This is the town where I want to die (but not yet)

Harold Goodwin

This is an edited version of the speech Harold gave as he stood down from the chair of the society.

This is the last time I shall speak to you as chairman at the AGM. I shall no longer be writing those introductory pieces that appear monthly in the Faversham Society Newsletter. I have written about a hundred of them. Our newsletter, now available from our website, is an important means of communicating with our members and the wider community. I would like to say a personal and sincere thanks to Stephen Rayner, editor of our newsletter, his professionalism and flexibility over publication dates.

I am not an historian, but I am very aware of how history and current events shape us. In my work to encourage responsible tourism, I often make the point that the future will be what we make it, but we make it in a world shaped by the past and by current events. I want to look back before addressing the present and the future.

When I entered the job market in 1976, I had lived in the north for six years; my university education was in York and Manchester. The idea of coming to live in the Home Counties was anathema. I did not intend to stay long. As some of you know, I was born and brought up in Coventry. The war badly damaged that city’s social fabric.

Coventry was rebuilt in the Modernist or Brutalist style – and I subscribe to the Brutalist perspective. We have some images in the Faversham Society archive of Modernist/Brutalist plans for the redevelopment of Faversham between Crescent Road and the guildhall. We escaped, at least in part, because of devaluation of sterling and the balance of payments crisis in the 1960s. We were luckier than Ashford and Sittingbourne.

It is worth remembering that the Romans did us a favour too, and that Watling Street was for a long time effectively a bypass.

Appointed by the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA), as tutor organiser for east Kent, I lived initially in Ashford. I was not happy there. However, I had the great good fortune to be tasked with re-establishing the Faversham branch of the WEA. So, I arrived at Jack Harris’s house on Bramblehill Road, and he suggested that we should adjourn to the Sun Inn, where I was introduced to the landlord as an old friend, and Jack asked that I be treated like a local. I was.

Details of the rest of that evening escape me; suffice it to say that I was unable to drive home. I stayed the night on the sofa, Jack went to work at BMM Weston and I wandered the town as I sobered up. I distinctly remember standing on the corner of East Street and Crescent Road, looking across at the Modernist Post Office, and thinking that I would like to die here in Faversham, not then, not imminently, but at some point, in the future.

I soon moved to Faversham, and I have lived here in the same half-square mile for 46 years. I held chairs in Leeds and Manchester but did not move back north; I have enjoyed Faversham with its northern characteristics of community, industry and extended families …  I have mostly been happy here.

But my love of Faversham was, and is, a vulnerability. As tutor organiser, I encouraged, perhaps cajoled, Arthur Percival to teach an adult education class on Faversham’s history, and the Jaunts followed. In 2014 Arthur invited me for tea, and pointed out that I had benefited from the work of the Society in conserving the town and that it was time I contributed. I was well and truly Arthured. He asked me to stand for the board. In a moment of madness, I agreed.

Arthur made it clear that I had a responsibility to stand for election and join the board. I well remember Brian Kelsey’s lecture to me as a new member of the board about how careful we had to be with the society’s money. I realised later that he was making the point to the whole board. His stewardship has played a significant role in ensuring our strong financial position. Two years later, in 2016, no one was willing to take over from my predecessor Michael Frohnsdorff; I was again pressed and agreed to stand for the chair.

I was elected in June 2016. It was not a role I sought, but others felt that I should. That responsibility is real. When one of the groups who had hired the Fleur hall managed to press two fire alarm buttons in quick succession, we had five fire appliances in Preston Street. Thankfully, it was a false alarm. However, senior officers from the fire service demanded a meeting and my name and home address. They were clear about where responsibility lay.

As chair, I was initially handicapped by being relatively unknown to our volunteers. The volunteers are the key to everything we do. We have close to 200. Ann Furedi, has been a volunteer in the bookshop for a decade. If elected this evening, I will stay on as vice-chair for at least a year or two to support our new chair in the transition.

I feel strongly that too much is expected of too few in the Faversham Society. We can only do what volunteers want to do – after all, we are all volunteers. But, insurance, health and safety, leases and finances have to be agreed and signed, and shops have to be opened and closed. The responsibility falls to a few on the executive board, presently Jan West, Jonathan Carey, Leigh Allison, Andrew Holden and Katie Begg, and in the VIC, Christine Smith and her team, in the bookshop Wendy Clarke and Ann Furedi and their team; and in the museum Heather Wootton and her team. The board will decide the membership and chairs of its subcommittees when it meets next month.

