Civic Chair’s Review

At Pontefract Civic Society’s Annual General Meeting, the Chair, Paul Cartwright reported that under his chairmanship, the civic society has clearly punched above its weight, and Paul firmly believe that it will continue to do so as long as there is clear direction and strong leadership from the trustees and those in key management roles (even when we are all volunteers, which we welcome more members stepping up to the plate)

I’ve had the pleasure of welcoming Cannon June Lawson, to St Giles Church at her induction service, and Christian Prudhomme (Tour de France CEO) and Thomas Voeckler ahead of the Tour de Yorkshire, which was a major coup, and across the year, we’ve promoted Pontefract’s heritage and events through multiple live interviews with BBC Radio Leeds; something we’ll continue to do positively raising our profile and that of the town as no one else is doing this in Pontefract.

Working with schools

For those who are unaware, we have a Junior Civic Society (created by the late Martin Lodge) which is based on free membership for schools, heritage walks & talks, art competitions, judging shop window decorations, bulb planting, litter picks, and the occasional performance opportunity; both St Giles CofE Academy and Carleton Park J&I School are active in this respect, and our doors are open to other local schools.

Our rich heritage

We unveiled a blue plaque to Elizabeth Moxon and her cookery writings, we’ve updated our blue plaque guide, created a new leaflet about Pontefract Town Hall, and our 2020 Calendar (now sold out) contained heritage photographs and facts.

During Heritage Open Days, last September, well over 1,000 visitors went to the 16 locations and activities that we had coordinated, so Pontefract and other local towns and villages benefited.  We also launched a new book on the Fletcher Rhodes Collaboration by Roger Ellis, which is available from us and Pontefract Library.

Partnership with Wakefield MDC – working for Pontefract

When we knew the Tour de Yorkshire was back in Pontefract, we asked Wakefield MDC to help by purchasing street bunting, which was erected in Market Place and Ropergate, this looked fantastic and brought Pontefract into line with many market towns and villages up and down the land; also getting the road closure on Valley Road and Ropergate for the Liquorice Festival with children’s rides located was our initiative, which benefited local cafes and shops, as well as the Friends of Friarwood Valley Gardens simply be encouraging visitors to explore the town centre in different ways.

Our engagement with Wakefield MDC is significant, and our influence is making a different through a number of meetings on different levels, whether that is our quarterly Pontefract Steering Group with Leader, Cllr Denise Jeffery, and Regeneration Director, Tom Stannard, to the Pontefract Delivery Group with a cross section of departmental officers, the Anti-Social Behaviour & Night Time Economy Task Group, and various meetings on Highways, Markets and Major Events.

The difference between the civic society and other organisations is whilst we can be critical and challenging we are also creative and innovative in our thinking. This has been self-evident in our contributions to the Local Plan 2026, Pontefract Vision 2028, and now the Pontefract Masterplan and Healthy Streets project. Our view on social media in promoting Pontefract and the events organised for Pontefract has been constant and has been positive, we even created the community banners around the Christmas tree.

The Council also appointed a Heritage Champion at our request, who has attended our events twice in the past four months. 

Efforts rewarded

In the summer, a Tour de Yorkshire public vote gave Pontefract the Best Dressed Town award, and Phil Cook, our Coordinator, was Runner Up in the vote for individual endeavour for the Spirit of the Tour award. We also ended 2019, with another runner up prize, namely in the Peter Spawforth Award from the Yorkshire & Humber Association of Civic Societies for our 50th Anniversary programme.

Pro-Business

Our business membership has grown exponentially in recent years, and has now grown to 25 businesses, most having benefited from our social media output to share their successes, offers and promotions, as well as some with planning and conservation matters.

At the start of 2019, we extensively contributed to the Johnson Press campaign, ‘Love your High Street’, as we could see that Pontefract was bucking the trend in business occupancy at over 92% in recent years, due to the bravery of our independent retail offering, and following the Townscape Heritage Initiative (THI) improving buildings over a number of years, and furthermore, it was a catalyst for other buildings, not funded, to be improved. We also know that most small shops with the occasional exception will be taken by a new retailer once they are empty; there are though larger premises which are sticking mainly due to their size. We have to recognise that the ‘high street’ is changing due to a number of challenging factors, and having experiences, cafes, restaurants and pubs serving quality food and delivering quality entertainment is something we welcome which improves ‘dwell time’. 

Throughout 2019, more shops naturally get on board in decorating their windows for events and festivals, though we know others need encouragement; in fact, our Christmas Trail promoted 30 local businesses who wished to be associated with us, though we know many other businesses got on board.

Working with other groups

We actively support the work of Friends of Friarwood Valley Gardens, Friends of Pontefract Park, and Pontefract in Bloom in collectively making Pontefract a better place, staging events, and for the Pontefract Lionesses Lantern Parade we created the biggest lantern ever seen in the town! We also can’t underestimate the success of joint working with John Turner, the Town Crier, in Pontefract Heritage Group.

Part of a regional and national body

We are active members of the Yorkshire & Humber Association of Civic Societies, and Civic Voice, which brings good practice to Pontefract, but equally where we’ve shared our knowledge with other civic societies across England. 

Delivering in 2020

We thought our 50th Anniversary was a busy year, and in 2020 we’ll be delivering a busy programme to benefit Pontefract which includes:

  • A special party of visitors interested in our heritage and how Pontefract presents itself today
  • We’re paying and installing heritage interpretation boards for the Magna Carta monuments, and The Barracks (former KOYLI depot)
  • We’re working with WMDC to deliver a series of wayfinding & heritage boards
  • We’ll deliver interpretation boards for each railway station
  • We’ll create an educational heritage game for young people for use alongside are PR stall
  • We’ll host two concerts, firstly the Haley Sisters (a top country trio), and secondly, our VE Day concert, alongside a comprehensive programme of VE Day 75th Celebrations with businesses, the community and Wakefield Council. We will also co-host a charity concert for the Yorkshire Air Ambulance
  • We’ll contribute considerably to Pontefract’s regeneration working closely with Wakefield MDC, WDH and the Police (in different ways):
  • Pontefract Masterplan and ‘Streets for People’ public realm improvement
  • Pontefract Steering Group, Pontefract Delivery Group and Antisocial Behaviour & Night Time Economy Task Group
  • Markets Review
  • Meetings on highways and rail issues

We firmly believe that it is engagement and partnerships which deliver practical projects to improve Pontefract, this way of working is far more beneficial that complaining then sitting back, which we see all too often on social media.

Finally, following the demise of Knottingley Civic Society early in 2019, our Board has approved our expansion into Knottingley and Ferrybridge which must be balanced by our focus on Pontefract, this decision requires local people to join us to work for your towns. Businesses, community groups, youth groups, and residents can join the civic society, which is a membership-based charity working for Pontefract and the local area, please visit the website at www.pontefractcivicsociety.org.uk or email [email protected] for further information

The Chairman, Paul Cartwright, presenting at the 2020 AGM.

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