AS they get older some folk like to skim a few years off their age, but rarely organisations.

So it’s rather modest of Worcester Civic Society to be celebrating its 60th anniversary in October, when it could actually claim to be 68. 

This odd state of affairs has arisen because the Society was originally formed in 1951 by a group of  leading citizens concerned for the city’s historic buildings and sites. Sadly not enough others shared their interest and within two years Worcester Civic Society had folded through lack of support. It was not until 1959 it got its second wind, was re-formed and has hung on in there ever since.

And there are several reasons to think that never was it more needed than now. Because in 2015 the Royal Society of Arts conducted a survey of the country’s historic areas and assets. It found there were 325 and while Worcester came 10th in the table for its number of assets, it came in the bottom five per cent for how well it cares for them.

No-one’s pointing a finger, but as Phil Douce, the Civic Society’s chairman, said: “The city’s proud historical legacy needs to be developed and enhanced, but without strong vision and leadership, opportunities to do this may be squandered and the city could become merely a suburban satellite in an expanded West Midlands conurbation.” 

The strength of an organisation like the Society is that it attracts professional people with architectural and historical talent who do not necessarily want to spend their time sitting on council committees, but can offer their expertise and experience when it matters.

With this in mind, it would be idle to pretend that Worcester Civic Society and Worcester City Council have always been best mates. Right from the start councillors took a dim view of these “experts” butting in. Under a headline “Worcester Civic Society May Close Down,” the Worcester Evening News and Times of April 29, 1953 reported that Society members “have complained they are receiving no support from the City Council, without which they cannot hope to progress with the furtherance of their aims.” 

To clear the air a meeting was held between leaders of the two bodies. It obviously didn’t go brilliantly, because not long after Worcester Civic Society disbanded. This was rather ironic seeing as the Civic Society had been formed in 1951 at the specific request of that year’s mayor Alderman HM Morris. Obviously his colleagues and council officials didn’t share his enthusiasm.

When the Society reformed in 1959, Worcester was on the brink of possibly its biggest, and certainly its most controversial, redevelopment ever. The Lychgate Saga of the mid-60s, indelibly christened The Sack of Worcester in the national press, saw whole swathes of properties flattened at the Cathedral end of High Street and towards Sidbury.

Admittedly many were virtually derelict, but among them were some gems, like the Elgar family’s music shop, which in a more perfect world would have been retained.

The City Council cited lack of money to carry out wholesale renovation and in the financial straits of the times it was probably right, but it was a sad state of affairs and the Civic Society chairman Godfrey Brown, who was also headmaster of the Royal Grammar School, wrote in a letter to this paper: “We are unhappy about the scheme as a whole because we feel the best advice has not been sought. Least of all it would be expected that the right answers would come from development companies whose main interest is to extract the greatest profit from the site allocated to them.”

However, the lessons learned then have percolated through to today and Phil Douce observed: “Perhaps our greatest triumphs have been preventing the demolition of Huntingdon Hall and promoting the pedestrianisation of the High Street.”

While another Civic Society success has been the Blue Plaque scheme to mark the homes and workplaces of famous people. This was first introduced in London in the 19th century, but only reached Worcester in 2012 thanks to the Society.

The first went on the wall of Diglis House Hotel in memory of artist Benjamin Williams Leader and now there are a dozen around the city,  plus eight City Gate plaques to denote the ancient gateways into Worcester.

Through its conservation advisory panel, the Society meets regularly with the city’s conservation area panel and the city’s planning and regeneration officers. “We still have a wealth of important buildings in Worcester’s historic core and beyond and these must be protected,” Mr Douce added. “The Society works with the city and county councils to ensure the best is made of this inheritance.”

To mark its 60th anniversary, Worcester Civic Society is holding a conference reflecting on the past, present and future of the city in St Helen’s Church, Fish Street, just off High Street, on Saturday, October 12. The free event will include presentations on subjects as diverse as rebuilding public confidence in the planning system to homelessness.

Speakers will include Joan Humble, the leader of Civic Voice, the national body for civic societies, and Dr Heather Barrett and Adrian Gurney, who will be discussing Worcester Civic Society’s response to the City Council’s recently approved Master Plan for Worcester.

The day will start at 9.30am and end at 4.30pm, but is aimed as a “drop-in” for interest in specific topics. Information from: