Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Campaign to Protect Rural England

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Shirley Fieldhouse 1934 - 2018

Wednesday, 09 January 2019 14:17

The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) regrets to announce the death of Shirley Fieldhouse, who for over forty years was a dedicated campaigner for the Cambridgeshire countryside.

Branch Chairman Alan James said “CPRE locally and nationally is greatly saddened by Shirley’s death.  She really gave her heart and soul to this organisation for many years.  It has been a rare honour to meet and work with someone so dedicated, so competent, and who despite achieving so much was so humble in her approach.  CPRE and the people of Cambridgeshire will always be in her debt.

“Her organised mind and steely determination, coupled with a detailed understanding of the issues arising from the rapid growth of the county and its hinterland, made her a formidable contributor to upholding the principles and policies of CPRE locally and nationally.”

Shirley came to Cambridge from the North of England in 1959 and rapidly found employment as secretary to Professor Sir Nevill Mott, the Cavendish Professor of Physics.  She remained in that role until his retirement in 1971.  She continued working at the University until her own retirement in 1999.  It was Professor Mott’s sister, Joan Fitch, who introduced Shirley to the CPRE in 1975.

From being an activist and volunteer, in 1977 Shirley was elected to the CPRE Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Branch Committee.  In 1981 she became Branch Secretary, a post she held for 15 years. Her particular areas of expertise were Cambridge City, South Cambridgeshire, East Cambridgeshire and Fenland.

The Branch Annual Report at the time said: “The office of Hon Sec has been developed into an almost full-time and professional one. Her range of contacts, knowledge of the county and dedication are invaluable assets which have much to do with the regard in which we are held by official and voluntary bodies in the county”.

After retiring from the University, Shirley’s CPRE responsibilities became even more wide-ranging.  They included scrutinising all planning applications and responding where necessary; managing and servicing Branch Committee meetings and acting as Membership Secretary, Branch co-ordinator and liaison with National Office.

Whatever the scale of the challenge, Shirley was tireless in producing and delivering well-researched and considered responses.  For over two years from 2005 she scrutinised and assessed the planning application for the proposed new town at Mereham, between Stretham and Wilburton.  She attended and submitted evidence at the Public Inquiry, consulted on and represented the views of local residents and was a constant source of advice and guidance to them.

Shirley, almost single-handedly, ran well-received training courses on planning for parish councils and workshops on hedgerow management.  She served as Membership Secretary and was involved in the recruitment of new supporters.  Former Chairman of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Branch, now Eastern Regional Chairman, Michael Monk, first met Shirley in 1984 at the public inquiry into the first Cambridge Green Belt Local Plan. She was giving evidence on behalf of CPRE and Michael was giving evidence for the County Council.  Michael remembers being impressed by Shirley’s professional approach and that it sowed the seed for his joining CPRE after his retirement from work.  Current Branch Chairman, Dr Alan James, first met Shirley during the Mereham public inquiry, an encounter that also resulted in his joining CPRE.

Between 1997 and 2015, Shirley’s tireless work for the CPRE was recognised with three prestigious awards: the CPRE medal (1997), the Marsh Honorary Award for Outstanding Contribution to CPRE (2012), and the CPRE Lifetime Achievement Award (2015). 

Shirley was also heavily involved with Cambridgeshire ACRE, the rural community council for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.  Until 2005, she was a Board member.  Typically, her contributions went well beyond being a source of sound counsel at board meetings.  She constantly demonstrated her commitment to the cause of maintaining a good quality of life in rural parishes by being involved in and leading a number of important projects.

During her time at Cambridgeshire ACRE Shirley was judge and organiser of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Calor Village of the Year Competition and was well respected by the other judges for her knowledge of community life and by the communities themselves for her constructive feedback on what could be improved.  She also judged the annual Cambridge Building Society Community Magazine Competition, representing Cambridgeshire ACRE by diligently reading and marking all the magazines.  Cambridgeshire ACRE supported Shirley’s nomination for the Marsh Award in 2012 and said “Over the years Shirley has given a considerable amount of volunteer hours to the work of Cambridgeshire ACRE and has always been a person who likes to make a difference in all she does. It is without a doubt that Cambridgeshire's rural communities have most definitely benefited from her work and dedication.”

Shirley was also a dedicated member of Amnesty International and Treasurer of the Unitarian Church in Cambridge where she worshipped.  She was a keen cyclist and an active committee member of CAMCYCLE, the Cambridge Cycling Campaign ‘for better, safer and more cycling in and around Cambridge.’

Shirley’s work with CPRE was not glamorous or high-profile, but required a great deal of intelligence, analysis, attention to detail, planning, determination, tenacity and technical expertise.  She had an immense breadth and depth of knowledge and understanding regarding rural and community life.  She also had the ability to use this within the context of the development and planning system, often to devastating effect. Her dedication, range of contacts, and knowledge of the county were invaluable assets which greatly contributed to the regard in which CPRE is held by official and voluntary bodies in our region, as well as the local residents who call on the branch for advice and support in planning matters. 

“Shirley was still making positive contributions to enhance CPRE’s responses to planning applications after she was taken ill in autumn 2018,” said CPRE Chairman Alan James.  “She was highly respected by all those who met her, even if they did not agree with CPRE’s stance on particular subjects.  

“Shirley certainly ‘made a difference’ to Cambridgeshire, in particular, Cambridge city and South Cambridgeshire.  Her considerable skills, determination and dedication have helped to ensure that much inappropriate development does not destroy precious farmland and countryside, and erode the enjoyment and amenity these assets bring to local residents. 

“Everyone at the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Branch of CPRE will miss Shirley for her unique skills and knowledge, her tenacious and energetic campaigning, and her love of our precious countryside.  She is, quite literally, irreplaceable.”


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