At its meeting on Monday 10th September 2018 the Coventry Society honoured one of its longest serving members, Ralph Butcher.
Ralph moved to Coventry in 1960 after a spell in the RAF, an Architecture course in Hull and a couple of years at Hull City Council Housing Department. He worked in several sections of the Council’s Departure of Architecture and Planning. Ralph’s initial work in Coventry was advising the planning officers on the design aspects of planning applications (something that doesn’t happen these days). He also worked in the Policy and Landscape sections before taking over the role that he became famous for, leading the Council’s General Improvement Area Team.
In 1968 there had been a national survey of housing conditions, which reported on the very poor state of the country’s older housing. The grants for housing improvement at that time (as now) were spread very thinly and were not having any collective impact. The answer was to create the concept of the General Improvement Area where money and action would be concentrated in improving whole neighbourhoods and the improvement would not only be to the houses but also to the environment in which they stood.
Ralph was given the opportunity of taking this work on in Coventry. He tells us that he offered to do the job for a year but ended up doing it for 20 years which he enjoyed immensely.
Ralph initially worked on his own, liaising with people in other departments to get the grants and land sorted out, but these officers were later brought together under Ralph in the Council’s first inter-departmental team, the GIA Team. The team saw the establishment and completion of the country’s first General Improvement Area (GIA) at Colchester Street / Winchester Street and many more followed. The achievements of this team were very important for Coventry with 14,000 houses improved and 14,000 families given better lives in their own homes and communities instead of being re-housed in modern concrete blocks.
Ralph retired from the Council in 1992.
Ralph joined the Coventry Civic Amenity Society, as we were called in those days, in the 1970s. He took on many roles in the Society, including being a member of the Executive Committee, Treasurer and Membership Secretary. He has stayed a member right up to the present.
As well as the Coventry Society, Ralph was a leading member of a number of city organisations, including the Whitley History Group and the Coventry Building Preservation Trust.
At its September meeting the Coventry Society acknowledged the contribution to the city and the Society made by Ralph and presented him with Life Membership of the Society.