Rural Community Councils (RCC’s) and Wye College Graduates

Wye College and the RCCs with an Introduction by Dr Alan Rogers

Particularly in the 1970s and early 1980s a significant number of graduates of Wye College, University of London, were employed by Rural Community Councils. Job opportunities were expanding, not least because of the Community Initiative in the Countryside scheme which had been introduced in 1973 and which in particular encouraged the creation of Countryside/Field Officer posts in the RCCs. And the 1970s was also a time when rural issues were centre stage politically and in other ways – concerns about rural deprivation, the environmental effects of modern farming methods, important research from the universities and more.  So jobs in the RCCs, which in their own turn were revitalised with new younger staff appointments, were an attractive proposition for new graduates.

Wye College had been established in 1893 and became part of the University of London in 1898.  It developed an international reputation for research and teaching in agriculture and horticulture and from the 1950s onwards broadened its activities on the social science side to take in such areas as outdoor recreation, rural employment and urban growth.  And from the early 1970s this began to include an involvement in environmental issues.  One of the first of the environmental degrees which were created was the programme in Rural Environment Studies(RES), combining both the natural and the social sciences as they related to the rural world.  Most of the Wye graduates who went to work for RCCs studies RES.

The contributions below, which are just a sample of all those Wye graduates who worked for RCCs, emphasise the real contribution which Wye made to the RCCs, mainly in the 1970s and early 1980s.  Many worked for just a few years before going on to other careers but in a few cases the involvement lasted for decades.

More memories can be added to this listing as details are submitted.  If you or someone you know graduated from Wye and worked for an RCC, please let me know on

[email protected]

Alan Rogers

Louise Beaton (Virgo)

RES 1975-78

First Steps

In my gap year I was an accounts clerk, did secretarial training and as Secretary of the national Schools Eco Action Group produced a regular newsletter, campaign guide and ran events for school groups (good experience for RCC life). At Wye I became Secretary of the Students Union and EWLs (the Environment and Wildlife Society). Like James Derounian, with whom I shared Margaret Anderson as Director of Studies, a Countryside Officer job advert on the noticeboard was my dream job.  I applied and was rejected. As Secretary of EWLs I organised a speaker from CoSIRA, the Council for Small Industries in Rural Areas, and asked whether they had vacancies and started work straight from Wye as Secretary to the Controller, Arnold Pentelow, and Deputy Controller of Field Staff, Frank Price (a former NCVO Regional Officer). CoSIRA and RCCs had close relationships, both funded by the Rural Development Commission (RDC). I learned that Hampshire was “the largest and best funded of the RCCs”, and when the Countryside Officer post came up, I applied.

Hampshire – Countryside Officer/Assistant Director – 1979 – 83

I discovered later that the NCVO rep on the interview panel, David Emerson, favoured the chap from the year below at Wye, James Derounian, who worked in a research post at NCVO. But James didn’t have a driving licence so I was appointed despite them!

On day two, I minuted a meeting reporting on key lessons from the expansion of Andover, Basingstoke and Southampton entitled Social Aspects of New Housing Development. They included the need for a Community Centre and a Community Development Worker. In September 2020 I completed a policy paper for ACRE: “The Provision of Community Buildings in areas of New Housing Development”. OK, perhaps I’ve not moved on, but lessons learnt years ago often need to be reinvigorated.

 On day three the Director, Peter Martin OBE, took me to Bordon in East Hampshire, a community based around an army base where the RCC had appointed an Under Fives Worker, working out of a portacabin in the absence of a community hall. Having learnt a new primary school had just been opened, by the end of the day Peter had seen the old building and part of my role over the next four years was developing it as a Community Arts Centre, now the Phoenix Theatre and Arts Centre. The RDC awarded a grant to turn it into a Multi-Purpose Village Centre, a new concept. Under Peter’s wing the regular 45 minute drive to Bordon proved fabulous mentoring.

We set up two Manpower Services Commission funded teams to renovate the building and develop community, arts and environmental/heritage activities and were lucky to appoint Angela Henslow (Wheeler)as our very successful environmental officer.  I was later invited by Dave Francis to write up the Bordon experience for “Rural Action: A collection of community work case studies”, published 1993. In 2012 I evaluated a lottery project in East Hampshire, and found some of the work stemmed from our work 20 years previously, showing lasting benefit.

On Day five at a seminar on Redundant Use of Farm Buildings chaired by the Assistant County Planning Officer, Phil Turner (who turns up later in this story). He landed me, with five minutes notice, the task of summarising the discussion. Being the end of my first week and the first of many “OMG” experiences over the years, it’s the one I have not forgotten.

Sent for an induction day to the NCVO rabbit warren in Bedford Square I smartened myself up in skirt and high heels, only to find that, unlike Hampshire, the dress code was jeans.  I shared an office with John Watts (ex RN, a freelance journalist) and worked with the Hampshire Association of Local Councils Secretary, Capt Michael Dann and then Col David Morgan, promoting and supporting village appraisals, including a publication Creative Planning in Rural Areas, inspired by the newly published NCVO report on The Decline in Rural Services. (The village appraisals experience has lately helped our Neighbourhood Plan and Parish Council). Lack of affordable housing was a common issue but Peter Martin warned me off firmly owing to the workload. When I became chair of our Community Land Trust I remembered his advice, but having the Rural Housing Hub Manager at Action in rural Sussex (AirS) Graham Maunders to help now made it manageable.

Trevor Bailey, a CoSIRA Small Industries Organiser, asked if I might be interested in driving to Spain together with a Spanish speaking friend Sylvie as part of a Churchill Fellowship award to visit the Mondragon co-operatives, a first experience of community work in Europe.  This year I put David Emerson in touch with Trevor, who provided film archive for ACRE’s Centenary work. 

I spoke at a couple of careers events at Wye about working in RCCs along with other RES students.  But I wasn’t aware of a subsequent surge of people joining RCCs from Wye, so clearly didn’t do a good job.

Once a fortnight a topical newssheet arrived in the office from NCVO’s rural dept called Across the Rural Desk (ARD).  There was a bit of a fight for it, John Watts’ desk was – like a deep litter chicken shed where I worked one summer – a shelf of paper, so at a staff meeting it was agreed a red flag would be pinned to poke out of the top so it could be found (a forerunner to Microsoft systems). 

When Assistant Director/Village Halls Adviser, Vic Emery, retired, Peter offered me the post. I hesitated but he assured me the job was not about buildings, but about helping people, making sure halls are used and managed well.  In one morning Vic explained the Dept for Education and Science Capital Grant Scheme (wound up two years later), took me to the newly opened hall at Braishfield, and introduced me to Village Hall Model Trust Deeds, on which the governance of most halls are based.   To my relief a few weeks later a blue folder arrived: the brand new Village Halls Handbook, by the long serving NCSS Village Halls Adviser, Marjorie Hann, who was retiring.  As well as administering grants we issued newsletters and ran a Village Halls Conference. Ian Strong was the new National Village Halls Adviser and at his prompting I wrote the first of many letters to MPs, supporting Occasional Permissions to sell alcohol.

NCVO Rural Dept – National Village Halls Adviser – 1983 – 87

After four years with Hampshire, I succeeded Ian Strong as National Village Halls Adviser. Ian had changed the role – instead of working at NCVO with his Assistant Elaine Walker he was outposted at the Derbyshire RCC. The NCVO Village Halls Committee was replaced with a National Village Halls Forum as the Voice of Village Halls with an annual conference.  There was no room to be outposted at Hampshire so I shared an office in the rabbit warren with Steve Woollett, who had succeeded David Emerson (DE was studying acting but still sharing the NCVO flat with Rhys Taylor).

