Chair’s Report given at the Annual General Meeting of the Sudbury Society on 23 March 2018
This has been a very busy year for both Committee and Members. We have worked on ‘going public’ with the Society, heard talks on everything from sign-writing to the silk industry and had one of our most successful summer visits – to the Houses of Parliament.
And of course, we had to find a new home. Your Chair looked at 22 possible venues and we are grateful to All Saints Church for accommodating both our Committee meetings and our monthly sessions.
At the beginning of the year we had our best ever Sudbury on Show stand, with 5 new members signed up on one day. Our membership remains strong, with 175 members and 46 Life Members, not including 12 new members in the last few weeks.
This year has been all about heightening our profile within Sudbury and surrounding areas and I believe we have been successful. I have been interviewed twice on Radio Suffolk regarding the new-build to replace the ‘old-build’ in Friars Street – namely the Mattingly’s Building. We had requested that the replacement should conform to the existing buildings in terms of roof line and building materials and we were pleased to note that this was taken into account.
The façade, as we now know, will be a replica of the previous building complete with some of the brick decoration saved from the old structure. Some of us however felt that a golden opportunity had been lost in that a really interesting modern building could have been designed – after all, the Corn Exchange was once a modern building which wouldn’t have fitted in with its surroundings.
We continue to keep up a Press presence and have a regular column written by Committee member Stephen Thorpe. My most recent letter to the Suffolk Free Press concerned the bypass. We recognise as a Society that plans and proposals will inevitably take many months, and because of this, discussed ‘what to do in the meantime’. The letter outlined some creative solutions and prompted a number of positive responses.
Our NewsJournal now goes out to all Councillors, the main retail businesses in Sudbury and also several independent businesses, as well as doctors’ surgeries and Sudbury Health Centre, and of course it is now online. Our stories have been ‘lifted’ by the local papers and the print run has risen to 400.
Small successes: thanks to a member’s persistent pleading, cajoling and threats, Ballingdon Bridge was at last cleaned. The handrail however was not sanded and treated as we asked – the reason? – ‘it isn’t recognised as a handrail’.
Prado Lounge in the Market Hill changed their signage from a neon – lit sign to one which ‘fits in’ much better with the existing buildings. Alaz (The Old Bull) in Cross Street, changed their purple-painted window-frames on our insistence and re-sited their ducting tube from the kitchen area round the back of the building, rather than siting it at the front where it was clearly obvious above the 15th century roof.
We supported a local resident whose garden would have been severely affected by a neighbour’s proposed new-build. The Conservation Officer listened and planning permission was rejected.
While we learn from Press reports that market-town retail is dying in favour of on-line shopping, we are told by Sudbury Town Council members that ‘Sudbury bucks the trend’. It does indeed seem as though when one shop closes another opens. We were certainly pleased when Bazaar in Gainsborough Street was taken over by the Bridge Project.
For the Society, though, it has also been a year of frustration. So many empty buildings and dismal areas of town where nothing seems to happen – and when it does, it isn’t right. Why put a modern light-coloured steel lamp-post in one of our most attractive areas of town – The Croft – when there are heritage lampposts to be had, and which we made a strong case for?
We were so sorry to lose our ‘home’ at Friars Hall but slightly optimistic when we read in last week’s SFP that the organisation HIVE (which supports community groups through networking opportunities) has been given a grant of £5000 to fund a public consultation and development plan, which HIVE hopes will enable them to bid for the building and make it into a community resource. While we welcome this, we are not holding our breath. We know what public consultations can lead to…nothing.
What’s happening elsewhere:
The Tax Office: The Society initially rejected the plans but they were passed by Babergh District Council. The site was then sold again by auction and we are told work is starting this week on the building of 22 flats with parking.
The Bypass: A business case is being drawn up by the Council and a public consultation is due to be launched later this year. Councillor Jane Storey, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for Highways, Transport and Rural Matters, said,
‘I want to make it clear that we are not promoting any specific route, this includes the westerly route which local people have voiced concerns about. All route options are being explored and we are looking at all the potential issues that the local community feel need to be considered with a project of this scale. This is a transport infrastructure project, we are not proposing any sites for housing.’
Walnuttree: Sadly, we believe that the retained and redeveloped ‘Workhouse Building’ looks like - a workhouse. We suggested names for the site and the roads to encompass the history of the area eg. Simon of Sudbury. We particularly didn’t want to lose ‘Walnuttree’. What do we get - ‘St Gregory’s Place’. The developers are a Manchester firm - and what do we find in Manchester? St Gregory’s Place. Clearly no initiative – and no imagination either.
St Leonard’s is a different story. This is a well-thought through development which we liked from the beginning. We must hope that the proposed development of the Tax Office and BelleVue House can do it justice.
BelleVue House and surroundings: Nobody is saying, but it looks like a hotel chain will be moving in, trying to retain the house – or at least some of it - and hoping to re-energise the surroundings. We look forward to the retention of an iconic building, but more than that: a smartening-up of the area plus an opportunity for employment.
I have kept the most positive news till last: It looks as though that little bridge between the end of the Cornard Riverside Path and Baker’s Mill will be rebuilt and reopened, possibly around May. This would give us a real tourist asset. To extend the walk to The Stour Valley Visitor Centre and Cornard Lock (and a pub) could lead to some interesting development: encouragingly, the Mill Tye Art Gallery opened there earlier this year.
