James Blake elected chair of ACRE

New chair of the Board promises to provide a strong and distinctive voice for rural communities in England over the coming years

Trustees and staff of Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE) warmly welcomed the appointment of James Blake at the national rural charity's AGM on Thursday.

James brings to the organisation a lifelong interest in rural affairs, as well as extensive senior leadership experience gained in both central and local government, and most recently as serving Chief Executive of the Youth Hostels Association.  James will provide fresh perspectives on addressing long-standing rural concerns, many of which have been made worse recently by the cost-of-living crisis.

James succeeds David Emerson CBE who steered the organisation through some of the most turbulent years in  the charity's history and saw its reputation as a source of rural expertise grow, particularly for the insight and advice it provided to England's 10,000 village halls during the pandemic.

Speaking about his appointment, James said: "I am delighted to be joining ACRE as Chair at a critical time for rural communities.  The charity has a long track record of fighting the corner of people who find themselves at a disadvantage because of where they live - highlighting rural challenges such as a lack of affordable housing, access to services and loneliness that would otherwise go unnoticed.  At a time of great economic uncertainty, rising prices, energy insecurity and the growing environmental crisis, it will be critical to re-examine the ways that rural communities can be supported to become more resilient, sustainable and inclusive.  I am very much looking forward to working with the ACRE Board, staff team and national and local partners to tackle these very real challenges."

Richard Quallington, ACRE's Executive Director, said, "James will make an excellent Chair of ACRE.  I am delighted that we have found a candidate who  offers both the leadership and strategic qualities needed to guide the organisation in its work, as well as having an intimate understanding of the needs and concerns of rural communities.  I have every confidence that he will help us go from strength to strength, providing a unique and distinctive voice for people living and working in the countryside."

In recent years, ACRE has set out a comprehensive vision for rural communities where everyone can play a part.  Communities that are well served by vibrant village halls, where there is affordable housing for every generation and where there are services and jobs that people can access.  The charity has also become increasingly concerned with supporting rural communities to play an active role in securing a just transition to net zero.

James will begin his role as Chair of ACRE with a full inbox.  With the cost of living and energy crisis bearing down on many in rural communities, it will be imperative for the charity to continue providing a voice for those who increasingly find themselves struggling because of where they live.

ACRE is the national body of the ACRE Network, England's largest rural grouping of community support charities - including GRCC.