Civic Voice - the successor to the Civic Trust?

Following the Society's AGM, we welcomed Freddie Gick, Vice Chairman of Civic Voice to explain to us how this new organisation had been created to fill the vacuum created by the demise of the Civic Trust. Freddie is no stranger to the West Midlands. Living in Sutton Coldfield, he was Chairman of Birmingham Civic Society. Currently he also chairs the West Midlands Association of Amenity Societies, of which this Society is a member.

The demise of the Civic Trust has left local Civic Societies with no national voice and an inability to share initiatives and experiences. Civic Voice, created with the help of The National Trust and the CPRE aims to go some way to remedy this situation. But it is a lean organisation with just two staff and so its priorities have to be clearly defined. It publishes regular newsletters, promotes the Civic Pride initiative aimed at supporting Civic Societies' drive to reduce street clutter and has launched Civic Day in June when all Civic Societies are being encouraged, through local initiatives, to promote themselves and their activities. It is also involved in lobbying central government. Already 270 Societies have joined Civic Voice, but many more have been reluctant to do so, since it is still unclear what benefits the new organisation could bring to individual societies. Here in Lichfield, the Society has joined, but will continue to monitor the situation to ensure that our membership fee reflects real benefits.

The role of a national organisation like Civic Voice has still yet to be fully articulated. Some think that there is no need for a national voice for Civic Societies; some are asking what the benefits would be; do we want to be in a stronger position to influence governments? All these questions come at a time of change in government policy that will have profound effects on Civic Societies. The Localism Bill promotes more localised decision making; the "Big Society" concept suggests that we should take greater responsibility for our local affairs. This puts all Civic Societies at the centre of volunteering and the protection and enhancement of their localities. Yet, how can we do this with a limited membership? Increasing our own membership, especially to younger people, is an issue to which we need to give urgent consideration . Perhaps we are at a crossroads...lets hope that the clutter of signs doesn't confuse us when it comes to choosing the best direction in which to move!

Roger Hockney
February 2011