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Michael Dower, CBE

North A, 1947-52

My brother Michael and I were the middle of three generations of Leysians between our father, John (North A, 1913-19), and my daughters, Beatrice and Caroline, sixth formers in succession between 1991 and 1995. Michael would have witnessed John’s name being added to the war memorial at the east end of the School chapel in 1947 and regretted losing “the father he never really knew”. Michael started National Service with the Northumberland Fusiliers but secured transfer to the Royal Engineers (his father’s regiment) and was posted as a junior officer to Singapore.

On his return in 1953 he took up a Sizarship at St John’s College to read Estate Management, and then in 1956 he worked for London County Council while studying for a diploma in Town Planning at UCL. The fever of post-war urban reconstruction had made LCC a good springboard for other town planning posts, but Michael was drawn to a different model in working for The Civic Trust from 1960-65, looking towards the convergence of the many interests affecting the management of the British countryside. He pioneered  the work of conservation volunteers and organised the demolition of eyesores – abandoned military structures and debris on requisitioned land. On one such working party he met Nan Done, a nurse from the University of Southampton. They married in 1960 and had three sons, John, Dan and Alex.

His time at The Civic Trust ended with a major publication, Fourth Wave, analysing the growing impact of tourism and the motor car on the life and accessibility of the deeper countryside and coasts of Britain. In 1965 a diversion took him for two years to the Republic of Ireland, at the behest of the UN, to work on tourism and amenity planning in Donegal, but in 1967 he was invited to be Director of the Dartington Amenity Research Trust in Devon, which he headed for 18 years. Research projects continued to focus on the impact of tourism in rural areas and sought to bring together the interests of land use, resource management, heritage conservation and rural enterprise.

In 1985 Michael was appointed Chief Executive of the Peak District National Park. To quell the suspicion felt by many land managers towards the National Park authority’s policies he pioneered payments to farmers to carry out environmental management projects, supported local enterprise to market locally distinct produce, set up the Peak Park Trust to restore and manage historic buildings, and encouraged the provision of affordable housing for young local families. In the light of these sustained commitments, sentiment in the Peak District was transformed.

Michael was appointed Director General of The Countryside Commission in 1991 and moved to Cheltenham. His vision was to spur local government to collaborate with land managers, local enterprise and communities to plan large scale land reclamation and improvement through such projects as the creation of Community Forests and the popular National Forest. A policy initiative inherited from the Commission’s work of the 1980s, this aimed to create new jobs in the old coalfields of Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Staffordshire, and to provide local communities with new opportunities for outdoor recreation.

After leaving the Commission in 1996 he became Visiting Professor at the University of Gloucestershire and used his European contacts to help establish ECOVAST (the European Council for the Village and Small Town), and the European Rural Parliament, to promote and sustain rural enterprise, heritage and social values to stem the continuing migration to cities, particularly in Eastern Europe. Moving to Beaminster in Dorset he developed similar themes in the formation of the Dorset Climate Action Group and community projects to plant trees, encourage renewable energy and involve schools.

His motto throughout life was “Make good things happen” – surely inspired by John Wesley’s motto familiar to Leysians, “Do all the good you can”.

Words by Robin Dower (North A, 1952-57)