welcome people’s suggestions. Our list so far includes:
1 Patrick Abercrombie,
2 Dr Matthew Griffiths,
3 Sue Essex
Please email suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will compile a list on the website.
Hewitt L & Pendlebury J (2014) Local associations and participation in place: change and continuity in the relationship between state and civil society in twentieth-century Britain Planning Perspectives, 29:1, 25-44
Hewitt (2014) A Brief History of the Civic Movement Civic Voice
Civic Trust for Wales records.