History of the Civic

The Opening

Stourport Civic Centre was the brainchild of the former Stourport Urban District Council and was the result of many years of planning and hard work to bring the project to fruition. The Town Hall in Stourport had proved to be inadequate, and on the point of collapse, (in fact it collapsed dramatically in August 1973). Stourport-on-Severn was also without a suitable public assembly hall or council chamber which some other towns had the luxury in having. The former Councillors who sat on the Urban District Council wanted to right the wrong and succeeded in all expectations. Stourport Civic Centre was the envy of the area, and Stourport residents were, and still are, very proud of it.

From the turf-cutting ceremony to inaugurate the project on 27th October 1964, the Civic Centre took a little over 18 months to complete, at a total cost of £198,810. The location of the complex was inspired as it was situated slightly out of the town centre, but still in suitable reach for residents. The 60’s architecture of the Civic didn’t distract from the beautiful Georgian town that Stourport still is. The views from the Civic Centre are still enviable, with the outlook to the River Severn to the village of Arley Kings.

As Lord Cobham commented in his speech to commemorate the opening of the Civic Centre –

“This function represents more than just the opening of a new building. It is an occasion for civic pride, and a time for stocktaking: a time during which the people of Stourport can pause for a few moments, and while assessing their steady and ordered progress for two centuries or more and taking pride in their past achievements, can yet look into the future and make new plans for the physical and cultural well-being of their town”.

In reply to Lord Cobham’s address, Stourport’s very own – late, great – Councillor Reg Abbotts replied,

“We feel this Civic Centre should be enjoyed by the people of the urban district of Stourport for so long as the river shall flow”

Written by John Cooper (extract copied from the Wyre Forest Agenda )

 

The Council Years

In the years after its completion The Civic Hall played host to a number of Civic functions for Stourport Urban District Council (SUDC), with councillors and dignitaries attending from near and far.

SUDC made the hall available for hire shortly after its opening.
The full length sprung Canadian maple wood floor was considered one of the best in the region and Dance nights at the Civic Hall were extremely popular attracting coaches full of dancers from across Worcestershire and into Herefordshire.

The venue was also used for music gigs and concerts, and over the years a number of performers who would go onto greater success performed on the stage.

In 1967 a then unsigned group called the N’Betweens gigged at the hall. Less than a year later the band signed a record deal and renamed themselves SLADE.

In February 1968, Bachdenkel perfoemed at the Hall, and were followed in June by the musical ensemble Brian Auger and the Trinity who performed alongside Julie Driscoll.
When they performed they were sitting at Numnber 5 in the UK charts with the cover of Bob Dylan’s “Wheels on Fire”.

Noel Edmonds and the Radio One club made a visit in 1971, whilst Labi Siffre took to the stage in 1974. He would go on to have hits with “It Must Be Love”, three other top 40 songs and then he recorded one of the most recognisable songs of the 90’s with “Something inside So Strong”.

The trend of recognisable names performing at the venue continued even when SUDC were combined with Kidderminster and Bewdley Councils to form Wyre Forest District Council (WFDC) in 1974.
WFDC moved their Executive Staff into the offices next to the Hall, and it became the defacto headquarters for the District Council.

Robert Plant and Jimmy Page performed on the stage in the 80’s (after Led Zeppelin had split), with Led Zeppelin drummer, John Bonham playing here at different times before his passing. (The only original member of LZ not to have performed on our stage – so far as we know is John Paul Jones).
Locally born performer Clifford T Ward also played here.

But it was not just named acts that the Council drew in.

Throughout this time many local groups used the facility, with some continuing to use the venue today. Amongst those are Stourport Choral (first performance date unclear), The Gilt Edge Amateur Dramatic Society – now better known as The Carpet Trades Musical Theatre Company, and Monday Night Group Pantomime who first performed in the venue in 1975 (Dick Whittington).

Kidderminster Operatic Society performed the Midlands premiere of Pip, a musical based on Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, in 1978.

 

The Decline

Towards the late eighties and into the nineties the venue began to see less usage. Whilst the offices next door remained as the nominal HQ for the District Council, the hall was considered an after thought.

The venue was still home to The Monday Night Group pantomime, Carpet Trades Musical Theatre Company, and the Wyre Forest Dance Festival.
HCW Wrestling were still using the venue a couple of times a year, as were Stourport Choral, and Stourport Three Arts Guild were still performing once a year, but outside of these hires very little happened.

The venue was often empty for long periods of time and was in need of a great deal of renovation and maintenance, something that the Council seemed unwilling to do anything about. With less than 30 usages a year (and most of those in the first three months of the year) the venue was slowly being left behind

Finally in 2011, after a decade of reduced usage and diminishing care the council announced that they were to close the Hall and Office, and dispose of the site to make way for a new £10m HQ.

Fearing its loss and the impact it would have on the groups still using the venue, a protest was held outside the hall and a campaign to save the hall launched.

The District Council agreed to hold meetings between local residents, Stourport Town Council and interested parties to discuss potential solutions to the closure of the venue. None of the initial proposals were deemed suitable.
However out of these meetings a focus group was formed, and in time this group, many of whom had never met each before, formed what became The Civic Group.

The aim was to prove to the District Council that the venue was could be a viable concern and was needed in the town and wider area.
At the same time the Town Council and District Council were investigating as to whether the venue could be transferred into community ownership using the Community Asset Transfer framework of the Localism Act 2011.

 

The Civic Age               

To prove that the venue was worth saving The Civic Group developed a programme of events and activities to make the venue a focal point for local people and a thriving Wyre Forest arts venue.

The first event held was an open day to show people what we thought we could achieve. It was funded by a £30 donation from two of our members which was used to buy tea, coffee and cake which we sold at the open day.

The proceeds from that event allowed us to bring in our first professional show in November 2011 under the Shindig/Live&local scheme “Arabian Nights” by Fairgame Theatre.
We also held our first Three Kings Parade Craft Fayre the night after – an event that has quickly become a part of the fabric of Stourport’s Christmas period.

We fought and fought to keep the Hall open and we arranged for more productions, brought new events into the venue, and encouraged the local community to use it even more.

In 2013 it was announced that we had been successful in securing the future of the Hall.

Since then we have grown to become one of the primary cultural facilities in the Wyre Forest Area, holding in excess of 270 events each year, and since 2011, over 65,000 people have taken part in events in events and activities at the venue.

From Family shows such as Stickman, Tiddler, Alice in Wonderland and Rapunzel, to professional Touring Ballet productions. From our monthly new material comedy nights, to Comedians who perform on some of the biggest TV shows.
Community events, dance schools, public meetings, live music and more, The Civic has gone from strength to strength since its formation seven years ago.

 

In 2014 The Civic was invited to speak at the Theatres Trust conference. The Theatres Trust is the statutory body for the theatre industry in the UK.