The pressure group Campaign for a Democratic Rye is no more. But it will live on under a guise or name that is yet to be decided. The group, founded 10 years ago through the efforts of Professor Keith Taylor, David Bourne and Granville Bantick, was voted into history by members at a packed annual meeting on Wednesday February 4.
Chairman Alan Bolden, who has mulled the future of CDR for months, wondering whether it could have a non-political role in building a better future for the town, did not take long to assess the mood of those in the room. The meeting was his swansong as leader – he announced his retirement during his address – but looking around the room of filled seats he knew CDR would be finding a new focus with new energy to be repackaged with new words. In a fortnight’s time members will meet again to elect its steering committee, define its constitution and play with words to reflect its purpose, words like campaign (favoured unsurprisingly by some with a military background), friends, better, action and Rye.
Bolden, 86 this year, did not sound tired of a fight: “You may remember way, way back in 2006, Rother District Council went out and said they were going to have consultation on a strategy to actions and the results would be made available in 2009.
“In 2009 Rye Town Council created, with the help of local people, the Rye action plan. I’ve got a list here of the different things that could have been done from those plans. You may have a better knowledge, a better awareness, a better memory than me, but I don’t know of any of the things talked about in those plans that were ever done.”
Bolden had warmed up his audience. He now, slowly, quietly, made the most political statement of the night: “I could mention that Rother District Council, since that period, has spent £1 million on open spaces. In Bexhill. £40,000 on allotments. In Bexhill. It gets monotonous, doesn’t it? £18,000 on Christmas lights. In Bexhill. £5 million-plus on their seafront. In Bexhill. £3 million on the revitalising of the town centre. Of Bexhill. They’re now planning , whether they they have the money or not, a £16-million leisure centre. In Bexhill. All that money and we in Rye, I would suggest, have had nothing from it.”
Jean Floyd, a committee member, sketched out possible futures for CDR. Nothing she said indicated a pressure group on the verge of folding. While she held the floor she was a one-woman think-tank: co-operation with other groups and events in the town, helping the town council (mayor Bernadine Fiddimore and town clerk Richard Farhall were present), getting behind the neighbourhood plan, pooling individual skills.
One dimension that will not figure in the future: CDR-backed councillors. At its high point at the 2011 local elections, 10 of its 16 candidates won seats on Rye Town Council.
When the debate switched to members, none spoke of dissolving. Votes were unanimous and unwavering: to cease trading under an old name and to reconfigure under a new banner with a constitution that no longer speaks of area committees. In its more revolutionary past, the CDR had fought to divide “unwieldy Rother district” into three separate areas around the towns of Rye, Battle and Bexhill. But that has been a political dead duck for some years now. That page has turned.
Before the debate began, Bolden sprang a surprise on Bantick, who as well as being with CDR since it started in 2005 has also served four terms of four years on the town council. Bantick is standing down from the council in May and also from the CDR’s committee of five. He was presented with a solid, weighty plaque bearing a longish eulogy to his service. It also featured a small symbolic cyclist: a reminder to all – and to Bantick, should he need it – that this is an all-weather man who, clad in next to nothing, thinks nothing of pedalling 60 miles in a morning before sitting at his desk, working to make a better Rye. That work goes on. With a few new faces and a new name. CDR will not RIP.
* If you want to contact the new CDR its email address is the same as the old – for now. All Rye residents, as well as members, are welcome at the next meeting on Wednesday February 18, 7pm, The Club, Market Road.
Photo of Granville Bantick presentation: Tony Nunn