Tributes paid to 'phenomenal Bromsgrove arts champion' Jennie who has died, aged 85 - The Bromsgrove Standard

Tributes paid to 'phenomenal Bromsgrove arts champion' Jennie who has died, aged 85

Bromsgrove Editorial 10th Oct, 2023   0

TRIBUTES have been paid to Bromsgrove arts champion Jennie McGregor-Smith BEM who died suddenly last month at the age of 85.

Jennie’s death brought immense shock and sadness to all who knew her.

She was full of life with a kind and generous spirit.

Since her death, heartfelt tributes have poured in from individuals and organisations with great appreciation expressed for her immeasurable contribution to arts and culture in Bromsgrove and the West Midlands.

Jennie was an expert organiser of events and concerts, a persuasive fund-raiser and played pivotal roles in founding several well-known local organisations.

Her talent for research resulted in the publication of four detailed and superbly illustrated local history books.




Jennie was born in Leatherhead in 1938 and moved to Bromsgrove with her husband John in 1966.

They lived at Coombe Cottage in Finstall where they raised their children Graham and Heather.


Jennie remained in the family home after her husband’s death, moving to Bilberry Place last year.

Her love for Finstall is reflected in the book The Story of Finstall, the 1640s to the 1940s, which she published in 2018.

Jennie’s professional life included administration for Worcestershire Wildlife Trust, being Artistic Director of Huntingdon Hall in Worcester and she was a Case Worker for the Victorian Society – responsible for buildings within the Bromsgrove District.

Outside of this, Jennie was heavily involved in the world of music and the arts.

WORDS was co-founded by Jennie, Kate Shaw and Margaret Cooper in 1979 to bring literature events to Bromsgrove. Its first meeting was held in Hanbury Hall.

Margaret with Kate Shaw and Jennie McGregor-Smith at WORDS’ 40th anniversary in 2018. s

The list of speakers invited by the group has been breathtaking. As well as writers with local links such as Jonathan Coe and Geoffrey Hill, they have welcomed hundreds of other authors and poets, including PD James, Andrew Motion and Zadie Smith.

Bromsgrove Society

In February 1980, stimulated by the loss of the Almshouses in Stratford Road and other prominent historic buildings in the town centre, Jennie wrote to the local press in response to Christopher Pancheri’s letter on the issue.

Together they proposed a Civic Society, recruited others to form a steering group and then a committee.

Just three months later the Bromsgrove Society was launched with more than 200 Bromsgrove residents attending to hear about its plans.

Jennie remained an active member of the Society, campaigning to save the historic environment which she cared about passionately.

Housman Society

Jennie joined The Housman Society committee in 1987 when Jim Page took over the chairmanship and began a new era.

Vibrant years followed for the society, leading up to the centenary of the publication of A Shropshire Lad in 1996.

The full celebration programme included a literary weekend in Ludlow packed with notable speakers, a musical weekend in Bromsgrove, a special performance of the CBSO at Ludlow, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle with Thomas Allen, a commemoration in Westminster Abbey, events at St John’s College, Oxford and University College London, a National Poetry Competition and the commissioning of song settings, and books.

Jim Page said: “Jennie made a very significant contribution to the celebrations.

“It began in 1991 when she took on the role of fund-raiser and programme director to the centenary sub-committee.

“She was amazingly successful in raising funds – something which requires special skills.

“She obtained vital grants and the success of Jennie’s fund-raising ensured the Housman Society remained in a healthy financial position for years to come.

“She co-ordinated all the activities and maintained a flow chart showing the detail of who was doing what and when.

“She worked tirelessly at administration, phoning, writing, typing, designing programmes, brochures and leaflets.

“Everything she did was of professional quality.”

Bromsgrove Concerts

Celebrating their 60th Season in 2023, Bromsgrove Concerts is indebted to Jennie for her help in bringing so much wonderful classical music to the town, since it was established in 1963, as well as her welcome collaboration on the History of Bromsgrove Concerts publication.

Bromsgrove Concerts Chairman Alastair Moseley said: “Jennie was an ever present figure in everything arts and music in Bromsgrove and was hugely loved and respected by everyone for all that she had done to promote high quality music and art, and unlocking the local talent of the town.

“She brought artists of international repute to Bromsgrove to perform, she helped to establish a much needed centre for music and arts here and she always seemed to attend every concert that took place in the town.

