Talks and Discussions
Exeter Civic Society welcomed 40+ visitors for the morning and again for the afternoon session of their Diamond Jubilee Celebration on 22 Oct 2022. Chairman Keith Lewis opened the day with looking back to the founding days of the Society. He said how an increase in active membership can make a difference for the future of Exeter and welcomed Exeter’s citizens to join the Society.
In the morning, Todd Gray and Claire Maudling presented intro papers about citizens’ involvement in Exeter’s development in the 20th century. Todd Gray’s examples showed how stepping up and making an issue of things with the perspective of what is feasible and possible has influenced how Exeter looks today. He linked this back to W.G. Hoskins, one of the founding fathers of Exeter Civic Society, and his fight to save the Higher Market in the early 1960s. And Todd Gray linked Hoskins’ endeavour to his very own interference, when after the devastating fire in 2016, what was left of the Royal Clarence was in danger to be permanently destroyed. Clare Maudling, too, explained the important role the public has played again and again, and that, what had not seemed to be old enough to be retained in one period, very soon became historical substance, of which Exeter has still a lot to offer in various clusters. It was interesting to see how the agents driving the so often conflicting process between preservation and modernisation change over time. The presentations were followed by an engaged discussion of the audience with the panel, often linking the examples of the near past to present day issues.
The afternoon was dedicated to Exeter’s future, with short papers on the Exeter Plan, Co-Living and 21st-Century Architecture. Keith Lewis introduced a critical, but constructive reading of some parts of the newly published ‘Draft of the Exeter Plan’. Jane Evans looked into the feasibility of various co-living developments in Exeter; a policy guide for this sector, so it became clear, is of utmost importance in order to regulate a market which otherwise might lead to accommodation which is too small and too expensive for wider use. Gert Vonhoff concluded the afternoon with providing some ideas why higher density building in Exeter might be necessary, where it could blend in with existing buildings and the topography, and how building for the future needs to be both creative and technologically advanced in order to produce the housing stock people want to live in. With all the brownfield sites to be developed we approach an important junction to create something which is good enough to become our legacy to future generations. The debate after each paper showed an appetite for more active citizen engagement with planning for and redeveloping the city; the view that ‘Exeter Civic Society’ must continue to play a crucial part in all of this was widely shared. New members will help to make its activities go even further.
Memories of an engaging day to celebrate 60 years of ECS working for the citizens of Exeter
Lord Mayor of Exeter visited exhibition
The Lord Mayor of Exeter Councillor Mrs Yolanda Henson honoured the Society with her visit in the early afternoon. She was welcomed by the society’s President Hazel Harvey and the Chairman Keith Lewis. The Lord Mayor then visited the Society’s stalls providing information about its Blue Plaque activities, current concerns and initiatives and the collaboration with the Haven Banks and Waterlane community. She engaged into talks with members, before she was guided to the stalls of visiting partner organisations, where she talked to their representatives. The Exeter Cycle Campaign, Devon and Exeter Institution, Exeter Historic Buildings Trust and the Friends of the Exeter Ship Canal provided a taste of how the networking of all these different organisations and the Exeter Civic Society can make a difference for the future of our city.
The Lord Mayor of Exeter Councillor Mrs Yolanda Henson being welcomed and talking to representatives at the various stalls
Some Snapshops of the Stall of Invited Partner Organisations
Our very own Society Blue Plaque (for a bit of fun) and other activities for our guests
Ian Maxted had produced a mock Blue Plaque celebrating the Society’s 60th anniversary.
The visitors had the chance to look through a selection of books both from the Society and Todd Gray. A draft of the revised 1982 St Leonard’s booklet of the Society’s own ‘Rediscovering Exeter’ series was on show, as was a preprint of the Society’s ‘Prospectus for the Redevelopment of the Wider Water Lane Area’.
The guests were asked to leave post-it notes about their own concerns of and ideas for Exeter. Some of them read:
- ‘There is no point in promoting low car use without a massive improvement in public transport, routes and frequency.’
- ‘Purpose-built flats for non-students.’
- ‘Don’t chop down our mature trees.’
- ‘A farmers’ market under the iconic roof of the old bus station.’
- ‘More cycling lanes (not shared paths).’
In voting for their priority issues to be resolved, public transport came top, to be followed by the demand for low-car communities and wishes for a greener city (more trees, bushes and flowers). The Exeter Plan, helping independent shops and co-living issues built the middle ground. What to do with the Debenham’s Building ranked higher than the general development of the High Street. Some expected outcomes one might say, but some surprises as well – though this only was a very limited snapshot. An exercise like this, but on a wider basis could perhaps provide some valuable insights into what Exeter citizens want.
(Author: Gert Vonhoff, ECS, 23 Oct 2022)