A real achievement was to finally get our information boards up in the Library. The ‘red-tape’ was phenomenal and we had to wait weeks to find out whether we could screw into the wall in case there was asbestos present – nineteenth-century asbestos must be a first! – but eventually the letter arrived bearing those three magic words: no asbestos present. The boards have been admired by many but more importantly the boxes which contain membership forms and NewsJournals require constant refilling. Great news, as it means more people are finding out about the Society.
One of the main undertakings this year by Society members (a select three, in fact, and one in particular, our Vice-President) has been the establishing of The Local List – a database of buildings in Sudbury which contribute to the unique interest and variety of the local townscape, some having local historical interest too. (These were first compiled in the Society’s publication ‘Sudbury Suffolk - The Unlisted Heritage’ again by Vice-President David Burnett.) The Local List is up and running on our website – do have a look.
Our initiative for this year - continuing our theme of outreach – has been our LoveSudbury project.
In January 2017 we discussed in Committee how there seemed to be an increase in litter, and how we had many muddy patches of ground which could be beautified easily and cheaply. We were also aware that the Town Council’s budget had been severely cut and there simply were not the resources to keep up appearances.
We learned that that were several volunteer groups in town, working hard to make Sudbury a pleasanter place, but no-one really knew who they were and they didn’t know each other either. We decided to form an umbrella group which would publicise everybody and build communication with the groups as well as the Community Wardens and Activlives Community Gardening Group.
The decision to spend money on promotional material was not taken lightly but in order to get our message across, it was necessary. Having obtained 3 quotes we chose one – and it happened to be cheapest by a long way – whom we thought would deliver us a good product. Our publicity material went to all groups in the town, plus several schools and we promoted the project where we could: St George’s Day Fair, for example, where we held a very successful Plant Stall.
The Town Council supported us and paid to set up a digital map with our information of which groups are working where. We felt however that this was not directly accessible to the public and we wanted to produce our own map, instantly accessible and easily consulted, and interactive in that it can be added to. We are hoping that it can be displayed in the Library and this month I am meeting the organisers of Sudbury in Bloom who are interested in the information it will display. It may even form part of Sudbury’s entry for this year’s Sudbury in Bloom Competition.
And of course, LoveSudbury won’t stop just because it’s the end of our ‘year’. Plants don’t stop growing and people won’t stop tending them. Bradley Smith, our Community Warden, and Dan Wheals, horticulture expert from Activlives, will continue to work with the volunteers whose details you will see on our map.
And I should say that the Society hasn’t just compiled data – Society members themselves have been busy litter-picking and planting-up unloved spaces in Sudbury – and before I finish I want to show you just a few pictures of what’s been done.
A short PowerPoint presentation showed 12-15 before/after pictures of environmental improvements made by Sudbury Society volunteers.
This concludes my report for 2017-18. As I stand down at this AGM, this report will be my last for the Society. I would like to thank all those who made my years in office so very enjoyable, especially the Sudbury Society Committee. I have sat on many Committees over the years, but never one as supportive and enthusiastic as this one. It is with very mixed feelings that I stand down today.
**The following should have formed part of my report but was omitted in error:
At the last AGM a lengthy discussion was held on whether members should pay an admission charge on a meeting night, as well as paying an annual subscription. After much debate it was decided that the meeting fee (£3.00 for members, £5.00 for non-members) was not excessive and was necessary to boost the funds of the day-to-day running of the Society in order that the annual spend might ‘break even’ at the end of the year.
Although the 2017 financial report to December 2017 shows that the Society’s current account is ‘in the red’, this is due to monies being spent on the 2017 special project: LoveSudbury.
Standing down, but not leaving…
It’s time to go.
I have been Chair of The Sudbury Society for almost four years and I now know a great deal more about Sudbury than when I started. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed meeting people from all walks of life and learning something new every day (and not just from the speakers at our monthly meetings) about our unique market town. It’s been a privilege to participate in discussions about the future of Sudbury and to lead campaigns on conserving the best of our historic heritage, while recognising that it is not always sensible to preserve buildings just because they are ‘heritage’.
One of my goals has been to publicise the Society more so that our name and purpose is known throughout Sudbury. Since our membership has risen steadily this year to well over 200 members, that’s a good sign. If you haven’t heard of us, take a look at the information boards on the staircase in the Library - the old Corn Exchange – or our website:
Although it was formed in 1974 after a successful campaign to preserve the Corn Exchange (a worthy cause indeed) the Society does not always look backwards with nostalgia, and, particularly in the light of the proposed development for Sudbury and surroundings, spends much of its time working to try to ensure that the inevitable new-builds enhance our town and conserve – improve, even – our lifestyle.
So, with interesting times ahead, why stand down? I must be clear: I am not leaving the Society but will remain a staunch member. I believe the Society now needs a new, dynamic leader with a fresh approach and plenty of ideas. A Civic Society such as ours is vitally important for Sudbury especially when the town is beginning a lengthy period of change and will face planning decisions which, increasingly, are no longer made in Sudbury.
As I write, the Society is welcoming a new Chairperson, a local resident who has extensive experience in leadership and project management and above all, great enthusiasm for our market town - surely the most important quality in taking forward the work of The Sudbury Society.
So although I’m going, it isn’t goodbye.
Ex-Chair, The Sudbury Society
(also published in the Suffolk Free Press 5 April 2018)