Obscure societies around the UK

 

When you think of societies, you perhaps think of sporting societies or maybe those with a more musical aspect. What may not immediately spring to mind are roundabouts or water towers but Kevin Beresford founder of the UK Roundabout Appreciation Society and Will Harvey chairman of the British Water Tower Appreciation Society would perhaps disagree.

The UK Roundabout Appreciation Society started off in 2003 when Kevin who worked in the printing industry at the time decided he was ‘’fed up of David Beckham, six pack fireman and Jordan’’ style calendars and decided that they wanted to give something to their customers that was ‘’unique’’. The company itself was based in Redditch and because of the towns amount of roundabouts, and thus the Roundabouts of Redditch calendar was born.

The calendar sold all around the world even catching the attention of Graham Norton after the calendar was just originally meant ‘’as a gag’’. This in turn spawned the Roundabouts of the UK calendar and this is when Kevin took a big interest in roundabouts touring the country for them, which eventually led to the creation of a society which has around 30 members. Nowadays the society does a roundabouts of the world calendar each with submissions from the US and Australia among others.

What then makes a good roundabout? ‘’Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, some people like what we call ‘Titchmarshes’ which are islands in full bloom with flowers and trees but I like something a bit quirky on a roundabout… in a town called battle they have the Battle of Hastings on a roundabout.’’

Roundabouts have even been a source of protest after a group of people camped on a roundabout in Staffordshire to stop it being demolished. ‘’John Humphrys interviewed me about it and he ended up becoming a honourary member.’’ ‘’It was just another case of the British loving their roundabouts.’’

Does the West Midlands have any good roundabouts? ‘’you’ve got that superb spitfire island in Castle Bromwich… 3 soaring spitfires what a beautiful island.’’ ‘’In Coventry you’ve got those Olympic sprinters made out of grass.’’

However, Kevin’s ultimate aim is to get the roundabout introduced in America ‘’because I would be saving so many lives, because they do save lives and they make the environment a lot greener… it would be an uphill task but I would love to do that.’’

The British Water Tower Appreciation Society was formed around 10 years ago ‘’it arose as most of the best things in life do in a pub… in a village in Suffolk called Wenhaston.’’ Will Harvey is a painter and was speaking to a fellow painter who decided to paint a water tower ‘’all his friends thought he was mad and they left him to it and went to the pub.’’ Will didn’t find this made at all as he usually put water towers in his paintings ‘’ as they’re a feature in an otherwise flat East Anglian landscape.’’

They realised that they didn’t know anything about water towers so decided to paint a few more and then after realising there wasn’t a society they got in contact with Nat Bocking a man who had a map of East Anglian water towers and they then decided to form a society. ’’A lot of people inevitably think that we’re just a joke organisation but it’s done fairly light heartedly.’’ ‘’We’ve got around 200-300 members worldwide.’’

The society usually puts together a programme of events usually focusing on a couple of water towers that they’d like to visit. These usually happen to be converted ones because ‘’it’s actually quite difficult to get access to functioning water towers because the water companies are pretty cagey about it mainly due to I think from the point of view of terrorist threats.’’

Anyone who owns a water tower automatically becomes an honorary member and life membership is only £5. Quite often the society gets letters from people who have bought a water tower asking for help. This can be difficult as ‘’we are not actually a society trying to preserve all water towers at all costs… we’re more a cultural, historical and educational interest trying to raise awareness.’’

‘’If someone actually listens to you talking about water towers it’s not a good conversation thing at parties, people do find that they have to wash their hair.’’ However Will has found when people come back to him afterwards all they seem to see is water towers and this raises awareness.

In East Anglia alone there are around 500 water towers and in the rest of the UK in the low thousands. What makes a good water tower depends on your point of view ‘’I love the late Victorian water towers where they were built with a lot of care for the design and the flair.’’ ‘’There are also those that are termed ‘concrete monstrosities’ but are in fact quite elegant.’’

The society has links across the globe but like the roundabout appreciation society gets interest from the US and Australia. Going into the future the society would like to carry on where it’s going but ‘’would like to make an educational package to be rolled out into schools tying in the geographical, historical and social impact of water towers, bringing clean water and so on.’’

James D’Arcy

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