The new Public Entertainment Licensing regime was the first thing to be tackled. ( In 2004/5 we again grappled with licensing and Deborah Clarke has since won a more “light touch” regime).  Steve Woollett, like David Emerson, sat on the interview panel for Countryside Initiative Officer jobs.  He put the phone down one day and said a Wye candidate called Janet Ridge had just pulled out of the Bedfordshire interview owing to her grandmother’s funeral.  I told him he had to interview her and he rang back. The rest is not yet history. 

The Spring 1984 Budget announced that VAT would be extended to building alterations.   Once given up, the European Community would not allow a zero rate of VAT to be reinstated so I had to become a VAT nerd. Despite lobbying year on year it wasn’t until 2018, 34 years later, that the Government did anything to mitigate the cost.  David Clark suggested we needed evidence, that we should carry out a national survey of village halls. A wise move.

Once married and settled in Hertfordshire the Bedfordshire RCC offered an office next to Janet Ridge in their really friendly office.  I was on the phone to Meryl Smith, Oxfordshire, one afternoon when she said the building was rattling, thought it must be a heavy lorry. Next thing the walls of my office started shaking and we realised it was an earthquake. The evening news gave the epicentre as Shropshire.

NCVO provided training opportunities which improved my confidence and knowledge no end and helped enormously with delivering training to Village Hall Advisers and at county events. I found myself having to open the eyes of national charities as well as Government to how small, rural charities actually operate. We produced a video about village halls, with a voiceover by Norman Paynter( Phil Archer).  I helped man fringe events held by Rural Voice at party conferences (as if one David Clark wasn’t enough, the labour MP David Clark also spoke at one). 

With family background in Norfolk, David C entrusted me with being his deputy for supporting the formation of the Norfolk RCC. At an RDC event about the importance of the rural economy I (inelegantly) made the point that none of the speakers had referred to women, or the need for  childcare in rural employment. Moira Constable, Director of the Rural Housing Trust, was next and invited me to join the English Villages Housing Association, on which I remained about six years.  

One of the drawbacks as National Village Halls Adviser was that requests to speak at county conferences and training events were usually on Saturdays in spring and autumn, though it was an opportunity to keep in touch with Wye friends eg Sarah Howard at Voluntary Action Cumbria, Mike and Hilary Winter in Devon.

In 1985 Dorset Community Action needed maternity cover for the Director and I was seconded for six months, back in post when ACRE was formed.  I bumped into Sylvie from the Mondragon trip, who saved me from winter in a freezing, louse-infested block of summer holiday flats by offering a room.  I was giving a talk at Halstock about building a new village hall, when I recognised Derek Smith in the audience. One of my most memorable village hall meetings in Hampshire had been with Derek in the shell of the new Michelmersh & Timsbury Village Hall, when we sat in the gloaming as the sun set. (HSE and CDM regulations didn’t matter then).  I’ve only met two volunteers who built more than one village hall and Derek was one. Having also established a community shop in Halstock he then founded VIRSA, the Village and Retail Services Association, now part of Plunkett Foundation. 

ACRE – National Village Halls Adviser – 1987 – 1999

I first met Malcolm Moseley, ACRE’s first Director, when he was a member of the working party setting up the Norfolk RCC. Malcolm supported me studying part time for a Diploma in Management Studies and in August 1988 he encouraged me to join a European Rural University trip from Sussex University. I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for (turned out no-one did) but needed to find out how village halls are provided in Europe to deal with the threat of losing 0% VAT on building new halls. Charlotte Hursey (Humber & Wolds), Tim Cawkwell (Norfolk), Diana Farrow (Wiltshire), Trevor Cherrett (Sussex), Linda Mottram (Staffordshire), Richard Copeland (Hampshire) and Phil Turner (Hampshire County Planning dept), were also on board. Our coaches stopped at towns and villages where we were greeted by schoolchildren, mayors, local activists and aperitifs, with talks about saving the rural heritage, planning, local government and loss of services until we met other coaches in the Salle Polyvalante (multi-purpose village hall) at Vuiz en Sallaz, near Geneva.

Malcolm and Michael Dower, for ECOVAST, with his wife Nan, were “grande fromages”, being part of the organising team. Malcolm had arranged for ACRE Vice President Tim Yeo MP to speak, who had been chair of the Charities Tax Reform Group, so this was a great opportunity to garner CTRG support for our VAT campaign, which became a huge help, as well as to pitch the problem to an audience of European activists. Evening meals were often rounded off with singing, Michael Dower leading the UK contingent. This trip was such fun, and the food so good, that Phil T concluded we had contracted food poisoning at Sussex University and gone to heaven. Some of the UK contingent formed the UK organisers for ERU trips for years to come, joined by other RCC and RDC staff, including Janet Ridge. Former colleagues turned into friends.

Our first ACRE Village Halls publication, in 1987, was a new Design Guide Halls for the Future.  The Archbishops’ Commission on Rural Areas (ACORA), for which Jeremy Martineau was joint Secretary, provided the opportunity to deal with a long-standing problem – the closure of village schools had deprived some villages of their only meeting place but church schools belonged to the church, which sought to sell at the highest price so as to invest in other schools. ACRE’s Vice President, Lord Stanley of Alderley, helped amend the Charities Bill then before Parliament, which (watered down) resulted in what is now clause 121 of the Charities Act 2011, which helps protect local charity property. 

By the time the EC decided that the UK also needed to charge VAT on the construction of new buildings in 1988 we had the results of the first ever National Village Halls Survey and with a dynamic National Village Halls Forum chair, Joan Davis (chair of Staffordshire RCC), we set about lobbying both MPs and MEPs – in person, speaking at conferences, and attending MP and MEP surgeries. At the 200 strong Norfolk Village Halls conference the MEP arrived just in time for his slot and foolishly asked me if I would like to go first so he could catch his breath. After a while. out of the corner of my eye I saw him tear up his notes and he promised to lobby in Brussels for us, perhaps when he heard Brussels and London were passing the buck and village halls were falling between the stools.  Thanks to the complaints MPs had received over the previous four years, and the ability to cast the blame across the water, the Government agreed to write to the EC VAT Commissioner and seek approval to continued 0% VAT on the construction of new halls. I was watching the Finance Committee in the Commons when, in response to an amendment put down by  Northamptonshire MP William Powell, Treasury Minister Peter Lilley said his parents had lobbied him on the subject. That’s enough on life with village halls and VAT: it will form a chapter of its own in the ACRE Centenary Village Halls book!

After maternity leave in 1991 I went back to work part time, working out of the Hertfordshire RCC office, where I became a trustee. In 1995 I started working from home, now in West Sussex (home working in Covid was “business as usual” after 25 years).  Sheila Rowley formed my other half in Cirencester. When the Millennium Commission was formed Sheila suggested we bid for an umbrella project. I formed part of the bid team and the 21st Century Halls for England programme was awarded £10 million, enough for several new or improved halls in each county and a new version of Village Hall, Plan, Design and Build and we recruited an able administrator called Deborah Clarke.

