Not every town has its own civic and amenity society – but the one in Berkhamsted is in the middle of celebrating its 90th anniversary year.
Its annual general meeting will be held in the town hall on Thursday at 8pm, after which the good design in new building or renovation will be handed out.
The accolade has been handed out by the Berkhamsted Citizens Association (BCA) since 1981.
The group was first established with the aim of working towards the ‘general betterment of Berkhamsted’ in 1924.
Its title was carefully chosen – citizens, not residents; the emphasis on contribution to, and a stake in, the community.
And so, on July 6, 1924, in a marquee in the Castle grounds, the Berkhamsted Citizens Association was born, with an initial budget of £1/10/9d. That’s £1.53.
Initial membership was approximately 70 people; subscription per person one shilling (5p) per year, so that nobody was excluded on the grounds of cost.
From small but enthusiastic beginnings a significant and resilient organisation emerged. Even in today’s cynical world, the BCA’s membership is 350 member households.
And, in keeping with its founding ethos, subscription is only £5 per annum per household, representing close to 700 members in Berkhamsted and Northchurch.
It is nonaligned and without bias, except in its unwavering commitment to the quality of the built environment, the countryside, and amenities of the town.
In 1924 Berkhamsted was still a country town, but since then it has grown in size and its character has changed, but not as much as its neighbours Hemel Hempstead, Chesham and Dunstable.
It can still claim to be a town in the country, and the preservation of its character is in no small part attributable to the Citizens.
Local government structure may have changed fundamentally, and administrations at district and town level come and gone, but the BCA input and influence carries on.
The BCA established from the beginning the things which concern it to this day: the quality of new development; the conservation of the historic fabric of the town; the preservation of the tree line on both sides of the valley; the paucity of open space within the town; the impact of traffic and parking; and the control of the dumping of rubbish. Recognise the issues?
But it has its lighter side. A number of talks on relevant town topics, or by local personalities, are held each year.
The most famous was by Graham Greene and his brother Hugh Carlton Greene (the then Director General of the BBC) in the 1970s, at a time when Graham was notoriously appearance-shy.
More recently there was Derek Fowlds (actor in Yes Minister, Yes Prime Minister and Heartbeat), a local boy packing them in at the Town Hall; and Adrian Scarborough, our local star of stage and screen and BCA member.
Our next talk is by James Hannaway, the CEO of the Rex, on his new project in St Albans, the Odyssey. The BCA supported James in his restoration of the Rex long before it was fashionable to do so.
And then there are the general election Hustings (candidates facing their potential electorate), the most recent of which was in May 2010, packing the Great Hall in the Town Hall. Next up in 2015.
The BCA also organises and judges the Best Christmas Shop Window competition, now 16 years old, its contribution to the very successful Festival of Light run by Berkhamsted Town Council.
The Footpath Map is the BCA’s most significant contribution to its interest in the care of our footpaths. First published in 1938, it is now in its sixth incarnation, and a new edition is to be published this year to celebrate our 90th anniversary. It is available through local bookshops and the National Trust Ashridge Visitor Centre.
That, combined with a new town notice board and the restoration of the Sparrows Herne waymark, makes the trilogy of the BCA’s commemorative projects this year.
But our work on the planning front is the cornerstone of activity for which we are best known. Since 1972 the Association has been inspecting plans and planning documents on a monthly basis and putting forward its views, via its town amenities sub-committee, to Dacorum Borough Council.
In 1981, to promote good development, the BCA started its annual Environment Award to recognise good design in new building or renovation. The winner is chosen from all planning applications submitted for work in the area covered by the BCA. This is made following every AGM in March, and proves to be the award that feeds into those given by other organisations later in the year.
Article Four directions, local listing of significant houses, and the extension of the Berkhamsted Conservation Area now becoming a reality, are built upon the work of the BCA in this area over the last 25 years; and its co-operation with DBC’s donservation department.
This brings us to the BCA as the founding force behind many organisations which are now firmly established in the town: the Local History & Museum Society; The Chiltern Society; the Town Hall Trust; and the Graham Greene Birthplace Trust. It also supported setting up branches of national organisations in town e.g. the Citizens Advice Bureau and the National Trust. As a result it still has representation on these organisations locally, and supports other like-minded organisations, for example the CPRE, by being a corporate member.
Current chairman Katy Brookes-Duncan said: “So please join us and help us celebrate our first 90 years.
“Any person living in Berkhamsted and Northchurch, or with an interest in this area, is welcome. Keep up to date through our quarterly newsletter and our website. Be a Citizen.”
Berkhamsted Citizens Association is the civic & amenity society for Berkhamsted and Northchurch. It promotes interest in the built environment and surrounding countryside; and organises local events, like talks, walks, awards and competitions. It is a member of the Association of North Thames Amenity Societies.