History of the civic movement

Surely a movement that is 167 years old would have a story associated with its life? Well, up until now, this has not been the case for the civic society movement. It was something that Civic Voice had wanted to put right since we launched. On April 17th, 2014 we did just that! 

Obviously to tell the full story of the movement would involve exertion greater than "War and Peace" due to the story beginning on September 18, 1846, at the first meeting the world first civic society in Sidmouth. As such we have decided to tell the story in a format that is much more accessible in tone and style to as many as possible, and is enjoyable and informative to read. This has meant that not every campaign, project or success has been recorded. We believe this is better told at a local level. We are more focused on the story of the movement and have tried to link it in a broader historical context with key societal events and the development of the movement as a whole.

Order A Brief History of the Civic Society Movement today!

The author is Dr Lucy Hewitt who is based at Glasgow University worked with us on this. Lucy has particular interests in urban history and geography from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century so was an ideal person to look into the history. Over the past 18 months, she has been talking with groups and has collated what we believe to be the first ever attempt at telling the story of one of the oldest
movements in the country, whilst the final version is being proof-read by Gillian Wain from the Fleet and Church Crookham Society and Professor Jan Pahl from the Canterbury Society to help iron out any factual errors and spelling mistakes!

Developing the publication has often been a labour of love (all 35 pages of the publication!), carried out by a person with expert knowledge in this area. We now hope that the story of the movement will inspire others from across the country to want to be involved in the next chapter as we move forward under the leadership of Civic Voice.

The movement received a major boost when Duncan Sandys gave it a national voice in 1957 with the creation of the Civic Trust as a champion for the character and diversity of the buildings and places that make up our cities, towns and villages. From the outset, the Civic Trust focused not only on conservation, but also on bringing about positive change and promoting higher standards. The Civic Trust’s work included drafting legislation which created conservation areas in 1967 – there are now 9,300 conservation areas in England - and it ran the country’s largest voluntary cultural event – Heritage Open Days - until going into administration in April 2009. Remarkably, despite its importance, there is no true history of the civic movement or its relationships to other social movements and changes in society over nearly 200 years.

A number of civic societies have their own histories, researched and written by local volunteers. These are expected to grow rapidly in number as many civic societies approach their 50th anniversary. Yet, the movement lacks the story of its roots and its significance and the project is designed to address this gap. The benefits of understanding and celebrating the importance of the civic movement have rarely been more important. There is growing recognition of the importance of social and community action and we are at the formative stage in the development of a new chapter for the civic movement with the establishment of Civic Voice following the recent closure of the Civic Trust. This project presents an opportunity to develop this new phase on inspiring foundations. 

Get Involved

A group of around 30 volunteers from the following groups has already come forward in response to a request for expressions of interest in the project: Worthing Society Hinckley Society Market Weighton Civic Society Kilbarchan Civic Society Chippenham Civic Society Cirencester Civic Society Bexley Civic Society Tiverton Civic Society Faversham Society Harrogate Civic Society Leicester Civic Society Formby Civic Society Petersfield Society Hale Civic Society Merseyside Civic Society Portsmouth Society Staffordshire Civic Society Swindon Civic Trust Malvern Civic Society Halifax Civic Trust Bewdley Civic Society Brighton Society Kidderminster Civic Society The Broadstairs Society Littleborough Civic Trust

If you are interested in learning more about and contributing to the history of the civic movement project then contact us at info@civicvoice.org.uk


We are looking for donations to cover the cost of printing this publication. Every donation will be greatfully acknowledged in the final publication. Donate to help tell the story of the civic society movement now!