FEATURE: New Conservative candidate for Bury St Edmunds and Stowmarket Jo Churchill wants to better understand her ‘beautiful’ new constituency

Mark Westley Photography'New Conservative candidate 'Jo Churchill.
Mark Westley Photography'New Conservative candidate 'Jo Churchill.
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The new Conservative Parliamentary candidate for Bury St Edmunds and Stowmarket Johanna Churchill has expressed her eagerness to be ‘listening and learning’ from the people of Bury to better understand her ‘unbelievably beautiful’ new constituency.

In an interview with the Bury Free Press, the Lincolnshire county councillor and businesswoman acknowledged she needed to get to know the area, but believed her life living in rural communities gave her a level of understanding.

“I have operated in a market town for 20 years so I know how important infrastructure is, and being reliant on your own situation and how valuable communities and friends are to make life work,” she said.

“I want to draw on my own experience and other people’s to be a strong voice for the constituency.

“It is hugely important that the rural voice is heard and that Westminster understands it is not all about them, and that we have so much to offer. Investment should be put into areas that have the potential to grow, which this does hugely.

“We need to stand up and say, we’re not like you, we are special in our own right and you need to account for us.”

The former healthcare campaigner, 50, is currently looking for a flat in Bury before she, her husband, their four daughters and two labradors make the move to Suffolk next year.

“I want to have a base in the constituency quickly. At this time of year there is so much going on,” she said.

“It is a town of balance, it is unbelievably beautiful and the countryside is stunning. I will be pleased when we can be properly ensconsed - putting down roots here is important.”

“It will be lovely to move and be a family as part of the community. That side of my life is hugely important.”

She is focusing her property search between Bury and Stowmarket, which also falls within her constituency, to be close to both towns. She attended a Remembrance Day service in Stowmarket and was astounded by its ‘brilliant sense of community’.

Of the eastern areas in her new constituency, Mrs Churchill said: “There are a lot of different communities to try and understand, which may have other opportunities to fight for.”

With a sister living in Holbrook, near Ipswich, Mrs Churchill is eager to become part of the community in Suffolk. She calls herself a ‘familiar person’ who wants people to feel they can ‘stop me in the street and talk to me’.

“It is important that I can hit the ground running - I don’t know the area and I want to be shown,” she said. “It is that communication that is so important going forward. I need people’s support to do the job well.

“I want to get to know the constituency and what makes people so proud of what is both head and heart of Suffolk. It is a wonderful mixture of understanding and protecting tradition and community values, while grabbing hold of people’s aspirations and dynamic goals.

“I see this very much as, I am the prospective candidate and I would love people to ask me to come to their community functions, to be involved with things they are doing.

“I want to know about all those things that will help us to work better. I want to talk to and meet as many people as I can.”

Despite holding two first class degrees and having run her own construction company for over 20 years, Mrs Churchill is humble about her achievements.

“I have had to work for everything I have ever had, so I do not take anything for granted,” she said.

She heaped praise on her family and her husband, Peter, who has been a large supportive influence on her life.

“I have been running a company for 20 odd years, he has never known me not working and pursuing goals,” she said.

“He is hugely supportive and I am incredibly lucky. I feel passionate about doing this and hopefully after a long marriage you can give each other the support to follow those ambitions.”

She belives now her daughters Harriet, 21, Bea, 20, and twins Ellie and Olivia, 17, are older, now is the time for her to step into a ‘new life’.

“I have always served, whether that is as an employer, a mother, or in my charity work. I see this as the next step, it is a progression and made very much more possible by having a supportive partner,” she said.

Mrs Churchill has had her fair share of hard-fought battles. She was diagnosed with thyroid cancer at the age of 31, and was dealt another blow when she was diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago.

“I have been treated on both occasions by fantastic doctors and nurses, at a hospital in a very rural community,” she said. “I have come out of the experience more resilient and more compassionate. It was hard at the time but in both instances I have had very treatable pathways.”

Following her battles with cancer, Mrs Churchill began campagining for Breakthrough Breast Cancer and the year after her second diagnosis she ran the Moon Walk marathon in London.

Demonstrating her characteristic no-nonsense pragmatism, Mrs Churchill said: “It is important to start to live your life again. Sometimes things happen in life that you don’t choose. We get one go at this, so it is better that we have an enjoyable journey.

If elected Mrs Churchill will become the first female MP in the constituency, which includes Bury, Stowmarket and Needham Market. The area has been under Conservative control since it became a one-member constituency in 1885, but despite the safety of her potential seat Mrs Churchill is not resting on her laurels.

“I feel very privileged and honoured that the party has put its faith in me and I hope I can do an excellent job that all the constituents are proud of.”

Of the ground gained by UKIP across the country in recent months, Mrs Churchill said she would not underestimate any opposition in her constituency despite the perceived certainty of the Conservatives’ re-election.

“Here, like anywhere, there are challenges from all the different political parties, but we have to take it in our stride,” she said.

“It is important to give everyone respect for their views, but for me the challenge is, what do they stand for?”

“I understand the fears people have that UKIP are alluding to, but they are not offering any solutions.”

While being a supporter of immigration, Mrs Churchill believes a more controlled approach may be necessary for the region.

“I think there can be hugely positive things about getting the right people with the right skills, both high and low level, as many industries rely on them,” she said.

“While being aware, we should not be open for benefit tourism. Life is about contributing to society as a whole and being valuable. We all have a responsibility to put in to get out, in financial and personal terms.”