Sussex – and Consultancy – 2000 onwards

With a third child on the way I left ACRE and began part time as Village Halls Adviser with AirS, initially alongside Christine Swan who I had known since Hampshire days. Deborah Clarke was an inspired choice as ACRE’s Community Halls Adviser, and I added capacity occasionally with pieces of  consultancy, mainly for ACRE ( licensing, governance, more national surveys, publications, training). Malcolm Moseley and I carried out a lottery project evaluation for Devon RCC and I was a panel member for the lottery funded Community Sustainable Energy Programme.

Since DES passed responsibility for providing capital funding for halls to local authorities budget pressures predictably resulted in funds intended for village halls being diverted elsewhere. When the National Lottery was introduced, with five distributors, there was a danger of village and community halls falling through the gaps and that is exactly what happened. In 2002 dynamic Village Halls Forum chair, Lois Rose, organised a parliamentary rally in Parliament Square in order to get the message over that village halls need lottery funding and relief from VAT in order to modernise. A fireman’s strike was called off, so I was on the Today programme in the morning and Lois the BBC TV news that night, a placard behind Lois held by our eight year old son James: “Village Halls Need Lottery Funding Now”. 

The lottery did introduce grant programmes, but their stop-start nature is inappropriate for capital projects which take years of planning and fundraising, a problem we have not been able to solve. Lois organised tea parties with MPs at the Commons and in 2016 a meeting with Sir Oliver Letwin in the Cabinet Office to present the case for funding for Village Hall Advisers.

Consultancy and ACRE trusteeship – 2015 onwards

I emerged three days after redundancy in 2015 as Community Halls Advice and have since enjoyed focussing on the more challenging situations presented in Sussex and policy writing for ACRE. I had never expected to find myself writing information for halls to help them through enforced closure and unlocking due to Covid, but as always the gratitude of volunteers and of Village Halls Advisers has made that worthwhile.

In 2017 I became an ACRE trustee.  It has felt like a culmination of all this experience from Wye and onwards as I have become re-acquainted with the wider work of more RCCs, finding that it’s not just understanding village halls and RCCs that I have to contribute but local experience of Neighbourhood Planning, Community Land Trusts, conservation issues (recalling Bryn Green from Wye at times). My main achievement so far has been winning a meeting with Robert Jenrick at the Treasury, which included Deborah Clarke and Alan West, the last Chair of the National Village Halls Forum. I thanked him for being the first Minister to agree to meet us for 30 years. When he asked who the last one was, I said Gillian Shepherd. That had clearly made an impression because he corrected me in the handwritten footnote on his letter after the £3 million Village Halls Improvement Grant Fund was awarded to help address VAT costs, saying he was glad to help after 25 years.

The most enjoyable part has undoubtedly been getting to know better ACRE’s truly fantastic ex-Wye Chairman David Emerson, CBE, and other trustees through the work on the ACRE Centenary, which has brought me back in touch with Alan Rogers, David Clark, Dave Francis and valued former colleagues from whom I have learnt so much. It has brought back such powerful and (mainly) hugely enjoyable memories.

Note:  Louise was awarded an OBE in the New Years Honours list 2021 for her work supporting rural communities, not least during the Covid epidemic.

Jo Buffey

RES 1975-78

My appointment as Countryside Officer to the Bedfordshire RCC in the spring of 1979 was my first real job and provided an exciting and challenging introduction to the world of work. The remit was so wide-ranging as to be overwhelming at times for a new graduate with very little work experience. Duties included working with various local authority departments and officers, lots of committee work, working with the farming community on farm ‘open days’ and school visits, co-ordinating one of the first FWAG groups, liaising with the County Naturalist Trust, BTCV,  leading a local conservation group and much more. The campaigns of the day were mostly about saving rural services like village schools, shops and GPOs, public transport and developing the first community car schemes. I remember the ‘Use It or Lose It’ campaign, ‘A-tree-for-free’ and the ironic ‘Shell Better Britain Competition’ that sponsored local groups to restore village ponds and provided the most lavish PR lunches we’d ever seen!

I was guided through some of this bamboozling stuff by the kindly father figure of Mr Morris (bosses were not on first name terms in those days!) and the efficient Doreen, the secretary I shared with the CoSIRA officer. I had my own office, desk, telephone, in/ out/ pending trays, and a large filing cabinet. My post, already opened, was brought to me in the morning to be dealt with. All the staff had coffee together at 10.30am, we ate  a cooked pub lunch and had tea and biscuits at 3pm!  Any letters I had dictated to Doreen during the day were typed up (top copy + 2 for filing ) on her manual typewriter, tippexed if necessary, and brought for signing before being franked and taken out to the post box to catch the 4.45pm collection.

It may now all sound incredibly old fashioned and quaint but I think we got through an enormous amount of work efficiently.  It was  civilised and very enjoyable. 

The broad-based  RES degree  familiarised us with many aspects of the British rural scene and instilled in us that, in an  increasingly urban dominated and polluted country – to coin a contemporary phrase – rural lives mattered, rural communities and economies mattered, environmental protection mattered and the RCCs at the time had an unique and invaluable role to ensure that the ‘rural voice’ was heard.

It was an exciting and challenging time to be involved given that voice was still so small and concepts of conservation and sustainability still virtually unheard of  and unheeded. I think  my enthusiasm and idealism resulted in me reaching  a state of ‘burn out’ after only three years with Bedfordshire RCC and I decided to leave to travel the world, perhaps still too idealistic but with some very useful experience under my belt.

Fast forward 24 years to 2005  (it was a long trip spent in other careers in other parts of the world! )  when I was appointed by the much respected Ian Strong, long time chief executive at Yorkshire RCC, as one of several Community Development Officers. Our role was  to promote and encourage rural communities across North Yorkshire to take up a two-year EU-funded initiative …community-based Parish Plans.   The post enabled me to return to my  family roots which I had left 30 years previously to go to Wye and to work at  grass-roots level with communities I knew and understood very well.

The uptake was reasonable considering our capacity to support groups through the lengthy process and  outcomes varied greatly according to commitment of steering groups, implementation of realistic and achievable goals and attitude of the district council in which they were located.

However, the funding was not continued after the initial two years, the expanded YRCC was ‘restructured’  under new management and ten of us found ourselves  ‘down the road’! I took the opportunity to return to something more ‘environmental’, having completed an MSc in Environmental Management and Sustainable Tourism in 2003 to further my interest in rural/on-farm tourism as a growing part of the rural economy.

Working for two different RCCs with a 25 year gap in between, gave me an interesting historical perspective on the rural sector and the RCCs role within it. A lot of water had passed under the county bridges in that time, not only in the organisation and funding of RCCs but in the massive changes in social structure and economies of rural communities, modern agricultural practice, the planning system, new  legislation, EU membership and of course the total takeover of IT in the workplace.

It seemed, at least in Yorkshire, that some of the infant bodies the RCC had once nurtured, had grown up into self-sustaining and independent adulthood with their own staff and funding – eg FWAGs,  the CVS, Local Council Associations etc. We seemed swamped by top-down national and county-wide strategies, policies and legislation although it did appear that local authorities, encouraged to be more inclusive and greener, acknowledged the need to take minority group interests  (like rural communities) and environmental issues into account.

This is not the place, nor am I qualified, to discuss the changing/changed role of the RCCs. The innovative approach of the RES degree at Wye provided many of us with the perfect broad-based grounding to start careers in the RCCs and that so many have gone on to make significant contributions to the worthwhile work that they do is testament to that.

