Founded in 1969, the Harwich Society now has a membership of over 2000 in a town with a population of 18000. A vigorous Society, all Committee Members have a job to do and monthly reports ensure they do it well. People are slow to volunteer, so post holders are selected with care and then invited to fill a vacancy. The system has worked well. Another unusual characteristic of the Society is our policy of carving out areas of responsibility and then giving it to someone to look after. In this way over 100 different members are involved in running their Society. The responsibility increases their interest.
Monthly meetings with visiting speakers are organised for all members. Social events are regularly held. There are several groups in the Society looking after particular areas such as trees, footpaths, guiding etc and they meet separately. Any member can join any or all of these groups.
There are several teams covering specialist areas such as social and planning. The latter checks the planning applications weekly, comments to the District Council when appropriate, and takes an active part in public inquiries.
The Society also has six village agents for the surrounding villages (Great Oakley, Little Oakley, Parkeston, Ramsey, Wix and Wrabness). These agents report any matters of interest in their patch.
The Guide Panel conduct over 2000 visitors per annum around the town and provide advice and assistance for cruise passengers who are visiting the town. It also mans the visit information desk at the cruise terminal.
The Society runs and maintains several visitor attractions within the area. It is restoring the largest ancient monument in the area, the Harwich Redoubt Fort, and has so far spent over £150,000 on the project. It established and maintains a Maritime Museum in the disused Low Lighthouse. It also runs the High Lighthouse, the Radar Tower on Beacon Hill and the Lifeboat Museum, which is housed in the old Victorian Lifeboat Station. The Harwich Society Visitor Centre, which is manned by volunteers throughout the summer, is located in the old Ticket Office on the Ha’penny Pier. In addition, the Society also owns a small nature reserve, Bobbit’s Hole, which is in Dovercourt.
Finally the Society Headquarters is Foresters, 5 Church Street, Harwich and is thought to be the oldest house in Harwich.
In addition, the Society has carried out many projects within the area. It erects commemorative plaques on historic buildings and sites. It has restored and maintains the oldest posting box in the town along with a nearby drinking fountain. It erected and maintains a rose screen in the Kingsway, Dovercourt and also maintains the flower tubs in the shopping centre. It erected a beacon for Armada 88 and lights it for other events as part of the ‘Beacon Chain’ around the coast.
All Society activities are reported in the quarterly Highlight magazine which is delivered free of charge to all members. In addition, the magazine is available as a tape for sight impaired members and electronically for members who prefer it.
All members give their services free. Local Amenity Societies have been active in community regeneration for many years. Voluntary bodies, drawing on local loyalties and resources, are well placed to spot, and then tackle, challenges that other organisations have overlooked or ducked. Throughout the country about 1000 are registered with the Civic Trust. Their achievements add up to far more than most people realise because each operates independently in its own area, not usually in the national limelight. Imaginative and dedicated, they are highly cost effective. Their work is undertaken to high standards, and is among the best of its kind. They deserve all the support they can get from the Government, Local Authorities and the Private Sector.