My husband Michael and I had been founder members of the “Mortlake with East Sheen Society” in SW London before retiring to N.Oxon, and we came to feel that Banbury could benefit from a similar group to care for its heritage and amenities. This should not only preserve but also enhance them, for the benefit of both town and local village residents. The national “Civic Trust” provides a widely followed pattern, plus guidance and resources.
As Michael’s health declined, it fell to me to work for this project. Supportive letters from prominent groups in Banbury led to the enthusiastic support of Steve Kilsby, who chaired the open meeting (mentioned in John Bell’s report); as I recall this was funded by a grant from Banbury Charities for the costs of publicity and the hire of a hall. It was well attended, the Civic Trust provided the name of an excellent Warwickshire speaker and it was agreed to proceed to an inaugural meeting. As he has mentioned in his report John Bell, as a well-known and widely respected local figure, had been invited to accept Chairmanship. We owe a great deal to the ten years he served.
There are many people in Banbury and the surrounding villages who claim that the Town has been “spoilt” beyond redemption; that the focus of planning had been, successfully, on employment and housing to the neglect of both heritage and the quality of style/design. Such people, who may rely on the many amenities provided by the Town, sometimes appear to be unwilling to actively engage in influencing its destiny. This may result from a feeling of impotence or for the “out of towners” a wish to concentrate on protecting their own village. However, it is interesting that approximately half of our members live in local villages.
I believe it is not too late to protect and to enhance “Our Town” – though it may be a close-run thing. Our Society’s Quarterly Newsletter to members and to local bodies regularly features news on planning, transport and flooding issues, while we have also been involved in campaigns for the Town’s amenities such as the Horton Hospital and the Peoples’ Park. Our Society’s expertise, particularly on planning matters, is increasingly recognised by District planning officers and elected members (as is the case in other towns and cities). The extension of the Banbury Conservation Area, the adoption of the Grimsbury Conservation Area and a local “list” of buildings meriting special consideration, and the erection of the beautiful statue of the Lady on a White Horse, can be counted as positive developments for the Town. I am proud that the Society has been so closely linked to them all.