It would be hard to imagine what kind of degree could prepare students today for the challenges which lie ahead for the British countryside and its inhabitants.

James Derounian

RES 1976-79

I remember exactly when I became aware of Rural Community Councils (RCCs). It was my last week at Wye College, having studied RuralEnvironment Studies RES. I happened to see a job advert on the course noticeboard: Warwickshire RCC was advertising a Countryside Officer post. I applied and was short-listed. I didn’t get the job! But on the station platform, following the interview, I fell in to conversation with one of the panel, who turned out to be a staffer at the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) Rural Departmment – David Emerson. He and I started chatting, because we had both studied at Wye. We got on and he offered to talk to his boss, David Clark, to see if they could offer me a short-term research contract.

Both David’s gave me that all-important first step on the career ladder, and I researched and published ‘Structure Plans and Rural Communities’ in 1980. David Clark taught me the importance of careful research, but also timely production, to increase the chances of political impact. David then suggested me to the Community Council of Devon for their vacant Rural Officer post. I joined Director John Usmar, ex-senior police officer and Assistant Director, Dennis Reed, and former Colonial Officer, Peter Whiteley. I was 21 and very much the young whipper-snapper! It was a wonderful, varied job, one minute dealing with a community group working to save their school; the next discussing with a constituency MP, writing for the RCC’s Village Green magazine, or staging ‘Planning and Parish Councils’ training sessions. My abiding memory of that time was helping Plymtree (East Devon) residents to retain their village school. When under threat there were just 13 on roll; within ten years the number had grown to 150 pupils. I am very proud to have contributed towards the community success. I worked for CCD from 1980 until 1985.

After that I moved to become Northumberland Rural Development Programme’s (and England’s) first RDP Officer. This continued the contact with RCCs – especially the Northumberland branch. The job extended me beyond project development, and included strategic activities to try to influence county and national rural policies. During this time (1980-93) I was particularly proud of my inputs to what became the Allenheads Project – community-driven regeneration of this down-at-heel North Pennine ex-lead mining settlement of under 200 residents. RDP and RCC inputs led to a village appraisal (DIY development plan, prefiguring Neighbourhood Plans), that in turn led on to formation of a community trust, restoration of derelict buildings to community-owned museum, holiday let, post office, tourist facilities and affordable homes. Towards the end of my time in the North-East, a local activist and I escorted Prince Charles around the project, in his role as Patron of Business in the Community BiC. I completed an MPhil reviewing English RDPs through Newcastle University. And my external examiner – one Malcolm Moseley (ACRE Director)!  I was then, very fortunately in the right place at the right time to pick-up part-time lecturing three days-a-week in rural planning at Newcastle, whilst continuing the RDP work on the other two days each week.

Teaching at Newcastle University weaned me from being a ‘lone ranger’/ project officer to realising that, through higher education teaching, I could reach and, hopefully, enthuse many more people get stuck in to make constructive contributions to what has become known as sustainable development. I was then, once again, incredibly fortunate to land a BSc Course Leader lectureship managing the Countryside Planning programme at Cheltenham and Gloucester’s College of Higher Education. My tenure at what became the University of Gloucestershire in 2000 was to last 26 years. And in a twist of fate, just as I and others had worked for RCCs/ACRE, so my graduates began to do likewise – Stephen Sleight (transport officer inBedfordshire); Tracey Bessant and Louise Fletcherin Gloucestershire. There were strong links with Gloucestershire RCC, through Director Stephen Wright, who was instrumental in establishing the Local Policy BA Hons degree, delivered by distance and blended learning to parish sector staff across Wales and England (on which I still teach). I certainly saw some 1,000 students who were parish councillors and clerks pass through my hands, who then graduated and went back to their communities to trigger local social, environmental and economic schemes. Malcolm Moseley, Mike Winter and Michael Dowerbecame direct colleagues at Gloucestershire’s Countryside and Community Research Institute CCRI.

As a community activist my path crossed once again with Gloucestershire RCC (Elin Tattersall) who advised those of us preparing a Neighbourhood Plan for my hometown of Winchcombe (population 5,000) as to how to engage with residents and gain their ideas and inputs. In 1997-8 I undertook a secondment to what was the Countryside Commission (Local Identity team), developing community-based policies and programmes. Subsequently (2006) I researched and published The Life and Times of the Countryside Agency.

In 2020 I gained a PhD by published work. The title of my doctoral thesis was A confluence of two rivers: A reflection on the meeting point between community development and higher education teaching and learning, in which RCCs receive several mentions.I explored and reached conclusions about the nature and degree of connectedness between higher education teaching and learning, and community development theory and practice.

I have now been head-hunted at the tender age of 63, and am looking forward to part-time teaching at a new higher education institution, Edgehill University. That will no doubt continue my close working with ACREs nationally and locally. And I am also visiting professor at the University of Bolton. I have been very fortunate to have secured and enjoyed the jobs along the way, and to have met so many inspiring community campaigners. Plus movers-and-shakers linked to ACRE/RCCs, such as David Clark, Michael Dower, David Emerson, Keith Harrison, Brian McLoughlin, Lord Nigel Vinson and Richard Wakeford.

A final story/memory: Michael Dower, then Countryside Commission Director General, leading a raucous singalong with European University conference delegates as our bus traversed the burning heat of the Greek Peloponnese. Multiple languages singing old favourites with gusto. Later on the Mayor of Arcadia welcomed us to the gathering, but part way through became very agitated; at the same time the translators went silent……later we heard that his worship had gone off on a tirade (against Germans generally and more specifically their activities in the area during WWII).

David Emerson

LEDM 1972-1973

I came to Wye in 1972 following a first degree in geography from UCL, and found the immense contrast of college size and location a delight. While that geography background provided a familiarity and intellectual connection with Alan Rogers, Margaret Anderson and others elsewhere in the college – as well as a distant link thereby to Prof Wibberley – my focus was much more physically environmental in that I was pursuing the relatively new MSc in Landscape Ecology, Design and Maintenance. This involved many explorations into the farm estate, and onto the Wye & Crundale Downs where I became a volunteer warden and thereby began my personal interest into native orchids which I now pursue more avidly, but that’s another story. 

When the first Community Initiative in the Countryside posts were advertised towards the end of my year at Wye, they too had a more countryside and environmental focus as it had been thought that rural communities needed more support to pursue such projects and protect their local environment. Consequently the link with my masters course seemed strong, and I was fortunate to be appointed in Cheshire in 1973, my then shoulder-length hair notwithstanding . Agreeing to cut it before starting the role was a contractual agreement.   Yet once in the role it soon became apparent that undertaking environmental projects was no problem for many communities, but that what was a challenge was maintaining or supporting their social facilities and local infrastructure. Fortunately the flexibility within the job description for the CiC posts was considerable, and the shift to the more social focus within the post in Cheshire became my own professional shift in focus. Physical environmental issues moved to become a personal interest alongside my work thereafter, while sometimes usefully contributing insight to some of my subsequent work with charitable foundations.

After more than five years in Cheshire I was immensely fortunate to be offered a post in David Clark’s team at NCSS, subsequently NCVO, which enabled me to gain a wider understanding of the issues concerning RCCs, as well as to visit so many of them, meet so many colleagues, and to see the variations and challenges across the country. It also gave me a huge education in wider policy work, and included working with the Development Commission, and with Margaret Clark there, with whom I have been able to resume a working relationship again at ACRE.  Being in London also enabled me to gain various performing arts skills, and eventually to work professionally in theatre for a number of years before joining the world of charitable foundations, but during which time I rather lost touch with the detail of RCCs, and the development of ACRE.

