SPOTLIGHT SUNDAY// Emma Bridgewater

This week for our Spotlight Sunday feature we caught up with Emma Bridgewater, yes you heard that right, the actual lady herself! Emma's designs have become a household name all over the world. We have grown up with her colourful ceramics dotted around our parents houses, and now we have it in our own too!  We cannot explain how excited we were when she agreed to speak with us so we could find out all about the lady behind this iconic British brand.
Emma, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. Tell us a little bit about yourself, how did Emma Bridgewater come about?

I started Emma Bridgewater initially because I couldn't find a birthday present for my mum, it began as a homage to her. She always had a wonderful kitchen, and she wasn't worried about having anything that matched, or how many friends we brought round, it was so very relaxed. The great thing about our products is you buy what moves you, a mash up of different products that sit harmoniously, and that's what my mums kitchen was all about.

If you could learn anything new, what would it be?

    I always need to get better at IT! I've got a little bit better, but it's really an aim of mine as my children are always having to help me! I think on a much larger level though; I want to drive out structural racism and sexism. We are always looking at ways to be better as a company and look at what we can do to adapt and ensure change. We employ a lot of women already, and there is a pre-adaptation in our society of what woman at work should be like. So, I want to listen to my children who are so passionate about this, listen to others experiences, and learn from those to make a change. 

    What is top of your bucket list?

      I always want to travel. I've lived in London, Norfolk and Oxfordshire, and traditionally I have always been so busy. I want to stop going down to London for a day, then back home, and then back down again later. I've been trying to go for two or three days, do what I need to get done, and then go home. The mini break for me is gone, or not gone, but it is within England now. It's on your doorstep, it's at the beach, or at the end of your garden, much closer to home.

      I really want to explore England more. It is always staggering to me how absolutely wonderful this country is. That is why when I do travel, I want to do so more effectively, and surface travel for me is so important. I spent a month in India, and that was incredible, the creativity and culture are amazing. Dervla Murphy, for me is a real inspiration she travelled across Mongolia on her bike with her child strapped to her, she's incredible, and her travel writing is brilliant. I really do want to spend some more time in India, its a very complex place.

      Dead or Alive, who inspires you most in your life?

        My mum obviously, but also my dad, he was so hard working, incredibly entrepreneurial, and I get my business drive from him. My children I find incredibly intriguing as well, the youngest is 20 and the oldest 30, I am always learning and being inspired by them.

        My sister Nell Gifford who had Giffords Circus died from cancer in December, but the way she lived her life was astonishing. It was a life lived for art and love; she really didn't spare herself to make it happen. When I look back on her life, it was just extraordinary, she didn't start painting until after her diagnosis, but it was a really great way to stop her restless mind. She plunged in entirely subconsciously, and before she died, she put together an exhibition which actually took place after she died.  Being in that room of her real work and hearing her say what she wanted to say to the world, was extraordinary, and I've been thinking about that a lot since she passed. One of the things that holds people back a lot is fear of failure, and that's something that Nell definitely did not have.

        What does your perfect day off look like?

          I'm a new convert to gardening; I was married for 30 years to a terrific gardener who always had grand ideas and brilliant execution. Now I'm on my own, during lockdown, I have been trying to grow a patch. I've become rather addicted to it. So, having a day in my garden is what I've been doing recently.

          What's the best piece of advice you were ever given?

            Its two parts really -

            "Don't spend too long over a choice. It's all in the follow through."

            Once I've made the choice, I like to go forward into it, don't waver. Someone said that to me about business, but it applies to the whole of life actually, it's very useful. Don't agonise, make a choice and move forward with it. 

            Your favourite Norfolk place, and why?

              I love a day on what my friend calls 'manoeuvres on the marshes', watching people coming in on boats, and a big picnic on the freshes. Anywhere along that part of the coastline is beautiful. I love the Coast Hopper bus as well. I park at Morston and walk to Wells next the Sea, and then get the coast hopper back to the car. The coastal path is such a great innovation; we are very fortunate with that. My grandmother was born in Morston and lived latterly in Cley. As a family we have a devotion to ordinance survey maps, we loved to work out walks from the maps that we would pin to the wall. We would say 'look there is a little fort there, let's meet there', and we would make plans based on the topography. The maps are awful in other countries that I have travelled to, I feel very grateful for ordinance survey maps. The Norfolk Church crawl is also very important to me, inherited through my mum, I love to get my map out and go on a Church crawl. 

              Do you have a favourite product from your range? 

                I'm very happy to say that it varies; I'm always in love with something from a new collection. We have a pattern called Hawthorne from this spring, and I'm very partial to that as I love a green design. I ordered quite a bit of it for myself, and I've given it all away, which is a surefire way to know that I love it. I always give people my favourite things! We did a mug that says 'love is love', and I've found myself using that a lot, I really like it.  

                You have grown your business into a household name, was there ever a 'pinch me' point? 

                  I've been going since 1985, that was my first trade fair. I must confess that when I first went to Stoke right at the beginning for the first time, I really fell for it. I really wanted to take one of the old factories with the smashed windows, and bring it back to life, do it up and fill it with my stuff. I never thought to myself I will just do a little business!  My 'pinch me' moment was when we ran a book festival in the factory. It's now been running for seven years. This year, Covid 19 has obviously put a hold on it and we are going to make some changes to it, perhaps run different events throughout the year rather than the previously intense three day event. I am a very devoted reader, and in a city that has a lot of challenges and some poor academic issues, a book fair has an important role to play. The first one we had was a beautiful day in June, the factory courtyard was full of all kinds of people, the roster was filled with world-famous writers, there was a really good energy. That was a real woah moment for me, like wow we did this! I find it hard sometimes to be objective over the business, I'm always looking forward, so it's often something that started from a bleak angle when I get those moments, when you see life through a different lens.

                  What's next for Emma Bridgewater? 

                    The factory has been shut for three months, so there is a real joy of now having some of the team back together. Some are still working from home, but I think the company will evolve from this, we have had to be flexible and adapt. There is going to be such a big shakeup going on, in a momentous way. People are having a real rethink by the way we have been demented by capitalism. With home working, and with what we've all been through, I think people will spend much more time at home in the future. In a lot of very good ways, we have seen some kind of sense that being at home with our family and our friends, and being less stressed is what really matters. I think our brand is fantastically well tuned in for this, that's how it started all that time ago with my mum. My sisters and I (I'm one of 8), are all hard working and have been for many years, and now I am having the sense that I don't want to go back to normal. I want to go onto something better and be moving forward, I don't want to live by the same goals as before. I want to appreciate home and family. I think home entertaining will become more important, a lot of people have had to push through the fear barrier in terms of cooking from scratch, where they might not have done before. So the future of Emma Bridgwater will be playing a role in that.

                    Favourite place for brunch?

                      Wiveton Cafe - I am there all the time, and it's just fantastic. (check out our recent interview with Desmond the owner of Wiveton Hall)

                      Favourite beach?

                        I love Salthouse beach, and also the back of Blakeney point, its marvellously remote, right out at the mouth of the harbour. That's pretty fantastic on a mid-day low, and swimming in on the incoming tide, that's a big favourite!

                        Favourite podcast/Netflix show/book right now?

                          In the car, I like to listen to the BBC Sounds app, I pick a series that will interest me. For TV, I loved Normal People, I didn't read the book, but I loved the show. It is surprisingly lovely, as very little happens, but the minutiae of their relationship is very thoughtful. Also, Pain and Glory on the MUBI streaming service was great. I'm going to watch Obsession again with my daughter as I really enjoyed that, and we've been re-watching Nashville, as I love Country music. My daughter and I have been quilting during the lockdown as well; I like to quilt and make big quilts with big appliques for people as well.


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