THE SOUTH Hams Society have put out an urgent request for help from those who ‘have an interest and care for the beauty, history and character of the district.’
Members of the 55 year old amenity society are concerned that they may have to wind up, if they don’t get more support.
‘We don’t want this to be an obituary, but a plea for help,’ chair Vivien Napper said.
The South Hams Society was formed in 1961, and in their heyday in the 1980s there were 1,500 members, but currently the membership stands at 300.
‘With only three or four members on the committee, we could really do with some new energy,’ Vivien said.
The South Hams Society describe their objectives as ‘to stimulate interest and care for the beauty, history and character of the district; to encourage high standards of planning and architecture; to secure the protection and improvement of the landscape, features of historic interest and public amenity; and to promote the conservation of the South Hams as a living, working environment.’
The Gazette met three stalwarts of the society in a bucolic setting, at a farm near Aveton Gifford belonging to founding member Pippa Woods.
Pippa Woods is traveling up to Buckingham Palace on Thursday to receive her CBE for ’service to rural and farming communities, and involvement in landscape conservation for 60 years.’
Pippa explained the original impetus for forming the society: ‘Everybody was worried about the huge amount of development, and didn’t want the South Hams to turn into Torbay. The countryside around Torbay was beautiful 90 years ago.
‘One of other the big concerns was damage to historic buildings, which was a big problem in the post-war period. We haven’t changed our objectives over the years.’
The society organises regular beach cleans, monthly meetings through the winter months, writes newsletters and articles for parish magazines and the Gazette. They also organise dedicated outings to places of local interest.
Over the years, they have planted many wild flowers, including the primroses that brighten up many road verges in the spring. They have also planted many trees throughout the district.
They organise talks on the history and geography of the South Hams, as well as general environmental issues and visits to local businesses and farms.
‘And ideally, we keep an eye on all planning applications, and work out which ones need a response. As well as respond to local and neighbourhood plans.
‘In the past, we have alerted South Hams Council to various issues, and work closely with the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty office. We don’t feel the district council pays enough attention to the thoughts of the AONB.’
‘Committee members have been to many planning appeals, and have won a few over the years. And even if we didn’t win, we’ve still had influence,’ Vivien added.
The South Hams Society website holds a wealth of information on the local area, as well as resources on how to appeal planning applications.
‘This alone would be a shame to lose,’ Vivien said.
‘We can also provide advice - we know that there are many people out there who’ve fought and picked up expertise fighting individual planning applications, and it would be great if they could offer this to the South Hams Society.
‘With all the development in the South Hams - we’re more relevant than ever,’ Vivien added.
The society is hoping to attract new members, and live up to its original objectives.
The main committee roles are social and membership secretaries, chair, treasurer, along with experts on planning, listed buildings, tree preservation, hedgerow conservation, wind turbines and electricity generation.
‘We want to know from members and new people who can offer help.
‘We can’t continue as we are, and present members of the committee aren’t willing to take on all the responsibilities.
‘We need people who can offer a bit of help, but we don’t need many people to form an umbrella committee,’ Vivien said.
The society has sent a letter and questionnaire to all members, with a view to holding a committee meeting in November to decide whether the society can be revitalised, or to hold an extraordinary general meeting ‘to recommend that it would be wound down.’
The accompanying letter states: ‘If it winds down, it will be a very sad day, but we have to be realistic. If it’s the latter it will be a very sad day, but we have to be realistic. We could probably find another organisation to take on the beach cleans, but the website and everything else would come to an end.’
The South Hams chairman of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England, Peter Coates said: ‘It would be a sad day to see it go. They’re a group of people who fight hard for the care and protection of our area.’