Griff Rhys Jones, professional actor, entertainer, broadcaster, is also President of Civic Voice, the national organisation which our Society belongs to. In this capacity he addressed some very happy members in the Atrium of Suffolk New College on Friday, 12 October. Far from being a 'celebrity figurehead' for Civic Voice, Griff is obviously putting heart and soul into the organisation with all his talents coming together. His enthusiasm and conviction that civic societies exist to be constructively influential came across with the humour and directness of a stand-up comedian. It was inspiring and refreshing.
He values the uniqueness of each town. He'd rather go for a walk in a town than in the country and he's not just interested in the centres of great cities but the characters of side streets and the evidence of heritage and continuity there. In our case therefore it was relevant for him to say how he started to love Ipswich aged eight - although on that first visit it was as a relief from being on his father's boat day after day and they didn't get further upriver than Pin Mill. On a later visit he followed father's sou-wester and oilskins through our town.
He stressed that people today should see themselves as the guardians of a town with a civic responsibility. But he went on to say, .I do embrace the twentieth century. I'm not Prince Charles ... I'm in favour of good design, imagination and creativity of people today." However, in his view, the twentieth century has been "the greediest and most self-centred" century with its obsession, for example, of driving motorways into old towns.
At present, he thinks planning is facing a crisis with the Government's abandonment of many valuable and specific planning criteria to be replaced by a simplified 50+ page document which will favour developers and commerce. As far as towns are concerned, he emphasised the value of more mixed uses from now on (in line with the 'views of our Society and indeed of Ipswich Central) creating places where it's a joy to live. He mentioned as a nice reminder that multiple uses even in somewhere like London's Oxford Street mean that the shops share areas where lots of people are living nearby.
However, in towns like Ipswich Griff said, "'Let the big shops go from town centres.. Trying to keep them is a lost cause anyway. Instead planners, residents and local politicians should work out for themselves what a town is for. And the future of a town involves getting our civic societies' voices on the agenda.
In a following brief question and answer, Chris Wiltshire referred to an "'institutionalised low self-esteem in Ipswich" and instead we should "glory in what we've got, our unique features. - which elicited warm applause.
Before Griff's sparkling talk, Chris himself entertained us with a presentation drawing attention to the Society's very recent digitalisation of our large and diverse slide collection (6500+) which will become much more readily accessible.
I think I can speak for all in saying that the evening was hugely enjoyable and informative. The College kitchens produced a wonderfully varied range of tasty canapé a very good advertisement for what students and staff can do.