This little society is celebrating its tenth anniversary in 2018 and they have much to be proud of, says Diane Cooper.
From tentative beginnings at their inaugural meeting in Denbies, they have developed into a robust, well-managed, volunteer-led group that gets involved in many local initiatives and is now well-recognised in Surrey’s conservation sector. They are often seen at local events, country fairs and interest-group talks – in fact they attract most of their members when they’re out and about being involved with the community living in and around the Surrey Hills.
They have an ever-growing membership and crucially, manage to retain them as members year on year. Once involved with the Surrey Hills, it’s hard to leave! They’re always looking for new volunteer members but are fortunate to have a strong, dedicated management and trustee core team who always go above and beyond to support the society.
So what are they all about? Surrey is very fortunate to have a nationally-designated protection known as the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) that’s been in existence for 60 years this year (both anniversaries coincide).
Much preparation has been done to mark these anniversaries, including the creation of a Heritage Lottery Funded book produced by the society, looking at whether and how well the AONB designation has worked to preserve the environment. Happily the conclusion is that it has generally worked well and that, in many places, there has been little change to the smaller rural villages and countryside within it.
That’s where the society comes in as a group dedicated to being the public face of conservation, preservation and enjoyment of the area. They invite members (and often non-members too) to join them for a small fee to:
• Visit some of the most interesting properties that have stood the test of time that may not be generally open to the public
• Learn about the fascinating characters who built and lived in them (like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes fame in Hindhead and Ralph Vaughn Williams, the composer, who lived in Leith Hill Place)
• Assist local conservation groups with projects, such as bidding for Heritage Lottery funds to work on specific projects
• Guided walks in the countryside, hills and rural villages, often learning about how these areas are managed for conservation
• Help out with countryside volunteer tasks with other like-minded groups
Some events are free and any income from others that they run is ploughed back to use in supporting causes they decide are relevant to their aims. They are also able to bid for funds to the Surrey Hills Trust Fund.
They’ve a few celebrations lined up this year, such as a special celebration event at Speaker’s House in Westminster in early May, as well as a couple of ‘thank you’ events during the summer for members. They also support the North Downs Way National Trail partners who are celebrating 40 years of the trail, and are running a series of walks along the trail to celebrate jointly.
They’re really looking forward to the next decade and whatever direction that takes the Society. Their members are a supportive lot and the events are often over-subscribed, so they need to be growing to keep pace and attract new volunteers who have an interest in conservation of this special landscape.
Could that be you?
Diane Cooper is Chair of the Marketing & Communications Committee, Surrey Hills Society