But when the Chair of ACRE was advertised in the summer of 2015, that seemed an opportunity not to ignore, and once again I have been very fortunate to be able to take on that role, and to complete a circle of involvement with rural communities, going back to my own upbringing on Ashdown Forest in Sussex.  I do sometimes wonder what Major Bonner, my CEO in Cheshire, would have made of his long haired young appointee becoming Chair of the Network.

Note: David was the chief executive of the Association of Charitable Foundations for 15 years until 2016.  He was awarded the CBE in the New Years Honours 2015.

David Francis

Postgraduate research student 1979-1982

I was a postgraduate student from September 1979 until about July 1982, at Wye College (University of London), undertaking research for a PhD.  I had graduated with a BSc in Geography from Southampton University four years earlier in 1975, and had worked as a planner in the Local Plans Unit of a newly-formed district council in Lincolnshire, while also attaining a Graduate Diploma in Town and Country Planning at Trent Polytechnic in Nottingham.

In 1979, I developed itchy feet, and was seeking a university where I could undertake PhD research into a subject which was broadly connected to the elements of the planning job which I had been undertaking: supporting parish councils and other community groups to undertake policy-orientated community appraisals, and also furthering the values of community-based action which I had embraced from some of my lecturers at Trent Poly. It was one of these lecturers, Ray Walker, who had been leading on a government- funded research project into rural community involvement in the planning process, who suggested that I approach Wye College.

My interview with Alan Rogers and Robin Best convinced me that Wye would not only be able to accommodate me and my research, but would also enthusiastically support what I wanted to study. So I gave up what might (or not!) have been a lucrative career in local government to become a student again, researching a subject where I knew the ensuing professional opportunities involved low levels of pay and long working-hours!

From a vague outline of a research project, Alan helped me to refine it into a manageable and tangible thesis title: Community initiatives and voluntary action in rural England: a study of locally-based activities and community development, with special reference to Kent. Alan also ‘opened doors’ for me,giving me access to NCVO’s Rural Department, the RCC network, and Wye’s ‘planning twin’: the Bartlett School of Architecture and Planning at University College, London, where Philip Lowe was a lecturer with a particular interest in the politics of rural planning and pressure-groups. During my time at Wye, I also pursued two areas of voluntary work: with Kent Voluntary Service Council (ie the RCC) and as the organiser of the Ashford and Shepway branch of the Campaign for Real Ale.

Following the submission of my thesis in about July 1982, I landed what I thought would be a short fill-in job in London. It was a six month Home Office-funded research job at the National Institute for Social Work, on a census-type survey of community development work in the UK. Working alongside David Thomas and Paul Henderson, who were arguably the country’s leading writers and trainers on neighbourhood-based community work at that time, this collaboration resulted in our development of ‘practice-theory’: the conceptualisation of community development work practice in the rural UK and Western Europe. There followed a string of publications, short training courses, induction events for RCC field workers, workshops at Rural Life Conferences, several international conferences, and input to the Carnegie Commission on Rural Community Development.

In the Spring of 1983, even before I had completed the NISW research, I joined Hereford and Worcester RCC as the Assistant Director to the newly-appointed Director, Sue Harper. A new Rural Officer joined us shortly after that, Richard Quallington, whom I had previously known when he worked on the Government-funded Rural Deprivation research. I had learnt a lot about parish councils and village halls while I was at Wye, but I learnt a lot more of the practicalities from Sue and also from the newly-appointed National Village Halls Advisor at NCVO, Ian Strong, whom I had briefly come across during my time as a planner in Lincolnshire, when he was running training courses for parish councils with Derbyshire RCC.

In late summer 1985, I applied for the chief officer’s job at Northumberland’s RCC. Alec Trotter, the previous incumbent, had established the RCC in 1951, and was retiring after some 30-odd years in the job. I can still recall much of that interview. I was asked how long I might stay, if I were to be appointed. I suggested six or seven years. I stayed for 30.

During those three decades, I led a staff team which grew from an initial half-dozen, to over 50 at its peak, and eventually reduced to about six again at the time of my retirement. This rise-and-fall was typical of most RCCs, and is largely attributable to the changing fortunes of the national economy, and of Government attitudes regarding the voluntary and community sector. As well as managing the organisation, I was also the chief officer of the county association of local councils, giving advice and training on a wide range of topics. Northumberland was a county which benefitted hugely from European Union development programmes, and we played a major role in ensuring that local community groups could both manage and benefit from this major funding. Northumberland is also part of the North-East region, with a strong history of networking and co-operation across the rural and urban areas. I was pleased to be able to play a significant part in the creation and operation of a range of region-wide institutions, including the Community Foundation for Tyne and Wear and Northumberland, the regional development agency, the regional voluntary organisations’ network, as well as a number of less-formal networks.

And yet, it was usually the local initiatives which gave the greatest sense of achievement: helping a community to save its school from closure, renovate its village hall, create new jobs for unemployed ex-miners, install a new water supply, or provide and run some affordable housing for local needs.

I retired in 2016, and I have since been active in a voluntary capacity with the National Association of Local Councils, my local parish council, a local dog rescue charity, and a pantomime society.

Colin Gray

Postgraduate research student 1971-73

Colin graduated with a first class degree from Leicester University in 1969 and then for two years was a United Nations volunteer worker in West Bengal on an Oxfam-funded rural development project.  He came to Wye College in 1973 to do research with Gerald Wibberley on the future of rural communities, leaving in 1973 to become the first Countryside Officer at Gloucestershire Rural Community Council.  In 1976 he returned to Kent to retrain in social work, eventually becoming a senior probation officer in the county.  He died in 2017 after a long illness.

Sarah Hann (England)


I joined the Community Council of Devon (CCD) as Rural Communities Project Officer for Okehampton and district on 1 July 1980 as a new graduate of Rural Environment Studies from Wye College. My office base was in Okehampton and I lived in a remote (and basic) farm cottage six miles north of the town until 1983 when I left the Community Council. I had had a similar experience at Wye and so it didn’t feel totally alien. It was extremely quiet and without a telephone, and on my first day at work when due to meet John Usmar, the then Director of the CCD, I overslept! I was mortified. John waited patiently for me in the Town Council offices in Okehampton and listened to my apologies with understanding (I think).

The Rural Communities Project had resulted from a study conducted for the Development Commission in 1978 by the Dartington Amenity Research Trust. It was one of two projects funded to explore how small, direct interventions at a very local scale could impact on issues of rural deprivation. I had five specific objectives:

  • Encourage stronger links between industry and the community
  • Assist local communities undertake village appraisals
  • Improve resources available to village halls
  • Encourage wider use of village halls
  • Improve communications between local organisations and local government

I have revisited the photographs of our ‘Industry and You’ exhibition, held in Okehampton’s Charter Hall, and they remind me of what we achieved with relatively meagre resources. After the exhibition we were visited by Margaret Clark of the Development Commission and, together with the project steering group, we held a ‘pre-meeting’ in a café on the town’s Fore Street. Margaret was very ‘Whitehall’ and the café was not in the least salubrious; in retrospect it seems a strange and amusing venue in which to meet our important visitor!

