The idea of a ‘Vision for the Future’ and a group to champion it, was first presented at the annual Town Assembly Meeting of May 2005 by the Rev Handel Bennett, then Chair of the Sid Vale Association. He was concerned that Sidmouth would be unable to cope with the expected increase in visitors following the designation of the Jurassic Coast as a World Heritage Site.
As a result, about twenty local residents gathered at the Town Hall to set up the Vision Group for Sidmouth under the guidance of Ann Liverton, Chair of the Town Council at the time. Under the chairmanship of Alan Darrant, also Secretary of the SVA, the founding objectives were established:
- to mobilise the community to express its concerns and aspirations for the future of Sidmouth
- to create a concrete plan to be presented to and recognised by the District Council
- to provide a focus for local people and organisations to take up particular issues and pursue them to implementation
Here’s a piece from ten years later as featured in the Herald – looking back at the foundation of the VGS: Milestone for Vision Group
The founders of the Vision Group for Sidmouth:
Back row: Rev Handel Bennett [SVA chair], Kingsley Squire [Herald journalist], Alan Parrish [4homes], Chris Taylor [C&C Electrical and Chamber of Commerce chair], Jeremy Woodward [VGS secretary]
Front row: Alan Hunt [Midland Bank retired manager], Cllr. Tom Cox [Sidmouth Town Council deputy chair], Cllr. Ann Liverton [STC chair and VGS chair at its founding], Prof Brian Golding [Met Office], Alan Darrant [SVA secretary and VGS chair], John Rayson [EDDC retired officer]
From the Vision for Sidmouth report from 2006:
Members of the Vision Group for Sidmouth:
Mr. Alan Darrant: Vision Group Chair
Rev. Handel Bennett, Mr. Chris Taylor: Vision Group Deputy Chairs
Mr. Jeremy Woodward: Vision Group Secretary
Cllr. Tom Cox and Cllr. Ann Liverton: Vision Group Town Council liaison
Mr. Richard Eley, Mr. Alan Hunt, Mr. Alan Parrish: Chairs of the Port Royal, Environment & Conservation &
Traffic and Parking sub-groups, respectively
Mr. Graham Bungay, Dr. Brian Golding, Mr. John Rayson, Mr. Mark Seward, Mr. Ian Skinner, Mr. Kingsley
Squire, Mr. Chris Taylor, Mr. Barry Curwen, Mr. Tom Griffiths, Mr. Peter Hand, Prof. Bob Symes, Mr. Peter
Whitfield, Mrs. Rosalind Whitfield: Vision Group members.
From 2005 VGS undertook to canvas the opinion of the Town on what it aspired to. There were 4 main strands to the study and the final document was submitted to East Devon District Council in 2006. The VGS study was supposed to provide information for the Development Plan ( or Local Plan) which EDDC was putting together at the time. After many tribulations East Devon’s Local Plan was finally adopted on 28th Jan 2016.
You can judge how much notice was taken of the VGS document by reading it yourself.
The District Council consulted on a new draft Local Plan in January 2023 – with the VGS providing its submission focussing on housing.
Since 2005, the VGS has worked on issues of concern to Sidmouth and helped the community speak up about aspirations for the future of Sidmouth. The survey of opinion in 2005 and first report in 2006 were in many ways the forerunner of the Neighbourhood Plan. It made clear that residents wished to maintain the area’s distinctive character while ensuring that future changes will be sustainable and underpinned by a vibrant local economy.
Now people are getting ready to be involved in helping to deliver the Community Actions which have come out of the Sid Valley Neighbourhood Plan.
See the Town Council’s own Sid Valley Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group Page
The VGS took on the Sustainable Sidmouth brand when it became a Transition Town in 2008 – as part of the Transition Town movement.
The ‘Sustainable Sidmouth’ rubric has become more important over the years as the notion of ‘sustainability’ has gained ground – but also with the launch in 2021 of the Sustainable Sidmouth Champions Awards.
As the Transition Town movement is concerned about the impacts of climate change, the VGS has also launched its SolarPunk Sidmouth website looking at ‘realistic optimism’.
And it has joined with other groups in the Sid Valley – from the Town Council to the Churches to the Science Festival – to set up the Climate Awareness Partnership Sidmouth.
VGS projects over the years
The Vision Group for Sidmouth has been involved in quite a few projects, whether representing, supporting or consulting on various ‘official projects’.
It has also set up its own projects over the years – which can be accessed most easily on the group’s homepage – from the setting up by VGS members of the Science Festival to the current big project the Sustainable Sidmouth Champions Awards
Finally, here are the pages ‘about the VGS’ , which looks at the organisation of the group, its activities, its mission and the current make-up of its steering group.