Civic Voice 6 years on

As HRH The Price of Wales said in a letter to our launch event in 2010 “nowhere should be without its civic society and no-one should be without the voice you can provide”. This is as true today as it was when the world’s first civic society – the Sidmouth Association – set up in 1846.

As we reach our 6th anniversary on April 17th, we believe that with the support of our members, we can continue to make the case that the views of civic societies should be heard.

Here are ten achievements that we want to share since we set up six years ago that demonstrate some of the ways we are representing the civic movement in England.

1. All Party Parliamentary Group for Civic Societies.

We need a powerful voice speaking out on the issues that matter and helping the civic movement become even stronger. It is for this reason that we set up the All Party Parliamentary Group for Civic Societies to represent the civic society movement in Parliament. This group helps ensure that the movement’s voice is heard in a consistent manner to the people that matter.

We have had success through utilising the APPG. It was a Civic Voice campaign that persuaded the Government to amend its proposals to extending permitted development rights and we use the APPG to bring together MPs and key audiences in the sector on issues that are impacting on the civic society movement, Recent events include:

• The Future of the Historic Environment
• The impact of housing development on historic towns and cathedral cities
• Recruiting a new frontline to protect the historic environment
Our next meeting will hear from Clive Betts MP who is the Chair of the DCLG Select Committee and we will be discussing the reduced voice of communities in the planning system.

Without Civic Voice we would not be able to have such public support from so many Parliamentarians.

2. Civic Voice Design Awards

At our AGM in 2013, our membership voted for us to implement a new national design award that had community participation and good design at its heart.
Civic Voice was exceptionally proud to hold its first National Design Awards in 2015. The award is unique in that all schemes are nominated by local communities rather than professionals. 62 schemes were submitted and twelve were selected to receive an award for their contribution to improving the quality of the built environment.
We want more people to have a say on local development and the Design Awards will help to demonstrate that people will accept new development when they have been properly consulted and it is of the right standard

The Design Awards only happen because of Civic Voice.

3. Civic Survey

We undertake an annual survey of civic societies and their members and volunteers. This helps shape the priorities and issues for Civic Voice. As well as finding out how Civic Voice has been performing, we also use the survey to find about more about our member’s work and their awareness of the value of Government initiatives such as the Localism Act for civic societies.

We rely on knowing what civic societies and volunteers want and this is one of the most important ways of telling us.

This annual survey only happens because of Civic Voice and gives member a direct way to shape our priorities.

4. Griff Rhys Jones

Griff Rhys Jones is a fantastic ambassador and champion of the civic movement. Griff has been with us since we launched in 2010 and has travelled across the country attending meetings and speaking out on the issues that matter to you and your members. Having a national personality involved in our work allows us to gain greater access to the media and demonstrates the valuable work of civic groups across the country.

Griff has appeared on BBC Politics, Channel 4 News, Sky News and Question Time putting forward our thoughts on the issues of the civic movement.

5. History of the Movement

The first civic society was set up in the 1840s and the movement shares roots in the ninetieth century with bodies such as Society for the Protection of Ancient Building and the National Trust.

Remarkably, despite its important, there was, previously, no true history of the civic movement or its relationship to other social movement and changes in society over nearly 200 years. We decided to change this in April 2014. We were delighted that over 50 civic groups contributed donations to help cover the cost of this publication. We say thank you to all the contributors.

This publication only happened because of Civic Voice.

6. Heritage Open Days

In 1994, the civic movement helped launch the first national co-ordinated Heritage Open Days event with funding from the then Department of Heritage. During the first event, 380 organisers staged 701 site openings, attracting around 150,000 visitors. Twenty years on, the programme enjoys undiminished popularity. Its bigger and more diverse but the foundations set in 1994 still hold fir, the name; free access; open heritage concepts and free public liability cover for venues. Today Heritage Open Days regularly attracts over 4 million visitors and still close to 100 civic societies take part annually.

We were proud to work alongside our partners The National Trust and Heritage Alliance to making it the country’s most successful annual volunteer event.