The job was challenging for a recent graduate; working solo in such isolated conditions, but the RES degree was a great foundation to build on. I was also very fortunate to have Wye graduates, James (Jim) Derounian, the CCD Rural Officer based in Exeter, and Hilary and Mike Winter who lived nearby in West Devon, as colleagues and friends.

Angela Henslow (Wheeler)

RES 1975-78

Louise Beaton fortuitously persuaded me to apply for the post of Environmental Ranger for Hampshire Council of Social Service based in Bordon. Having returned from two years abroad I had some catching up to do. The job required a car and so as I only had a motorbike license at the time I bought a three wheeled Reliant (the Green triangle) until I could obtain a full driving license. 

At the time Bordon was a bit of a ‘curate’s egg‘. It was largely an army garrison town winding down and a lot of new affordable housing developments being built. My mission was to raise environmental awareness, help existing groups and establish new ones. The community centre was based in the old fire station, then named Barbados House.

A couple of events during my time stand out in my memory.

I visited all the local schools and persuaded most of them to establish a wildlife area. In the first instance this meant a battle with the County Council maintenance departments to stop the cutting of hedges and mowing of the whole playing field.  One day I received an emergency call at Barbados House urgently requesting my attendance at one of the schools where we had established a good little area of wildflower meadow.  A snake had been sighted in the long grass and the maintenance mower was threatened unless I did something “immediately.” I duly rushed over in my trusty Reliant and hand-scythed the patch, (not quite Poldark style) to maintain some sort of meadow sward, closely watched by the fascinated children from their lessons indoors. 

I also started to set the wheels in motion establishing a natural area and walk along the appropriately named Deadwater stream. It ran along the back of several gardens and suffered from the usual abandoned shopping trolleys, litter, garden and builders waste all tipped into the stream. Not all the residents were in favour and one day whilst out surveying on my own (no mobile phones at the time and little Health & Safety rules as now) I was challenged by an angry man. I explained who I was and he angrily replied,” I know who you are, I recognize you from the photo in the local paper. I’ve cut it out and put it on my dart board!” The area is now a local Nature reserve and I lived to tell the tale.

Sarah Howard

RES 1975-78

I attended Wye College from 1975 to 1978 studying the Rural Environment Studies degree course.  After graduating, I worked for English Nature as a Scientific Officer in both the south-east and in Cumbria, involved with botanical and land use surveys.  I was then engaged in three different Rural Community Councils in England – firstly in Buckinghamshire, then in Cumbria and lastly in Wiltshire.

In 1980, I joined Buckinghamshire Council for Voluntary Service as Assistant to the General Secretary.  I was involved with assisting the establishment of a Volunteer Bureau, a Victims Support Scheme and an advice line for disabled people.  After three years, my desire to return to Cumbria was realised when I joined Voluntary Action Cumbria as Rural Community Officer.  After a couple of years assisting with village halls and other community groups, in 1985 I left Cumbria for Kenya as a Voluntary Service Overseas posting with a development group.  I remember part of my training with another VSO worker entailed wading waist high through crocodile infested rivers to a women’s group meeting place (i.e. under a particular tree) where one demonstrated making a sponge cake!

After this VSO posting, I returned to England and joined Wiltshire Community Council as Transport Broker from 1986 to 1989.

Janet Law (Ridge)

RES 1976-79

I was fortunate to attend Wye College during the 1970s (1976-79) when the Rural Environment Studies undergraduate course was an exciting new departure from the more traditional subjects relating to agriculture and horticulture.  After I had visited Wye for my interview, I knew there was only one course that I wanted to study, and only one place I wanted to study it.

Wye College was a special place – not just for its beautiful setting, its long traditions, its crazy students and its incredible social life, but very importantly for the quality of its teaching and its high academic standards.  As students we profited from the wisdom of lecturers such as Professor Gerald Wibberley, Dr Bryn Green, Dr Stuart McRae and Dr Alan Rogers – to name but a few.  Rural Environment Studies students, because of the breadth of the subject matter, were particularly fortunate to be taught by a wide range of lecturers and we learnt how the many different aspects of rural life are interwoven – this became particularly useful in later life when running a Rural Community Council!

After graduating from Wye, I was fortunate to gain a Commonwealth Scholarship to Australia and went off to study for a master’s degree in Environmental Studies at the University of Adelaide, and then taught Natural Resources at Roseworthy College in South Australia for a short time.  

It was fate that brought me to the RCC world.  I had interviews lined up for two jobs back in England – one was for a planning consultancy firm in Oxfordshire – a well-paid job in the private sector; the other was for the post of Countryside Officer with Bedfordshire Rural Community Council (BRCC).  On the day scheduled for the interviews in Bedfordshire, I was unable to attend as I was going to a funeral.  BRCC kindly offered to interview me on another day, dragging Stephen Woollett from the NCVO Rural Department out from London for a second time!  I was offered the job there and then, but I told the Director, Colin Glidle, that I had been for an interview for another job and I was waiting to hear from them.  He got their number from Directory Enquiries, wrote it in pencil on a shelf in his office, for some reason (RCCs couldn’t afford paper back then!), and persuaded me ring them.  I was told by the receptionist that the post wasn’t being offered to anyone, so I accepted the job at BRCC and went off home.  Two days later I got a call from the planning consultants offering me their job as well!  The receptionist had been told to simply deflect calls!

My fate was sealed.  I moved to Bedfordshire and took up the post of Countryside Officer in December 1983.  Back in the nineteen eighties the Countryside Officer had so much freedom to develop new ideas and to start new initiatives. Over the following five years Bedfordshire’s rural communities benefitted from schemes such as a Village Shopkeepers Association, a Farm and Country Holiday Group, a mobile information service, a mobile toy library and an extensive School-Farm Link scheme.  Colin Glidle and I became local radio presenters with our own slot ‘Village Voice’; we ran inter-parish quizzes and competitions such as Village Ventures….how did we find the time??!!

In 1989, when Colin retired, I was promoted to Chief Executive of BRCC and spent 25 years in the role.  The organisation grew from seven staff to over 50 over those 25 years, with an annual turnover in excess of two million pounds,  and, in addition to the more traditional roles carried out by an RCC, it expanded its areas of operation into community care, housing, the arts, community transport, the environment and economic development.  We developed assets such as Ridgmont Railway Station, converting it into a multi-use building to raise income for the organisation, and we even took over the management of a vineyard.

During my 25 years as Chief Executive, BRCC was a pioneer in a number of areas of work.  It was BRCC that received short-term project funding from the Rural Development Commission to establish the very first village care schemes, which later took off nationally as Good Neighbours Schemes.  We also ran, for many years, a Carers Short Breaks Bureau, through which carers obtained vouchers from the local authority to enable them to buy short term care for those for whom they were caring, to give them breaks.  Another initiative launched in Bedfordshire was a project to establish before and after school childcare clubs, which was inspired by a Rural Life Conference trip to France and ultimately taken over by Bedfordshire Training and Enterprise Council. 

BRCC has also had a very active environmental team for many years, and was one of the first organisations to develop and initiate Green Infrastructure Plans at a parish level, to feed into a county-wide Green Infrastructure Plan.  Significantly also, BRCC battled hard to obtain significant European funding for the county through the Rural Development Programme for England – an achievement of which we were immensely proud, as Bedfordshire has never been perceived as a rural priority area.

