Although some community organisations that we now regard as civic societies go back much further, the movement really came into its own in the late 1950s, the 1960s and the 1970s when many new civic societies were set up around the country to counter some of the adverse effects that post-war redevelopment was having on our built heritage. By influencing the debate on how our towns and cities should be developed, the movement hoped to inspire greater care of our architectural treasures.
The movement has come a long way since then. While we still regard the protection of heritage in the built environment as a key aim, we see new development as a sometimes necessary step in the direction of vibrancy and prosperity in our communities. Where civic societies once viewed development in a largely negative way, the civic society movement of today is ready to embrace change and looks to modern development as an opportunity to create the heritage of tomorrow. But this does not mean that we should allow government, local authorities and private developers a free hand. We want to ensure that local communities have a voice in all aspects of development and the civic movement can create the space and opportunities for public debate to take place.
At YHACS, we are driven by a desire to reconcile the past, present and future of our townscapes with a vision that is developed by communities in their local civic societies.
We are not allied to any political party and reserve the right to challenge poor quality development wherever we see it being proposed or implemented.
YHACS aims to be the distinct voice of the civic society movement in the Yorkshire and Humber region, and our vision is to enhance the quality of life for all citizens in the region by engaging citizens in not only the protection of local heritage but also the promotion of sustainable economic development and urban renaissance. We aspire to being a regional force with which to be reckoned.
YHACS is the liaison point between local civic societies in the area as well as a regional focal point and resource for these societies. Through the medium of our quarterly meetings, a regular newsletter, occasional campaigns, and a regular exchange of ideas with member societies and other key local, regional and national contacts in the public, private and non-profit sectors, YHACS intends to achieve the promotion of the civic society movement in our region.
Ultimately, YHACS will be the regional force driving for a society in which the people of Yorkshire and Humber (and sometimes beyond) are connected with public policymaking and economic development in a way that will allow them to have a significant voice in the shaping of their cities, towns and rural communities.
A Brief History
The Yorkshire and Humber Association of Civic Societies (YHACS) was established in November 1999, originally as YHASA (the Yorkshire and Humber Association of Amenity Societies).
The aim of YHACS is to support, represent and promote civic societies in the Yorkshire & Humber region. Civic societies are independent and voluntary groups of people who want to improve the environment in which they live. They aim to promote high standards of conservation and planning in our cities, towns and villages. Societies vary enormously in size, resources and ambition but tend to meet the challenge in similar ways. Many societies were formed in the 1960s and 1970s following unsatisfactory urban redevelopment. Civic societies are often involved in a large number of activities; these can include:
- Concentrating on improving the built environment by having a say in the planning process
- Taking the initiative on local issues
- Providing management support to other like-minded organisations
- Raising awareness of good and bad practice and promoting sustainable development
- Organising guided walks and talks to help appreciation of the built environment
- Carrying out practical projects
- Working on preserving our rich heritage whilst maintaining a balance between contemporary and historic issues
- Publishing literature such as leaflets, maps and even books
By 1999 it was recognised by some far-sighted societies that they did not have the resources to address the regional agenda and that there would be merit in having an association for mutual support and co-operation. A major step forward for YHACS was the award of a grant from English Heritage in 2004 which enabled us to employ a part-time Association Development Officer. In the following years much good work was done to support the civic society movement, including the establishment of three new societies in Bradford, Sheffield and Barnsley.
YHACS converted to charitable status in 2005. Dr Kevin Grady was chairman from November 1999 until January 2002 when he was succeeded by Peter Cooper who held the position until Kevin Trickett MBE took over in January 2011.
In the Yorkshire and Humber region, seventy-five civic societies were registered with the national umbrella organisation, the Civic Trust, from which they gained automatic membership of YHACS. In April 2009 the Civic Trust went into administration so societies could no longer derive their YHACS membership from being registered with the Trust. YHACS now requires societies to make an application to join and pay a £50 annual membership subscription. YHACS was independent of the Civic Trust and so was not directly affected by its demise although it had received a great deal of practical support from the Civic Trust.
From the ashes of the Civic Trust a new national body has been formed, ‘Civic Voice’, which YHACS supports and has joined as a member. YHACS and Civic Voice work in partnership and offer different benefits and support for members.
In November 2019, and with financial support from York Civic Trust, YHACS held a celebratory lunch to commemorate its first twenty years. The lunch (pictured below) was held at the Principal Hotel and was attended by the Lord Mayor of York, Councillor Janet Looker, and her consort as our guests of honour. The principal guest speaker was Sarah McLeod, CEO of Wentworth Woodhouse.
In 2020, in response to the Covid epidemic and the announcement of a national lockdown, the YHACS committee decided to move all our events on-line using video conferencing. In addition we opened a Vimeo account where copies of films and meeting recordings are stored and then made available to members (note, many of these are ‘members only’ so hidden from general view).
In 2021, recognising that video conferencing effectively removed geographical boundaries and also aware that many of the topics we discuss in our meetings will have wider interest and be of value to civic societies outside the Y&H region, the YHACS committee agreed to open membership to societies in other parts of the country. We already had a couple of societies, one in Derbyshire and one in Greater Manchester, that had taken out membership with us but we have now decided to confirm the idea of extending membership to others outside Y&H as part of our official membership policy.
The main focus of our activities will, however, continue to be on Yorkshire and the Humber in accord with the charitable aims set out in our constitution.