7. Manifesto: Localism for Real

At our AGM in 2013, the membership voted for us to develop a manifesto to be ready in time for the 2015 General Election. We responded to this call and developed “Localism for Real” and stated that to achieve real localism, the next Government needed to:
• Make improving the quality of the public realm in our cities, towns and villages a priority
• Give all citizens opportunities to actively shape the future of their place
• Give local community the powers they need to enable their town and city centres to prospect
We are continuing to push these themes and pressing for communities to have a greater voice in the planning system through our various campaigns.
This manifesto only happened because of Civic Voice members voted for us to do it.

8. Civic Awards and Marsh Awards

Civic Voice’s vision is a country where every individual can say I am proud of where I live. Civic Day will help us make that happen. Civic Day is focused on the third Saturday in June. Some Civic Days extend over several days but, on a national level, we want to have greater impact by focusing on that third Saturday in June. The Civic Awards recognise the efforts of civic societies and community groups who participate in Civic Day.

The Marsh Civic Awards is an annual award to recognise an “outstanding contribution to the civic movement”. This is part of our aim to share the examples of successful projects across the country. They first started in 2011 and each year we award a prize of £1,000 to the winning civic society. Previous winners include Retford Civic Society, Addingham Civic Society and The Ramsgate Society.

This award only happens because of Civic Voice.

9. Sandys Lecture

This lecture has been established to celebrate and promote the work and national importance of the civic movement and is named in honour of Lord (Duncan) Sandys, who gave the movement a national voice in 1957.
The theme of the lecture is agreed with a keynote speaker each year, and past lectures have included Laura Sandys, Simon Thurley and Sir Terry Farrell.

This lecture only happens because of Civic Voice.
10. War Memorials
At our AGM in 2012, the membership agreed for us to participate in the commemoration of the First World War.

2014 marked the centenary of the start of the First World War. As we reflect on the events of this historic occasion that saw so many people make the ultimate sacrifice, we believe that it is vital that the civic movement ensures that the country has sufficient memorials that are fitting tributes to the fallen.

Civic Voice is delighted to be working closely with DCMS, Historic England and others to ensure that war memorials across the UK are repaired and conserved through the centenary.

The project happened because of Civic Voice.

Our future plans

Our next six years at Civic Voice will be about shaping and strengthening the movement for the opportunities and challenges ahead. We believe that in order to be proud of the places of the future then we need to grasp the opportunities presented by Localism. This is a time of opportunity and we are being offered the chance to reinvigorate the civic movement.

In the coming 12 months we will hold more events, issue more statements, speak at more conferences and be even more visual than we have been in the past five years. We will be reviewing our website and communications, continuing our work in identifying the nation’s war memorials and strengthening our work on community assets. We will inspire more individuals to be active citizens through Civic Day. We will campaign on the issues in our manifesto and continue to press our issues to Government. In our advocacy and campaigning, we will be the voice of the movement.

Getting involved

Civic Voice is about coordinating a movement, but not controlling what individual groups do. Our campaigns are nominated for, and voted on by our members. To get the most from Civic Voice requires groups to put in. The best way to shape our work is to engage on a regional and national level where you can meet and network with groups with similar issues. We established a new Regional Forum in 2015 to again give you a greater voice in shaping the work of the movement.

In 2017, the country will be celebrating 50 years since the introduction of the Civic Amenities Act 1967. Civic Voice will be recognising this anniversary by running a national campaign My Conservation Areas Matter. We will be using this as a way to increase membership of all civic societies across the country and to inspire a new frontline of individuals to get involved and help protect their local historic environment. In parallel we will be making the case for the economic value of the civic movement to ensure we have the killer stats and date we need to support our campaigns.


If the Government is serious about Localism and do not want to “kill it”, they have to listen to the concerns coming forward from civic groups, resident associations and local councils. We agree with the Government that getting the economy moving is essential, but the proposal to undermine local planning, reduce resource and prioritise housing over everything else is not the solution.
We support local groups and help them work together. Together we can build a movement that combines community action with a sense of place for the benefit of everyone. Our vision I simpler “A country where every individual can say “I am proud of where I live”.

We hope that civic groups, individuals, local government and many other will help us to make that happen.

P.s for even more reasons to join Civic Voice you can read our A to Z of Civic Voice