In fact, the role of Chief Executive as influencer at both county and regional levels was very important, particularly as Bedfordshire is a very small county with no special rural or landscape status.  BRCC founded and I chaired the Bedfordshire Rural Affairs Forum, which became an influential body in the county, and I was also pleased to serve as vice chair of the East of England Rural Forum for a number of years (a role which allowed me to meet directly with Ministers). I was awarded an MBE for services to rural communities in Bedfordshire.

Rural Community Councils are complicated beasts – a former colleague, when asked what they did for a living, always told people they worked in a supermarket, because it easier for people to understand!  My grounding at Wye – the broad base of knowledge, the juggling of many topics, and the appreciation of the complexity of rural issues, stood me in good stead for my life as a Chief Officer of a Rural Community Council – a life which has left me rich in fond memories and friendships. 

Out of interest, the telephone number of the Oxfordshire planning consultancy firm remained pencilled on the shelf in the Chief Executive’s office until we had the whole building renovated in the twenty first century – a constant reminder of an alternative path not taken!…..

Rosemary Milton (Scott-Miller)

RES 1972-75

Devon RCC were lucky to get their application for funding under the Development Commission’s rural community initiative officer posts. I was lucky that I was offered the job in August 1975. One of the key reasons I was successful at interview was that the third year RES field trip had been to South Devon, so the Director was very happy to focus on my knowledge of the county. Thankfully I had been the nominated notetaker for the County Offices planning department talk, so as I sat in the same room there were few interview nerves and I happily recalled how many of my fellow students had drifted off during the hour long talk on Devon Structure Plan. One of my first tasks, once in post, was to produce a guide to local planning for the Devon parish councils: this was easy as Tom Miller of Nottinghamshire RCC had already done his version. The joy was those early appointees met together several times and were mutually supportive in their pioneering role. We were definitely “young blood” and expected to extend the offering to villages from the existing three roles: Association of Parish Councils; the Village Hall Association and the Playing Fields Association. Each role was carried out by a lovely mature gentleman and then in burst I to supplement their work! Working alongside CoSIRA staff, from a prefab in the grounds of County Offices Exeter, I was quick to grasp the geography of the 420 parishes and start visiting villages in a mission to share in my initiatives!

 Keep Britain Tidy and civic societies had been asking for results so I worked to the environment committee, where the chairwoman was able to steer me carefully to keep these groups, Lady Sayer of the Dartmoor Preservation Society and Men of the Trees representatives all happy. I cannot believe that throughout my career the discussion of badgers and TB has continued to rage with still no agreed solution.

As the three years went by the work transitioned to more social issues. The village appraisal scheme was just taking off. Asking the voluntary organisations to undertake a huge survey and analyse the results with no digital technology was a huge, and (in hindsight), an unrealistic ambition, but raising the notion that the elected members needed to consult their parishioners more, and to have long term goals for their community planning, was a valid theme. Teletext was just taking off and I went down the A38 to Plymouth BBC for its regional launch. This was still not reaching individuals in rural communities. We tried an experimental West Devon scheme for Village Contacts, who were nominated sources of local information; updating the information to each person’s A4 file was quite a challenge but we recognised that service providers had different boundaries and that caused confusion. The rural citizens advice service had not made it to the villages. Noticeboards were very important in the Devon communities then and I produced a booklet to remind the managers of their noticeboards to keep them in good condition. Another experiment launched in 1977 for part of Exmoor was a “dial a lift “scheme with government help, to overcome village school closures and a decline of bus services.                      

 I recall in my third year I presented the first rural housing paper to the national conference, which reflected the concern for local people being able to get on the housing ladder or to find homes in their rural community. Devon RCC had just helped a local housing association to put some houses in villages. We worked closely with representatives of Exeter University as I wrote up my findings. I recall the Job Creation scheme was operating during my time there and rural unemployment, especially amongst the younger population, was a key concern; so I gave talks to groups, such as the County WI committee to encourage them to think of ways they could use the job creation scheme in their villages. I also worked with the staff of the community colleges, (which were the rural comprehensive schools), to help village activities, such as youth clubs and adult classes to thrive. Inspired by those educators, I completed my three years with RCC, (the initial agreed experiment duration), and went to train as a teacher. Perhaps, if I had known it was to be extended, I might have stayed on.

Alan Rogers

Postgraduate research student 1967-69; Staff 1969-2002

I came down to Wye in 1967 after graduating in geography from Oxford, to undertake research with Robin Best, becoming a member of staff in 1969 after writing up my research as a master’s thesis.  Thus I was in on the planning for the new degree in Rural Environment Studies which took in its first students in the autumn of 1970. A really exciting time with some brilliant students and books to write but with a minor downside that my PhD had to wait another ten years for completion.

In 1977 Gerald Wibberley was approached by the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) with a view to putting on a short course for new, often younger, staff in the RCCs dealing with developments in rural affairs and I was given the task of putting the programme together.  We of course used our own people but were also able to bring in young academics from other universities including Howard Newby and Philip Lowe.  The courses were a success and we repeated them two more times, and in the process I met people, both in individual RCCs and in the Rural Department of the NCSS, whom I would get to know better over the years.

I was invited to become a trustee of the Kent RCC (at that time known as the Kent Voluntary Service Council) and, again as a follow-up to the Wye courses, I found myself (largely through the machinations of the newly-appointed Chief Rural Officer of the NCSS, David Clark) as a member of the NCSS Rural Advisory Committee and then chairman of the Standing Conference of Rural Community Councils which operated under the auspices of the NCSS.

The 1970s turned out to be heady times in the RCC world.  New, young and keen RCC staff were coming on the scene including an increasing number of Wye graduates. The NCSS (later NCVO) had previously closed down its Rural Department, but pressure from the Development Commission (which was after all providing significant finance) forced it to reconstitute the Department and this became something of a powerhouse on rural issues under David Clark’s leadership. It really was a most impressive team. I really grew to appreciate the work and the camaraderie working with (the other) David, Steve, Nick, Jeremy, Rhys and of course Joy.

At that time rural matters were much more centre stage at a national/political level than they had been for many years.  RCCs had begun to feel much more confident in their own ability to influence matters and inevitably this led to a wish for greater independence from the “parenting” of the NCVO.

The years from 1984 to 1987 were a busy time, involving visits to many RCCs to explain our ideas for an independent organisation and to listen to their concerns.  And there were complex and sometimes difficult negotiations with the various bodies which had an interest in the matter.  At times very real pressure was put on us not least by NCVO who were perhaps understandably not keen on the moves to independence.  After all it risked the loss of a substantial sum of money from the Development Commission. The pressures must have been especially hard on David Clark – particularly since he was “in house” in NCVO. But there were also attempts to suborn me – some in retrospect laughable and involving food and alcohol (pleasant but unsuccessful), and others involving what might euphemistically be described as “hard questioning” (by a former Ambassador to the United States and ex-son-in-law to a former Prime Minister).

These difficult discussions were of course shared with others from the RCC world.  David Clark’s commitment to the project never faltered and neither did his hard work in keeping everyone up to the mark.  The foundation of ACRE is truly his legacy. Three other people should also be mentioned.  Alec Trotter from Northumberland who was a constant source of wise advice and, as one of the longest-serving and successful chief officers, gave real credibility to the push for independence. A second person deserving a mention was Jeremy Martineau, then the vice-chairman of the Standing Conference and who would succeed me as chairman of ACRE in 1987. Watching him in discussion with those less keen on what we were planning, I soon realised that having a dog collar around your neck gave you some sort of licence to make very “direct” comments to the opposition which a lay person would not have got away with! And finally much credit is due to Alan Leavett who was brought in as a mediator from the Development Commission and whose ability to engage with both sides was crucial to our success.  His report in 1986 paved the way for the creation of ACRE in early 1987, when I became the first chairman.

