A review of our May talk by Mary Champion

Stephen Langtree, the Chairman of the North West Association of Civic Trust Societies, came to speak to us on Tuesday 25th May. Stephen was brought up in Millom, went to Manchester University, and has since lived in Lancaster and Chester. He was Chairman of Chester Civic Trust for 8 years and its Secretary for 5 years.

Stephen explained that, in the late 1990s, the Civic Trust in London wanted civic societies to form regional associations. The North West region corresponds to the area covered by various government and other bodies - it is not dependent on the creation of an elected Regional Assembly. There are 95 civic societies in the North West and all are automatically part of NW.ACTS - which can therefore claim to represent their 22,000 members. The running costs are minimal and a grant of £2,000 per year is given by the Civic Trust. There are no staff and no headquarters, though there is a Constitution.

The main aim of the regional association is to get the local societies talking to and helping one another. There are 15 members on the NW.ACTS committee, comprising 3 from each of the 5 County areas. A great deal of networking is undertaken, and several common interests have already been identified. Almost by definition, civic societies are parochial and tend not to get involved with the rest of the region. A survey is being undertaken by NW.ACTS on how they fund themselves, and how they liaise with local councillors, schools and the business community.

Stephen highlighted the fact that most members of civic societies are middle aged to elderly - and they are sometimes seen as out of touch with 'the community'. Some societies, however, have got involved with their local primary schools. The Civic Trust has a scheme called the Pathfinder Training Programme, and Committee members of local societies are also encouraged to attend various seminars, taking advantage of subsidised places for which NW.ACTS has managed to obtain sponsorship.

Stephen concluded his talk by outlining the role of the national Civic Trust. It responds to government consultation documents (25 already, so far this year!) on behalf of all of us. Only about 30 people are employed, and the Trust has recently moved from Carlton House Terrace to Marylebone to save money. The success of the Trust in many ways rests with the regional associations, who are in a position both to develop 'friendly relationships' with bodies like the North West Development Agency and English Heritage, and to ensure that the views expressed by the Civic Trust reflect those of local societies such as our own.

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