50 people that shaped our community
- Credit: Archant
To mark the Comet's 50th year, we're recognising some of the many people who have shaped our communities over the last five decades and beyond.
A 1971 article in the Comet launched a campaign calling on its readers to recognise all the positives, and have pride in our towns. Here are 50 reasons why we should continue to have pride in 2021
The late Margaret Ashby co-founded Friends of Forster Country in 1989 and campaigned against development on the land, working closely with the committee for more than 30 years.
Leader of Stevenage Borough Council, Sharon Taylor is chair of Survivors Against Domestic Abuse, which launched in 2012. Since launching the group has helped both male and female survivors through counselling and group therapy.
3. Alan Millard
Former Comet photographer and NHDC chair, the late Alan Millard served as councillor for Walsworth from 2007 until 2018. He also served on the Hitchin Committee, North Hertfordshire Highways Partnership, Planning Control Committee and Overview and Scrutiny Committee.
4. Kenny Arnold
Kenny Arnold, owner of Kenny Arnold Hairdressing, is also founder of Stevenage People for People – a community group which helps support people who are struggling. He and his team of volunteers have supported food banks, day centres, schools and individuals.
The late Baroness Shirley Williams, daughter of famous memoirist Vera Brittain, served as MP for Hitchin from 1964 to 1974 and for Stevenage and Hertford from 1974 to 1979. She later became a life peeress and served as President of Stevenage Liberal Democrats.
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Stevenage’s former mayor, Sherma Batson, who died in 2017 aged just 59, was the town’s first black mayor. She was awarded an MBE in 2008 for services to local government and the community. She was a community champion who helped raise thousands for charity.
7. Connie Rees
Connie moved to Stevenage with husband Huw in 1951, where she quickly became very busy campaigning and supporting social causes including stopping any development in Fairlands Valley Park and campaigning for nuclear disarmament.
Les has sold poppies for the Poppy Appeal in Stevenage for decades, best known for setting up shop at Sainsbury's in Coreys Mill, come rain or shine. Last year, he set up an online appeal due to the pandemic, to continue to raise money for the Royal British Legion.
Sir Henry Bessemer from Charlton created the Bessemer Process for the production of cheap and large scale production of steel, which impacted the building of bridges, railways and more in the nineteenth century.
10. Sue Plummer
Sue is the CEO of Garden House Hospice Care, based in Letchworth. She, along with everyone at the hospice, has provided palliative care, outpatient services and bereavement to those in need, supporting members of our community when at their most vulnerable.
11. Shane Cole
Shane Cole founded homelessness drop-in charity Feed Up Warm Up in 2018. Since, he and his passionate "orange army" have provided a valuable life line for those in need.
12. Chris Foster
Chris Foster played a key part in starting up The Haven homeless hostel in Stevenage - now known as Haven First. Stevenage Housing Support group (with Chris Foster as Chairman) was set up in 1990 raise awareness and address the issues of homeless in the area. Stevenage Haven became a registered charity in 1997, and moved to its Ditchmore Lane property - known as Chris Foster House - in 2001.
13. Keith Hoskins
As town centre manager for 22 years, Keith Hoskins turned Hitchin from a floundering historic market town after the recession of the early 1990s, into a thriving spot for independent businesses. His work earned him the nickname ‘Mr Hitchin’ and an MBE, with the highlights of his tenure including the Queen’s visit in 2012 and the growth of the popular Hitchin Festival.
14. Mervyn Terrett
As chairman of Stevenage’s TRACKS autism early years centre, Mervyn Terrett has helped support children aged two to six with communication, social interaction, play and sensory difficulties. He also helped to fund mature students with the Betty Game Opportunities Trust, with his work earning him the Lifetime Achievement award at the 2018 Comet Community Awards.
15. Eric Claxton
Following Stevenage’s designation as the UK's first new town in 1946, engineer Eric Claxton was tasked with designing the town’s cycleways, which are still used by residents to this very day.
16. Hilda Lawrence
A key figure in shaping Stevenage, Hilda Lawrence’s many achievements included becoming the town’s first female mayor in 1989, serving as a Labour councillor for Bedwell and Bedwell Plash wards between 1976 and 1999, helping to create the Stevenage Community Trust and lobbying for the Lister Hospital facility.
