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Inspiring collaboration and mentorship across the property industry

“Emma Fletcher is defining a new wave of collaborative community development and female mentorship across the property industry. With a fascination in human geography, Emma has carved a career working across rural, development, re-generation, HCA and commercial projects from a totally fresh viewpoint and has become a respected champion for the East of England region proving that real innovation is not just reserved for London.

It’s safe to say that Emma loves nothing more than a challenge. The first person in her family to go to university, Emma left her state school in Watford in 1996 to study Land Economy at the University of Cambridge. Since then Emma’s career has been on a fast trajectory – she has systematically gained executive level expertise in the many facets of the property industry, revolutionized inclusive property development and has carved out a fresh way of being a successful woman in the property industry, by holding her values and working to her strengths.

An evolving career
Post-graduation, an unusual summer job as a tour guide at Buckingham Palace, led to a conversation over drinks in Cambridge and a summer placement working for the Duchy of Cornwall. With her mind set on rural surveying, Emma started her career as a trainee rural surveyor for Cambridge-based property consultants Bidwells managing estates for the Wellcome Trust through to University Colleges. From there Emma moved into rural agency and then into the Bidwells Residential Development team as she continued to gain experience in every possible element of property. Emma grew her name around Cambridge working on high profile sites including ‘Clay Farm’ on the Southern Fringe of Cambridge and the regeneration of ‘Wisbech Waterfront’.

However Emma wanted to be part of regeneration rather than just talk about it so moved to work for house builder Hill in 2006. For five years she worked around East Anglia and London. During this time, Emma negotiated a number of joint venture projects, purchased strategic residential development sites, and delivered the first building lease with the newly formed HCA on two sites in Hertfordshire. One of the most significant projects Emma tackled at Hill was successfully managing the bid to redevelop a prominent site on Walthamstow High Street (121 apartments alongside a nine-screen cinema and five retail units) – her sheer determination to secure a cinema operator even meant sleeping on a solicitor’s floor one night!

As with any young family, the mad dashes to nursery from London and East Anglia began to take its toll after a few years. With her eldest child starting school imminently, Emma decided to take up a job offer from Sir Michael Marshall to work as Property Director at Marshall based at the Airport in Cambridge. Here Emma delivered a major planning application for a new settlement known as ‘Wing’ for 1,300 new homes, a primary school and a supermarket on 160 acres, all in under a year and with less than 20 letters of objection. This is one of the many ways in which her community approach is evident. Her dedication to broad and sincere consultation was a real credit to her – she visited the ramblers through to the cycle campaign, spent significant time with the local Parish Councils and designed the masterplan through an Enquiry by Design over three days and with over 1,000 members of the public! She was also helped secure a planning permission for the first permanent ice rink in Cambridge, managing the 900 acre Marshall Estate and had just started the planning process for a further 250 plus residential units known as ‘Malletts Park’.

A chance conversation with Andy Hill earlier this year saw Emma return to Hill to be Managing Director of an exciting new joint venture SmithsonHill. SmithsonHill own 530 acres of former Wellcome Trust land and Emma is now leading the team to promote the land as part of a collaborative cluster in Cambridge which includes co-ordinating efforts to improve transportation and access to Cambridge. Her approach here is a culmination of everything she has learnt today and a more innovative methodology from other developers in the region. The direction is all about collaboration – understanding key issues, area improvements and the best use of land and space before making any proposals. There are currently discussions under way and we’ll be sharing those discussions in due course.

Community Spirited
From the outset of her career, Emma has wanted to put her experiences to good use for others as well as succeeding commercially.

Since graduating, Emma took up the position of Honorary Secretary to the Cambridge University Land Society (CULS), the oldest alumni society at the University, managing events and running the 1,000 strong property membership. By the time she was on her first maternity leave Emma was by then one of the youngest Presidents of the Society and delivered a dinner for 650 people on the lawn at Kings College to celebrate 800 years of Cambridge University.

On her second maternity leave she organised a street party in her village for over 600 people to celebrate the Royal Wedding. During the street party she met Sir Michael Marshall and asked if he would consider a Community Land Trust on his field. This was where Emma became the Chairman of the Swaffham Prior Community Land Trust (SPCLT). The Swaffham Prior development is due for completion by the end of 2015 – 12 private homes for sale and 8 affordable homes delivered for the village, by the village.

But that’s not enough for Emma and she has also just accepted a role on the board of the Cambridge Forum for the Construction Industry as she thought she could squeeze it in as the Community Land Trust homes will be occupied by Christmas!

A woman of substance
During her time at Bidwells, a development site sold on behalf of the Girl Guides saw Emma being exposed as having been keen out the great outdoors and so before she knew it she became a Duke of Edinburgh Advisor for Cambridge for over five years. This was particularly rewarding in terms of being a role model for young women and helping them achieve their goals.

It was around this time that Emma, as a professional business woman really recognised a gap in positive female mentors and determined to do what she could to help encourage the betterment of women in the property industry and business in general. She very much buys into the Kevin Spacey philosophy of “send the elevator back down”.
During her time at Marshall she set up the Women’s Innovation Group and worked with women across the Group’s businesses in aerospace and the motor group. Using her external contacts she introduced Marshall Women to other organisations working in the high tech and property sectors around Cambridge. Innovation and collaboration between sectors is a real strength of Cambridge and Emma was keen to highlight the other world leading technologies spinning out of Cambridge such as the developments in the Internet of Things.

Since graduating Emma continues to mentor an MPhil student each year at Cambridge University.

“As well as modernizing the thinking around inclusive land development, Emma will continue to inspire more women to champion a new rationale of working in the industry.