One of our first tasks was to appoint a chief officer.  There was a strong field of applicants including two highly rated RCC chief officers. Two days of interviews culminated in the panel making a unanimous decision. Shortly afterwards these two officers came to us, giving their own assessment as to the best candidate.  Fortunately this recommendation and the panel’s decision agreed and so we appointed Malcolm Moseley from the University of East Anglia. Truly a solid endorsement which was proven to be wise advice over the next few years.  I remember telephoning Malcolm on his birthday to offer him the job.

By then I was feeling the need for a break from direct involvement in the work of RCCs – after all I did have a “day job” as a university teacher.  I count myself very fortunate that I had understanding bosses at Wye who saw my involvement with the RCCs as a useful form of outreach linked to my teaching and research interests. I was succeeded as chairman of ACRE by Jeremy Martineau.

My involvement with the RCC world did not however completely disappear since I remained a member of the Development Commission’s Social Advisory Panel which I had joined in 1986, continuing until 1994. And I had had the idea of writing the history of the Development Commission which was then approaching its ninetieth birthday (and, although we did not realise it at the time, its demise).  I was fortunate that the chief officer of the Commission, Richard Butt, was keen on the idea and so began a period of fascinating research, particular at the National Archives at Kew and at the CoSIRA office in Salisbury.  Interesting to see the document setting up the Commission signed by the then Home Secretary, Winston Churchill. I interviewed all the chairs of the Commission who had served since the war as well as key personalities such as Ken Reeves, Brian Lincoln, Arnold Pentelow and, of course, Margaret Clark. I got a real sense of history in these interviews – a good example being talking to Lady Albemarle (chair 1948-1974) when she said “Well, Stafford Cripps sent for me and…”!

In later years I became involved with grant awarding for the National Lottery Communities Fund, a commissioner on the Archbishops’ Commission on Rural Areas (ACORA), where I again met up with Jeremy Martineau who was joint-secretary to the Commission, and a trustee of the Kent Community Foundation – all activities designed in their different ways to help communities prosper. And at a more local level I have been involved as a governor at the village school and served for ten years as the chairman of my village hall – arguably the trickiest committee I have ever had dealings with! I have kept in touch with the RCCs since then, including returning as a trustee to Kent and becoming chairman from 2010 to 2015.

Neil Virgo

RES 1981-84

(Contributed by his sister, Louise Beaton)

After leaving Wye in 1984 Neil worked for Avon Community Council on an MSC programme, which was not well paid. He had been a Crusader leader and the Chairman, Rev. Jeremy Martineau, also recruited him as a supervisor for a Tall Ship expedition for difficult teenagers (apparently the swell in the Bristol Channel had a wonderfully calming effect on them).

Avon provided the stepping stone to the Assistant Director (Village Halls Adviser) post at Nottinghamshire RCC, with Director Bob Middleton. Neil produced the RCC newsletter, was given charge of the new Apricot computers and enjoyed his office view of Southwell Minster. He worked out the best way of seeing me for a weekend was to invite me to speak at a Village Halls conference. There was a practical demonstration at one during the health and safety speaker when a chair collapsed, so everyone was asked to check the welds on their chairs.   At another I was to speak on VAT. Neil thanked me for speaking and I pointed out this was wrong, we should be thanking hall trustees for giving up their Saturday morning to listen to such a dry and tedious subject as VAT.  Our father was busy lobbying on VAT and rates for the National Playing Fields Association, Neil was Secretary of the Nottinghamshire PFA and as a result Nottinghamshire MPs were lobbied hard.

In April 1986 Neil was walking in the Pennines when the raincloud from Chernobyl arrived.

In 1990 he joined the Rural Development Commission’s Penrith office, covering Cheshire to Cumbria, a job he loved, living in mountains he loved. Sadly, in December 1992 he was diagnosed with cancer and died three weeks later, when he and Amanda’s baby son Robin was only three months old.  The RDC and RCC network were very kind. Peter Buckley at Wye kindly organised a memorial cedar tree in the Memorial woodland (later forgotten by Imperial College when they took over the College). Nottinghamshire organised a Virgo Memorial Trophy for the best managed hall and kindly invited me to present it. I regret that I declined, it was too hard.  

Gerald Wibberley

Staff 1954-82

Gerald Wibberley had been Professor of Rural Economy at Wye College from the 1950s and then in 1969 became the Ernest Cook Professor of Countryside Planning, a post which was held jointly with University College London.  He was involved in a number of national bodies notably the Nature Conservancy Council and as a director of the Council for Small Industries in Rural Areas (CoSIRA). He retired from Wye College in 1982 and died in 1993.

His contribution to the RCC world was essentially by inspiring people, including many Wye students, to think seriously about rural issues.  He was invited to speak at individual RCCs and also on a number of occasions at the annual Rural Life Conferences. No one who heard him could fail to be moved by his impassioned rhetoric, given in a melodic tone which fully reflected his origins in the Black Mountains of Wales.  And this influence was also at work on his home ground in teaching and talking to students at Wye. As one obituary put it: “even his economics lectures gained the rapt attention of his students”.

Hilary Winter (Thomas)

RES 1976-79

We were going to be living in Devon for six months in late 1979 while my husband Michael (Wye 1974-1977) undertook PhD fieldwork.  I contacted the Community Council of Devon to see whether there was anything I could do during that period and John Usmar, Director of the CCD, embraced the idea and offered me an honorarium for a research project on rural housing.  I was very grateful for his enthusiasm, direction and guidance during the course of the project and for that of the Rural Officer.  The CCD was at that time located in a few offices in a single storey, wooden clad building (now mothballed) on the Devon County Council site

Rural Devon at that time was predominantly agricultural and seen as deprived.  The gap between rural wages and house prices was a problem, likely to be exacerbated by council house sales.  I undertook primary and secondary research which included questionnaires and face-to-face interviews and research in libraries and planning offices.  I finally delivered a report, published by the Community Council of Devon in March 1980, entitled Homes for Locals? An investigation into local housing and employment need in the Torridge District of Devon.  This was well-received and subsequently quoted. 

The experience was formative in the direction my subsequent career took in CoSIRA (later the Rural Development Commission); rural research; Sutton Hastoe Housing Association and, for the last eighteen years, as Forum Officer for the Devon Countryside Access Forum. What strikes me thinking about my time at CCD was that I did everything by post, travelled to offices/libraries and typed up my report using a small portable typewriter.  I had no computer, mobile phone or even landline – that’s not strictly true as the landlord of our rented house had an arrangement for a paltry yearly sum whereby a line went from the telephone box in the road and rang in the house, necessitating a quick dash down the path in all weathers to answer the phone!  Little did I know that I would be the last generation to experience life before the digital age.

2 Responses

  1. Francis
    Good to read this on the web – I know many of the contributors – and endorse the valuable part each has played in rural community development. I still get to pass the College en route for the Downs and regret the part that Imperial College played in the demise of a unique institution
    David Clark

    1. Thanks you, I hope that we can capture more about today’s sustainability and regenerative debates and the influences of the unique Wye College learning, research and innovation.

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