Emma Bridgewater's new GoGoHares charity mug
PUBLISHED: 16:37 05 February 2018 | UPDATED: 16:37 05 February 2018
Mark Bullimore Photography 2017
Emma Bridgewater’s latest addition to her pottery range is for a cause close to her heart – in more ways than you might imagine
Her bold and cheery pottery designs may adorn kitchens the length and breadth of the nation, but Emma Bridgewater loves nothing more than rummaging for quirky cups and fabulous china in the county’s charity shops.
And it was this unashamed love affair which led to her latest design project – creating a special fundraising mug to celebrate the 50th birthday of Norfolk charity Break.
The mug features brightly coloured hares – reflecting the charity’s GoGoHares Trail in Norwich this summer – but the design is distinctly Bridgewater.
“They got in touch with us and it was a no brainer, it was an instant yes. Fortnum and Mason can wait,” she laughs. “We love Break; it is a fantastic charity but also has great charity shops. When I first moved to Norfolk in the early 1990s, I was always in one of their shops searching around. Pre-eBay in particular, they were like an Aladdin’s cave of the most brilliant treasures. It was not only the start of my connection with Break but also a place for inspiration for my business. I remember one day looking at these fabulous Meakin’s coffee pots and mugs in a charity shop in North Walsham; Meakin’s were producing tonnes of these cheery, distinct everyday designs out of their factory in Stoke-on-Trent and I just loved them. It really made me think about my own work.”
Having spent many happy times in Norfolk as a child, Emma has always had a close affinity with the county. She and her husband Matthew Rice moved to a draughty old rectory in Wickmere with their two children – another two followed – and spent 16 happy years living an idyllic rural life, complete with chickens, goats and plenty of countryside adventure. However, when Emma decided to return to the helm of the pottery company after her son was born, the constant commuting between London, Stoke-on-Trent and Norfolk gradually took its toll and the family reluctantly moved to Oxfordshire.
“I absolutely loved living here, but the driving was just horrendous. We all left Norfolk with heavy hearts, but it was exhausting and not working. But wherever I am, my compass always seems to turn back here. I love being in Norfolk. We still have a house here where we just spent Christmas and I very much see us coming back permanently one day.”
Last year, Matthew’s mum, Pat Albeck, died and, says Emma, it left a huge hole in their lives. Pat, who lived in Aldeburgh for some years, was a renowned textile designer and artist whose iconic work was used by the likes of Horrockses, Sanderson’s, John Lewis and The National Trust, as well as by Emma herself.
“Pat was 87; she was working up until the morning she was taken into hospital. She was incredibly sparky, extraordinarily untroubled by things – unless someone copied one of her designs – and she was so very ‘down with kids’, without ever knowing what that even meant. Pat was someone who put on the years but not the age.”
It’s been more than 30 years since Emma started her company and today her iconic, relaxed designs sit happily among mismatched collections of cups, bowls and plates on all manner of shelves, dressers and tables around the world. A Bridgewater piece of pottery is instantly recognisable – but it is very much for using, not for putting on display. Everything is made in their factory in Stoke-on-Trent, the traditional home of British pottery, and Emma is very much an advocate of promoting British heritage industries.
When the engagement of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle was announced, she immediately set about designing a royal mug for the occasion – and she says, commemorative pieces are a very important part of pottery making tradition through the generations.
“Stoke on Trent has always swung on its ability to rise up for royal occasions. But there are fewer potters there now which is incredibly sad. I want the pottery trade in Stoke to rise up again, that’s my perennial dream. If we are doing it, I want others to.
“There is a great back story to royal and commemorative china, it charts social history in a very simple way and you can still find fantastic pieces of pottery for royal weddings or jubilees or other key events, often in charity shops. A year after we started the business we did our first royal mug. It was for Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson’s wedding, I think my instinct was always to carry on that rich tradition in the potteries,” she says.
“I think we have found our feet with the royal designs now; they are slightly relaxed and a little bit jokey but hopefully look great.”
With that, and after discussing her love of Netflix series The Crown, her attention turns back to the wonders of charity shops – although still with the royals in mind.
“Rumour has it that at Sandringham at Christmas, they can only spend £5 on each other and it has to be a gift to make you laugh. I think Break should perhaps invite them in for a special shopping evening behind closed doors so they can get their gifts there. I think the Queen would love it – if it’s true she likes Tupperware, then I think she would love charity shops,” she laughs.
The mugs, which are sold in a commemorative money box designed to encourage more fundraising, are available from Jarrold in London Street, the shop at the Forum and Break charity shops throughout East Anglia, priced £21.99.
Break’s 50th anniversary
Break has been helping children, young people and families in the region since 1968 and proceeds from the commemorative mug will help pay for the vital work supporting those in need.
As well as running children’s homes in Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, it also offers mentoring, support for children with disabilities, a therapeutic fostering service and a range of community-based services.
Following the hugely popular GoGoGorillas and GoGoDragons campaigns in previous years, this summer will see 50 giant hare sculptures waiting to be discovered across the city.
Michael Rooney, head of commercial services at Break, said “2018 is a very special year for us with the GoGoHares sculpture trail arriving on the streets of Norwich and around the county in June. We have many events planned to engage both young and old in celebrating this milestone with us and helping us to continue our work with vulnerable children, young people and families.”
Once again, each of the hares will be individually painted by local artists and are sponsored by businesses and organisations. The designs are always colourful, bold with plenty of humour, history and local references thrown in. A trail map and ticklist will be available to enable everyone to track down as many of the hares as possible throughout the summer. The GoGoHares trail, which has been organised in partnership with Wild in Art, is due to go live on June 24 and will run until September 8.