Hear ye! Hear ye! Good citizens of Beeston! In this the year of 2023, we invite you to join with us in celebrating 50 years of Beeston (and District) Civic Society!
So, what is the Beeston Civic Society (BCS)? What do they do? Why do we need them? Well, not unlike previously stereotyped WI groups, civic societies are often pigeonholed as stuffy and archaic, when in fact they are anything but. Actually, when you look at their track record for affecting change in the community, you are more likely to say they are quite a radical bunch. What’s more, in the absence of a town council, Beeston really does need the society to challenge developments, preserve its civic treasures and work towards making improvements for all.
Formed on April 9th 1973, to ‘protect and enhance our district’, the society was instrumental in helping to drive forward the ‘Beeston Town Centre Plan’ of 1975 to pedestrianise the original High Road, its aim to improve road safety and access to amenities. The controversial transformation was completed almost a decade later and we can well imagine the response at the time was similar that of the tram which came around 20 years later. Nevertheless, both of these developments have shaped the Beeston we know and love today, and provided opportunities for markets and public events on the paved areas, providing a focal point in the main square, and have brought more people into our ever evolving and busy suburban town.
When the 1970s skateboard boom hit the UK, the first purpose-built skatepark in Nottingham was constructed in the remains of a old cinema in Lenton in 1978, despite initial opposition from Broxtowe District Council’s Development Services Committee. BCS was in full support of the application, as they felt it would provide proper skateboarding facilities for young people in the area. More recently they collaborated with Skate Nottingham, local councillors and schools in developing Beeston Skate Park and outreach activities to engage the youth.
Conservation and the preservation of our heritage is large part of what the society campaigns for. According to the archives, two working parties were set up in 1977 to address both these matters. Historically, preserving our well established tree-lined streets has been of public concern and a protest article in the Nottingham Post back in 1975 concerning the ‘over-pruning’ of the row of splendid lime trees outside the equally prestigious Oban House might well have been a catalyst for one, or both, of the working parties.
The committee secretary at the time Marion Wallwork, who was up in arms about the lack of respect shown for the trees as a ‘thing of beauty’ described the remaining stumps as ‘grotesque and ugly.’
Oban House is an attractive Victorian property situated within St John’s Grove Conservation Area facing St. John the Baptist Church which is a Grade II listed building. As for the house itself, the subject of a eight month fight to save it from demolition, the weight of the society’s campaign drew huge public support and their well researched counter argument to restore and extend the building, rather than replacing it with a modern development, saved the day – and Oban House.
Remember satellite dishes? The elliptical eyesores of 1980s Britain? The first dishes were huge and obtrusive, described as ‘ugliness on a plate’ and ‘hideous white saucers’, by society members concerned with preserving Beeston’s heritage, in a Nottingham Recorder article dated June 1990. Their influence led to discussions around being considerate to neighbours when installing the monstrous erections and making an effort to disguise them in conservation areas. And do you recall the large bottle banks installed in the old bus station? Well did you know that the forward thinking civic society put a call out for glass collection sites as far back as 1980. It’s no surprise then to learn then, that BCS are supporters of local environmental group Greening Beeston.
A more recent community project which you will all be familiar with ‘Beeston Street Art’, driven forward enthusiastically by society trustee Jeanie O’Shea, was platformed by BCS, who also developed the detailed map which is downloadable from their website. It was launched in 2018 as a two day festival and put Beeston on the map as one of the top UK destinations for Street Art in the UK. Its success led to Jeanie co-ordinating a further large scale project, Beeston’s very own light night – ‘#alight in Beeston’, which provided a warm welcome to the end of January 2021. Both of these community events resulted in highlighting the creativity and strong sense of community in our town, as well as pinpointing key people and events in the town’s history, one of whom is spotlighted later in this issue.
Oh, and did I mention the Blue Plaques?! Of course, you may already have worked out that Beeston Civic Society collaborated on that project, and there is a comprehensive guide on their website. But did you know that this year sees the launch of the Red Plaque…? You didn’t? Well give them a follow on Facebook or Instagram to find out more. We are sworn to secrecy on that one.
This is the first in a series of articles featuring BCS in their 50th year. A huge thanks to Tamar for providing access to archival information, and for the whole team for their commitment to making Beeston such an inclusive and pleasant place to live!
Beeston Civic Society are always happy to welcome new members, and as a charity are grateful for sponsorship and donations. If you care about where you live and would like to be able to influence changemakers in a positive way, then go ahead and join!
Be more civic.