“She laid some very strong foundations in music and arts for her successors to build on, including me, for which I personally will be forever grateful.”

Artrix

Jennie was one of the people responsible for campaigning to bring a dedicated arts centre venue to Bromsgrove.

She took a leading role in campaigning for the possible re-purposing of various buildings but none of the options were possible, so work began on fighting for a suitable site for a new build.

The result was Artrix which opened in April 2005.

Bromsgrove Arts Alive (BAA) was established in 2006, as the successor to Bromsgrove Arts Association.

Jennie had been chair of the old association which had over 30 affiliated groups including all those mentioned above.

She contributed to the new organisation and has produced its promotional membership leaflet bi-annually.

Music tours

Jennie ran Bromsgrove Music Tours where organised coaches took people to concerts in Birmingham.

Her operations later extended to Europe, including a tour to the Czech Republic with visits to the birthplaces of Dvořák, Smetana and Janacek. En route the group passed through Zlin where Tom Stoppard was born.

There they all signed a postcard to send to him because some of the group had met him when they visited the National Theatre with the Housman Society to see his play The Invention of Love based on the life of AE Housman.

Her Celebrating English Song series of concerts ran for 13 years, bringing high quality, live music to Tardebigge Church.

She commissioned the setting of Housman’s poetry to music.

The composer Ian Venables said “I dedicated my Housman setting of ‘How clear, how lovely bright’ to Jennie – it’s the second song on my cycle.

“The Song of the Severn’ sung by Roderick Williams, whom Jennie would invite to her wonderful Tardebigge English Song Weekends – the highlight of our summer.”

Finzi Friends Group

She also played a vital part in the Finzi Friends group and in the early days offered invaluable help in organising the artists and lunches for its events at Ashmansworth in Hampshire.

In 1996 Jennie was Chair of the West Midlands branch of the National Federation of Music Societies and to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of the organisation (later to be called Making Music) she led the organisation of simultaneous performances of Verdi’s Requiem in Worcester, Coventry and Lichfield Cathedrals with the best three orchestras in the region conducted by Paul Spicer, Guy Woolfenden and Michael Lloyd.

Singers from far and wide signed up to take part resulting in over 1,000 performers participating on the day.

The sort of administration Jennie did for so many organisations without charge allowed them to use funds for other elements of their work.

Alongside administration, she was prolific in applying for grant funding.

Locally, the best known of Jennie’s Heritage Lottery Fund bids was the project to re-instate the John Adams Memorial Cross in Bromsgrove Old Cemetery.

The work brought together Avoncroft Museum, Bromsgrove District Council, The Bromsgrove Society, The Housman Society, and the Victorian Society, and saw the important monument reinstated for future generations to enjoy.

Victorian Society

Jennie was a long-standing member of the Victorian Society and her interest in the Victorian architecture was at the heart of much of her research projects and publications, notably her book John Cotton, The Life of a Midlands Architect 1844–1934.

Jennie encouraged Bromsgrove District Council to make Hewell Grange a Conservation Area. She sat on the Hewell Grange Conservation Advisory Group on behalf of The Victorian Society which, along with the Hereford and Worcester Garden Trust, Historic England and the Conservation Officer at Bromsgrove District Council advised the Ministry of Justice on the historic landscape at Hewell.

British Empire Medal

Her countless achievements were acknowledged with the award of the British Empire Medal in the New Year Honours list of January 2018, given in recognition of services to the community in Bromsgrove.

The Lord Lieutenant presents Jennie McGregor-Smith with her BEM Award. Photo by Marcus Mingins 1818006MMR2

When John de la Cour, Chairman of the Elmley Foundation, heard of Jennie’s death he said: “I think we all know how widely admired, respected and loved Jennie was.

“She had the most astonishing commitment to contemporary music, music in general and the support of musicians.

“What I remember particularly is how much fun she was – even when having to confront all kinds of organisational challenges which she so frequently was up against.

“I think of Bromsgrove Concerts and Celebrating English Song at Tardebigge with equal admiration – as well as her winning way of extracting money from people.”

Jennie’s legacy will live on far and wide not just in Bromsgrove, and she’ll remain in the hearts of those who knew and loved her.

Jennie’s funeral

Jennie’s funeral will take place at 2pm on Thursday, October 12, at Redditch Crematorium. Family flowers only. Donations in Jennie’s memory can be made to Help Musicians. All enquiries to James Giles & Sons – 01527 872318.

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