17. Hugh Madgin
Historian and author Hugh Madgin has worked tirelessly since 1983 to chronicle the history of a number of locals towns, with his books on Stevenage, Hitchin, Baldock and Knebworth helping to preserve their past.
18. Mick Furr
As manager of the original Westmill Community Centre from 1974 until it was demolished in 2017, Mick Furr helped shape the community, with her work seeing her awarded with an MBE. She was also given the honour of starting the digger when the building was knocked down ahead of the new £1.8m centre being built.
19. Janis Feely
Janis founded addiction rehabilitation charity The Living Room in Stevenage in May 2000 after successfully overcoming her own addiction to alcohol and prescription drugs. Each year, 60 to 70 per cent of addicts who engage in the services - that's about 120 people - achieve abstinence recovery. Janis was awarded an MBE in 2010.
20. John Spiers
John joined the Friends of Forster Country in 2000 and became chairman in 2011. He has tirelessly fought against the threat of development on Forster Country - the last remaining farmland in Stevenage, where author E M Forster spent his childhood.
21. Claire Austin
Born and bred in Stevenage, Claire has run Austin's Family Funeral Directors - established in Stevenage more than 300 years ago - for more than 20 years. Firmly entrenched in the community, she is a stalwart charity supporter - running the London Marathon for Letchworth's Garden House Hospice Care, shaving her head for Stevenage Community Trust and surviving in the Arctic Circle for Home-Start Hertfordshire, for instance.
22. Alex Lang
Alex has been involved with safety education organisation Crucial Crew in Stevenage for about 30 years, dedicated to helping children keep themselves safe. Alex is also involved in a number of charities, including Stevenage Community Trust, and is a long-standing member of The Rotary Club of Stevenage.
23. Stuart Kenny
Director general of Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation for 15 years, Stuart was at the forefront of many key developments that transformed the town and community, including the planning, preparation and first-stage implementation of the town centre revitalisation.
24. Ebenezer Howard
Sir Ebenezer Howard OBE was an English urban planner and founder of the garden city movement. His publication To-Morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform, in which he describes a utopian city in which people live harmoniously together with nature, resulted in the founding of the garden city movement, and the building of Letchworth - the first garden city - in 1903.
25. Judith Lovelock
A long-standing headteacher at Almond Hill Junior School in Stevenage, Judith Lovelock retired on December 18, 2020, after 23 years in the role. Serving as Almond Hill's head since 1997, Mrs Lovelock's colleagues praised her for working “extremely hard to make the school a wonderful place" throughout her many memorable years of teaching.
26. G La Roche
Also described as 'Baldock's favourite punk', G La Roche founded Balstock - Herts' biggest free music festival - in 2006. In 2015, a petition was started to erect a statue to reward the town stalwart for his efforts.
27. Judith Moore
Stevenage's longest-serving headteacher, Judith Moore, retired from her post at Bedwell Primary in 2018 after 30 years at the helm. Dubbed a "true inspiration", Mrs Moore is credited for turning Bedwell's fortunes around, and is highly respected in the school and Stevenage community.
28. Janise Frith
Janise Frith taught hundreds of students in Herts across her stellar teaching career, acting as head of music at the Barclay School in Stevenage before becoming a long-serving headteacher of St Francis’ College, Letchworth. Janise died in 2015, seven days after her 82nd birthday.
29. Lewis Silkin
Envisioning Stevenage to be a "gay and bright" place, Lewis Silkin - Stevenage's political architect - presented the town as a utopian vision, building on the Garden City movement that came before him. Stevenage is the first of many 'new towns' under the 1946 New Towns Act, which aimed to free people from the smog and cramped living conditions of big cities.
Edward I granted a permanent charter for a fair in Stevenage in 1281. The fair was a market in those days, selling animals, textiles, food and and more. It became an early version of the Old Town funfair event or 'pleasure fair' in the 19th century.
31. Barry Parker and Raymond Unwin
Barry Parker and Raymond Unwin were two of the architects in charge of designing our beloved Letchworth Garden City. Appointed to 'First Garden City Ltd' in September 1903, Parker and Unwin were tasked with curating a design that could translate Ebenezer Howard's ideas for Letchworth - the world's first garden city - into reality.
