Fringe Box



Dragon Interview: Vivien White, Chairman of Effingham Residents Association

Published on: 31 Jan, 2017
Updated on: 1 Feb, 2017

Vivien White, chairman of Effingham Residents Association at her home

Vivien White, Chairman of Effingham Residents Association (EFFRA) talks to Chris Dick about her love of history, the Residents Association and its role within the village. 

You moved to Effingham 20 years ago? What made you decide on Effingham, did you already know it?

We had moved across from Bromley in Kent to Cobham to be closer to my job as I worked very long hours. After living in Cobham for about 10 years we decided we wanted a bigger garden and to be in a more rural setting. We didn’t really know Effingham before we moved here, but it turned out to be a really good choice as we love the historic character of the village and its setting in the beautiful Surrey countryside.

You are a local historian what made you decide to study history in the first place?

I read politics and modern history at university more years ago than I care to remember. I have always loved history because it both interests me and also helps make sense of the modern world by understanding the background of events that shaped our current society. It was only after stopping work for family reasons that I returned to study and took a masters’ degree in historical research. Since then I have been researching local history and sharing my findings in writing and in small exhibitions and talks. It really is never too late to study what you love.

What about your professional life before you stopped working?

After university I started in human relations in the gas and electricity industries, but after doing a master’s degree at London Business School I moved into corporate strategy and had a fascinating 10 years working for what is now Glaxo SmithKline. This included buying and selling businesses, both in the UK and worldwide, including well-known brands such as Marmite. I learned a lot about managing large, complicated projects and balancing a number of different interests.

How do you divide your time between your history research projects and the Efiingham Residents Association?

Probably not well enough! It depends on what is most important at the time. For example, last September I was involved in work for Heritage Weekend in three different places – Effingham, Little Bookham and Fetcham, which was quite frenetic. The amount of work needed, as the residents association chairman is quite unpredictable, depending on what is happening in the village. In 2016 I have spent a lot of time contributing to the draft Neighbourhood Plan and ensuring it represents the views of residents. I particularly like being able to combine the two interests, such as at Heritage Weekend, which is a real passion of mine, as people round the country, are given the opportunity to visit many historic properties free of charge.

What does your family think about you giving so much time? What do they do?

You would have to ask them how they like it! Seriously, my husband is very supportive and a great sounding board, though he does get irritated if I let my activities interfere too much with home life. He is enjoying retirement from being a senior civil servant, although he is still involved in an advisory capacity, both here and overseas, in his area of expertise. I have a 24-year-old son who graduated as an economist and lives in London. He followed his father into the civil service, as he saw how interesting the work could be.

The residents association constitution says it is there to ensure good governance of Effingham. Does this cause problems with other village organisations? If so, how do you handle those differences of opinion?

I think there are always differences of opinion in villages as in other organisations and surely that is healthy? Checks and balances are necessary in any democratic structure and the residents association provides this for the good governance of the village. The important point is not to let any differences become personal and to respect other people’s opinions, whilst always putting the interests of the village first. In that way, differences of opinion can lead to a better outcome.

Vivien White is also one of the founder members of Handsoffthegreenbelt (an offshoot of CPRE – Campaign for the Protection of Rural England). Here, she is pictured (far right) outside Effingham Lodge Farm in a protest, organised by the residents association, against Berkeley Homes’ plans to build 295 and new 2000 pupil school in Effingham.

I find that everyone pulls together when there are issues of real importance such as the village’s opposition to Berkeley Homes scheme to build 295 houses in the village to pay for an enlarged secondary school. A bigger school is not needed and it should not be built on green belt land. If the appeal is allowed in May this year it would swamp the infrastructure of our small, historic village. Effingham residents are in favour of increasing the housing stock, but by organic growth with small developments that maintain the historical and rural characteristics of the village and which do not breach the principles that protect the important green belt in which it stands.

How difficult has running the association proved to be?

I have only been chairman since May, but I have been encouraged by the support I have received. I am lucky to have a dedicated committee of talented residents with wide-ranging interests and a wealth of business experience. Residents have kindly told me that they have liked our recent community initiatives. As we operate on a subscription-free basis we think we are very good value! We have a popular website that gives people Effingham-related information and news and links to other helpful sites. We published an Effingham Heritage Trail with a walk around the important historic conservation area, which has been really well received. In September EFFRA co-ordinated Heritage Weekend in Effingham and Little Bookham for the first time. As a result the numbers who visited St Lawrence Church in Effingham increased from 20 the previous year to over 200 and residents have been very appreciative.

What are your favourite things about Effingham as a place and a community?

What I like about Effingham is that we can live in what is essentially a quiet, rural village with easy access to beautiful countryside, whilst we have easy access to local towns and to London. It is also not too large, so that you can feel as though you know many of the residents and chat to them at our local shops.

What are the worst things, the things you wish you could change?

Typical traffic problems within the village conservation area

Well the traffic can be pretty awful and sometimes it is impossible to park at the station. More young families in the village would be very welcome, but house prices are a problem in Effingham as elsewhere. It would be nice if all village organisations were always be in agreement and if people participated more in village activities. But this is the modern world and people lead such busy lives these days.

Do you like having such an historic range of buildings? What is your favourite and why?

Mural in Fetcham Park

I love living in an area full of historic buildings and enjoy researching them. My favourite local historic building is Fetcham Park some 2½ miles away in Fetcham managed by the Guildford based Wilky Group. I fell in love with it when I first visited it some seven years ago. On the outside it is a Victorian built mock French chateau, but on the inside is a carefully preserved early eighteenth century ground floor with fabulous murals.

They are by a painter called Louis Laguerre, who also painted at many palaces and great houses including Hampton Court and Petworth. The house has a fascinating history too and I am currently writing a book about it.  

On Heritage Weekend in 2016 I did a small exhibition there on my research on the original garden created by George London, the royal gardener to William III and Mary II. Over six hundred people visited the house and the exhibition in one afternoon. It gives me a real buzz when people are interested in my research findings, especially if they are not normally interested in history.

View of gardens at rear of Fetcham Park. Photo taken shortly before grand opening on Heritage Day 2016

What do you hope to achieve in 2017?

The residents association will be working with the parish council to help defeat the planning appeal by Berkeley Homes and the Howard School. We also hope to increase community participation in the village and to encourage more community events and initiatives and to build on last year’s successful Heritage Weekend. I would also like to see more co-ordination between community organisations with neighbouring villages, as boundaries are only artificial barriers, after all. On a more personal level, I hope to make headway with my book on the history of Fetcham Park and some other projects I have under way, whilst keeping a balanced personal and family life.

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