I first came across Nicky Branch when he was an elected member on the East Hampshire District Council.
He was one of the few councillors leading the opposition to the South Alton Hybrid Plan. This was a highly-contentious development and despite being out of step with the council’s planning officers – who were recommending acceptance – and most of his council colleagues, he stood up for what was best for Alton.
I was impressed and discovered this man was a tenacious campaigner. He went on to lead several local campaigns to support what he – and many of us – thought were best for the town.
He became a member of the Alton Society and was asked to go on the management committee. He was in his mature years but he brought a freshness to the committee and lots of new ideas.
He was determined we should use a legacy we had to provide small grants to local organisations. He served on the society’s Built Environment Group. They commented on planning applications and development policy. His experience was invaluable.
He had an uncanny knack of suggesting an approach and then you found you were persuaded to pursue it. Delegation was his key word.
The vast amount of hard work he did was reflected in his input into several major projects for the town.
A good example was the town’s Neighbourhood Plan. It dealt with development, design, transport and facilities, both recreational and essential. He and many others produced this plan, looking forward to 2020.
It was a statutory document and a wonderful example of how it should be done!
Despite the years since its completion, it is an essential guide to how the town should be developed, while protected from poor design and inadequate planning foresight.
It was a continued frustration to Nicky that the council would ignore the plan when dealing with some planning applications and he was never slow in confronting officers about these shortcomings.
Nicky was elected chairman of the society and served his full three years. His enthusiasm to ensure the society remained relevant to the town meant we were a very effective lobbying group under his leadership – far more than we ever dared to hope!
He chaired our meetings with humour and style, always ensuring we finished at the latest by 9.30pm, just in time for a glass of red wine and a post-meeting chat!
He helped the society take a high-profile stand on various proposals for new community facilities. This included his idea of a community trust for the town, with the objective of building a new community centre.
It would be a trust with a mixture of trustees from Alton. This would have been ideal, taking the funding and decision making out of the hands of politicians and putting it into the hands of the townspeople, with the objective of acting for the benefit of Alton.
As the society knows well, there were some successes and failures. Nicky never gave up and if we stuttered at a first hurdle, he would help us find a way around it to continue the campaign.
Nicky was involved with Alton’s Community Centre, guiding it through some of its most difficult times and supporting it with his financial expertise.
He was also a governor at the Alton College and given the reduction in funding for tertiary education, he helped set up the Alton College Foundation.
It was a remarkable innovation. It helped to fund equipment and scholarship schemes. His energy and enthusiasm helped raise much-needed funds. His contacts both in the City and among old school friends proved very helpful and lucrative.
Nicky had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Despite this he continued with his voluntary work and faced the disease with courage. Several of us visited him towards the end of his life, and he continued to insist we keep him up to date with the local news.
He even gave good advice as to how to plan our 50th anniversary celebration. Several of his ideas were adopted.
Some nibbles and the glass of red wine always made these personal moments memorable for those of us who shared them!
The society feels his loss deeply, and appreciates what he brought to our charity. We will be forever grateful for his leadership: a true captain of our ship.