Sidmouth’s civic society chairman steps down

Being SVA chairman was a “rich and rewarding experience” says Handel Bennett

THE outgoing chairman of Sid Vale Association says his time in office has been “a rich and rewarding experience”.

The Reverend Handel Bennett, who served seven years as chairman, added: “I have valued so much what my colleagues on the executive committee; and the membership more widely, have done to maintain the quality of life and living which we enjoy in Sidmouth and the Sid Valley.”

In an exclusive interview with the Sidmouth Herald, he said one of the privileges he’d enjoyed was being chairman of the Keith Owen Fund grants committee.

Mr Owen was an SVA member who died in 2007, leaving the association �2.2million, the interest of which is being used for the benefit of the community through grants to worthy causes.

In 2010 the fund made almost �100,000 in grants and has 43 applications before it.

Handel and his wife Joan moved from Bedford to Sidmouth in July 1999 and live in Victoria Road. He was ordained in 1982.

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His father was chairman of Weymouth Civic Society while he was a teenager and Handel feels from this stems his decision to join SVA.

Wanting to maintain newly-learned computer skills, he became newsletter editor in 2000, working with associate editor Sheila Luxton, and introduced more use of illustrations featuring the work of the SVA “and a few more touches of humour.”

In 2001, with almost 3,000 SVA members, he also took on the job of press and publicity officer and Joan became membership secretary.

“I began to realise just what an amazing voluntary organisation we had in Sidmouth. It seemed to possess a great many enthusiasts for the conservation of our beautiful landscape and protecting our regency heritage.”

He praised Dr Bob Symes for his work as curator of its Sidmouth Museum, saying: “I leave him to run his own show.”

Handel was elected chairman in 2003, serving alongside the late Colin Jeary who was president.

In 2004 “Joan and I initiated the idea of a new members meeting so those joining could meet the officers and executive committee and learn about the voluntary efforts of the SVA in the community.”

The following year, after a complaint there was insufficient seating on the seafront, eight seats were donated by members. An SVA website was created in 2007 “and I was able to encourage the SVA to move forward into a new way to connect with the public.”

A year later and Handel relinquished the editorship of the newsletter to Liz Owen and in 2009 encouraged the association to publish Sylvia Brownlee’s book Sampson’s Sidmouth as well as being involved in forming a publishing committee to produce more local history books.

Later in 2010, Handel helped buy, at auction, Peasland Knapp for the town, at a cost of �42,000.

“I am delighted to have played a small part in securing this bit of natural England for the pleasure and recreation of Sidmouth members and residents, in perpetuity,” said Handel, who now intends to devote more time to his wife, prayers and garden.