We caught up with the new CPRE president to find out why she couldn’t resist accepting her new role.
Emma on ... joining CPRE:
"I could not have been more thrilled to be invited to become CPRE president. It was a no-brainer. I’ve always really admired what the organisation has stood for. It feels like home to me, because my business has always punched above its weight, and I think that’s what CPRE does so well, too. It has been immensely effective in standing up for the countryside. And I was so inspired by Andrew Motion – I have some pretty enormous boots to fill!"
On ... the power of good planning:
"Some of our greatest landscapes have been saved entirely by our planning system, and by the voices of those like CPRE. In the early years of our marriage, my husband and I holidayed several times on the south coast of Spain, where there were lots of lovely little villages and beaches. We went back more recently and thought we were hallucinating. The lack of planning, and resulting ruination of that beautiful coast, was so shocking, compared to our ravishing coastlines in Cornwall, Suffolk or Norfolk."
On ... her business principles:
"When I started my business, it never crossed my mind to look abroad. By choosing to base production in Stoke-on-Trent, I was working within the glorious tradition of Staffordshire pottery, with a workforce that brings so much innate knowledge. And when our contractor got into difficulties, instead of going elsewhere, as I was urged to do by wiser heads than mine, we did the opposite: rolled our sleeves up, raised the money to buy the factory ourselves, and got stuck in. I feel sure that the price of a plate made in Stoke is a fair, real price. Whereas with one that’s been manufactured on the other side of the world, people who can less well afford it may be paying the cost of our urge to buy tonnes of cheap stuff."
On ... Stoke, and the potential of urban regeneration:
"I feel huge affection, loyalty and gratitude to the city, while at the same time, I feel frustrated on behalf of the people of Stoke that parts of it have become so run down. It has seen a lot of the so-called ‘doughnut effect’, with inner-city suburbs declining. The flip side of keeping the countryside alive and beautiful is intelligent urban development. There are great tracts of land left behind in our cities, where factories and warehouses and foundries have been, that if redeveloped would materially improve urban life – and mean that those distant hills and green spaces on the horizon aren’t going to disappear under concrete.
"So I’m looking forward to speaking about urban regeneration, particularly through tackling suitable brownfield sites. We need to make good things happen in the sometimes-decaying centres of our cities, at the same time as preserving Green Belt."
On ... the need for vibrant rural communities:
"We’re lucky to live in a marvellous village in the Thames Valley of Oxfordshire with its own shop, a school, a surgery and a pub. As a result, it’s a very popular place, and it’s getting new houses built around it. I don’t think we should say no to all of that – we’ve got to share it. But at the same time, there needs to be enough rural infrastructure in place to support communities. There’s a scandal going on with affordable housing. Affordable homes should be at the heart of planning applications – instead, they’re a tack-on, which often get dropped by developers. There’s a need for any development to have affordable housing, and for that not to be treated cynically."
On ... enjoying the countryside:
"When we’re seeking inspiration, Matthew and I will instinctively head outdoors into the countryside – whether that’s to have a picnic, swim in a river or look at an old church (we’ve always been huge church-crawlers). It means so much to me, to be able to get out and do that sort of thing, and it’s been a lifeline for us through stressful times. Everyone should have access to the countryside and green spaces. That’s not a political thing – it’s about our common humanity.
"We’re devoted to Ordnance Survey maps. I’m forever pasting them to the walls of everywhere we’ve lived. Getting to know your neighbourhood through Ordnance Survey is one of my favourite pursuits. We’re forever exploring around and around, like a snail, and finding an old ruin, or a Neolithic grave, or an interesting church, down the road."
An edited version of an interview published in August's summer edition of Countryside Voice, CPRE's membership magazine.
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Pottery designer, businesswoman and author Emma Bridgewater founded her company in 1985. Her famous collection of Staffordshire earthenware is made in the company factory in Stoke-on-Trent. She lives in Oxfordshire with her husband Matthew Rice and their four children. Read our announcement of Emma's appointment and her first AGM speech.