Letchworth’s first public building Mrs Howard Memorial Hall it was built to honour to Ebenezer Howard’s first wife, Elizabeth Ann Bills, who died shortly before moving to the garden city.
33. John Armitage
The beloved David’s Bookshop, in Eastcheap, was founded in 1963 by John Armitage - the British editor of Encyclopaedia Britannica.
34. Annie Kenney
Annie Kenney helped shape women's voting rights - affecting our community and beyond, of course. Mrs Kenney was one of the women at the forefront of the Suffragette movement in the early 20th century. She moved to Letchworth in 1923 where she spent the last 30 years of her life.
35. Bob Mardon
Rhythms of the World organiser and Club 85 manager Bob Mardon is a staple of the Hitchin music scene.
36. Ken Follett
International best-selling author and philanthropist Ken Follett lives in Knebworth and is president of grant-giving charity Stevenage Community Trust and patron of Home-Start Hertfordshire. His own charity, The Follett Trust, makes donations to organisations involved in community work, to the promotion of reading including dyslexia sufferers, and to students in higher education - including scholarships. In 2018, Ken was made a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to literature and charity.
37: William Wallace Kincaid and Cecil Hignett
The Spirella building was created between 1912 and 1920 as the UK manufacturing base of the Spirella Corset Company, the factory was designed by architect Cecil Hignett.
38. William Ransom
Hitchin's William Ransom, who died in 1914, was a UK botanist, pharmacist , archaeologist and, founder of the UK's oldest independent pharmaceutical company
39. Jayne Dingemans
Jayne is the director of patient services are Garden House Hospice Care, with a wealth of experience in palliative care. She was recognised in the Queen's Birthday Honours last year, where she was described as "highly respect by peers and colleagues in the hospice community”.
40. Samuel Perks and Charles LLewellyn
In the late 19th century, Perks & Llewellyn established a countrywide reputation for their lavender products. At its peak over 100 acres were grown and Hitchin became renowned nationally.
Lavender was reintroduced to the Hitchin area in 2000 by Cadwell Farm's Alexander and Zoe Hunter alongside the traditional arable crops. Hitchin Lavender is now a major visitor attraction in the county.
Father Michael was a much-loved priest of the Catholic church of Our Lady Immaculate & St Andrew. He moved to Hitchin in 2000 and remained there until his tragic death in 2018.
43. The Lytton family
The Lytton family have called Knebworth House ‘home’ since 1490. In that time it has housed some notable people including author Edward Bulwer-Lytton. The house is now a popular tourist attraction and is regularly as a filming location for movies.
44. Kane Kramer
Kane Kramer, from Hitchin, is credited with the initial invention of the mp3 player. He first invented the design for the digital audio player way back in in 1979 and had the idea patented by 1985.
45. Rev Lewis Hensley
Lewis Henley was the vicar of Hitchin for nearly 50 years (1856-1905). He wrote several books and was a prominent figure in the community. He was the vicar until his death at the age of 81.
46. Dr Sarfraz Awan
Dr Sarfraz Awan is the chairman of the Stevenage Muslim Community Centre. Through his work as chairman he has helped fundraise money for earthquake victims and called for unity after a mosque attack in 2014.
Olly and Tom Wilkes started their own festival to honour the memory of their brother Matthew who sadly died. In 2006 they founded Wilkestock on family land between Watton-at-Stone and Walkern - the festival is still taking place every year.
Formed in around 1119 after the First Crusade to protect Christian pilgrims travelling to the Holy Land, the Templars, or The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon as they are properly called, are best known as an elite fighting force. They founded Baldock and the town was their English base between 1199 and 1254.
49. Bowes-Lyon family
The Bowes-Lyon family have a long connection with the area. St Paul's Walden Bury, near Hitchin, was the home of the late Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. Bowes-Lyon House opened on St. George’s Way, Stevenage in 1964, to become Europe’s largest dedicated youth club.
50. Nick Carver
Nick Carver has been the chief executive of East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust for almost 19 years, having started his career in the NHS as a hospital porter and going on to qualify as a registered nurse.
Under Nick’s leadership, investment of more than £150 million in Lister Hospital in Stevenage has seen it become the major acute hospital for the area.