Over 80 people attended a special celebration event to mark 10 years of the Essex Rural Partnership (ERP) on Tuesday (31st July).  The event, held at Channels Golf Club in Chelmsford, saw a variety of people from the private, public and voluntary sectors come together to celebrate the achievements of the Partnership and look to the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.

The Chairman of the ERP and Essex County Council Cabinet Member for Communities and Planning, Councillor John Jowers, welcomed all to the event.  He said, “We are celebrating something fabulous here.  This is a celebration of Essex, which is over 70% rural and one of the most beautiful counties in the country”.

Councillor Peter Martin, Leader of Essex County Council and the first Chairman of the ERP (from 2002 to 2007), followed with an introductory speech about the changing landscape of partnership working, including the Whole Essex Community Budget, and the origins of the ERP:

“I remember 2001, when foot and mouth disease did a lot of damage to the rural community, Essex was effectively shut for business and tourism was suffering.  We needed to do something to help, so we set up the Essex Rural Renewal Forum working with partners in Essex”.

The Essex Rural Renewal Forum was later merged with the Essex Rural Strategy steering Group to from the Essex Rural Partnership in 2002.

Councillor Martin went on to say, “It is enormously challenging to work in partnership but there are some real opportunities too”.  He also congratulated Rural Community Council of Essex (RCCE) for its leadership of the ERP.

The first half of the event focussed on some of the Partnership’s achievements over the last 10 years, interspersed with real life case studies that have made a difference on the ground.  

The audience were encouraged to hear presentations from Ralph Bray on Writtle’s Parish Plan, Sue Meyer from Little Hallingbury Post Office (which is run by the community, from a base at the village hall) and Jinjer Adams from the Layer Fox (which has diversified to meet the needs of the local community – offering a cash machine and selling basic grocery items). ERP members John Gili-Ross and Lloyd Felton also gave a presentation on broadband in rural Essex and developments in its delivery.

The afternoon session then moved on to look at the challenges and opportunities for the ERP.  Sarah Hendry, Director for Rural Development, Sustainable Communities and Crops at Defra, spoke about the role of the Rural and Farming Network, of which the ERP is one of 17 members, and the new Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE), due to start in 2014.

The ERP was also pleased to welcome Dr Susan Priest, the newly appointed Director of the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP), who talked about the organisation’s vision and priorities, including a rural workstream.  Both the SELEP and Defra are very keen to have on-going dialogue with the ERP.

Presentations from the event are available to download here

For more information about the Essex Rural Partnership visit www.essexruralpartnership.org.uk