These and perhaps 20 others are the core people we all depend on. The exec is answerable to the board, to which its members report quarterly, and the board approves all the representations and statements made on planning matters. In January 2016, the Faversham Society established its policy blog, easily accessible on our website, to ensure that the society’s position on any matter of substance is clearly stated and available to all – members, community and media.

So what of the past eight years?

We have had a series of successes on planning matters, among which we secured a refusal on Abbeyfields. Stephen Atkins wrote six submissions on flood risk and other technical matters opposing the Ham Road plan, delaying a decision. The Neighbourhood Plan now carries material weight, and if it passes, the referendum will prevent development there. The board has yet to determine its position on the Neighbourhood Plan; I hope that it will support it and campaign for a yes vote.

Battery safety at Cleve Hill, Graveney, has been one of the most important issues during Harold’s chairmanship

The issue of battery safety at Cleve Hill has been, and still is, a major issue. Sir David Melville has been generous with his time, expertise and sheer energy in pursuing this. We had the support of a planning barrister, but David was at the core of this. He was successful in winning the support of the Swale Planning Committee, which, against officer advice, turned down the application. Without David’s grit and determination, we would have been able to do very little on this threat to Faversham. I want to place on record my sincere thanks for all he has done to represent us on Cleve Hill and his service as vice-chair. David graciously stood down from the board and as vice-chair in April to enable us to co-opt Ann Furedi.

The VIC has transferred to 12 Market Place, and the bookshop moved into our own premises on Preston Street. Neither transition was easy. Both are now widely regarded as very successful. The area beside the VIC has become an important exhibition space and meeting place. Thanks to Jonathan’s efforts, we have restored the interior. Paul Moorbath drew to my attention the archival value and importance of the Doddington Library and its vulnerability in the Fleur’s tower in the event of fire. It has now been successfully moved to the town hall.

The Fleur hall is no longer available as a meeting place, and we ceased to run a talks programme, in both cases because we lacked volunteers. However, I am delighted that our outreach quadrant (education, publications, membership and talks) under Leigh’s leadership is beginning to offer talks again, and our publications and town walks are growing. The Faversham Society Archaeological Research Group, and archaeology, is thriving. I am delighted that Heather Knight is speaking this evening, a professional archaeologist and volunteer in our museum.

The Fleur Heritage Centre and Museum is no longer alone in the town; there are other heritage exhibition spaces: the charters display, the police museum, the Shepherd Neame rooms, St Mary of Charity and now the Town Warehouse will be open as a new exhibition space during Open Faversham in August. We are working to bring them together with Faversham archives and engage the local universities with us.

The society faces two major threats for the future.

I have some wonderful brown furniture, which I fear no one will want on my demise. Inheritance is an active process. We need to ensure that the next generation will want to continue our work. We need to reach out to the community and welcome newcomers to the town. They are already joining our band of volunteers on whom our society depends.

The second threat is that we are not engaging people who are willing and able to develop our research and teaching work on Faversham’s history. Gunpowder is a particular current challenge.

As I said earlier, the Faversham Society’s work cannot be done in isolation from changes in the legal framework. This applies to our planning work in particular. We can expect significant changes in the National Planning Policy Framework after the election, whoever party wins. There have also been huge changes in insurance. Our Open Houses scheme ceased because of changes in insurance, and Open Gardens has had to take a break – I hope very much that it will be back next year.

Open Faversham emerged post-Covid as a way of bringing together our community to celebrate our town’s cultural and natural heritage. It is now organised by the Faversham Society, the Friends of St Mary of Charity and our town council. Open Faversham takes place in August to share our heritage with friends, family, and visitors. Last year, there were many activities for young people of primary school age and younger; that will be the case this year, too.

As my time in the chair comes to an end and the responsibility passes to another volunteer, I hope that you will agree with me that the Faversham Society is in good shape and that, together, we can ensure that it continues to deliver on its core purposes. There is much to do.

Footnote One of our members suggested at the AGM that my directorships in People and Places, a not-for-profit that responsibly places volunteers in the developing world, and Mercury Travel, which trades as the Responsible Tourism Partnership, amount to conflicts of interest as both would benefit from a link with the Duchy of Cornwall’s plans for southeast Faversham. Neither of these organisations has done any paid work in England in over a decade. Now that I no longer chair the Faversham Society, I will have more time for my work on Responsible Tourism. We are launching a new charity in the autumn to bring together groups in Africa, Asia and Latin America working to use tourism “to create better places for people to live in and for people to visit”.

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