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Denman Lecture Nov 2014: The Case for Beauty

Dame Fiona Reynolds is currently Master of Emmanuel College, and was Director General of the National Trust from 2001-12. She is also a non-executive director of the BBC and Wessex Water. She held the position of Director of the Women’s Unit in the Cabinet Office, and held Directorships of the Campaign to Protect Rural England and Council for National Parks.


Dame Fiona argues that in our current society which is increasingly driven by instant gratification, and in the current political climate of economic primacy, we are losing sight of “beauty” – both in the natural and human landscape.

Yet at two very different times in the past, beauty formed a central part of Britain’s growth and development. Firstly at the height of the industrial revolution and empire, the link between beauty and wellbeing was clearly recognised, as implemented by social home developer Octavia Hill, and expressed in the 1908 Planning Bill. Further the need to control urbanisation was also recognised, as manifest in the foundation of the National Trust and the birth of the planning system. Secondly in the aftermath of The Second World War, the creation of the Green Belts, implementation of the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act and 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, all formed part of an integrated approach to post-war reconstruction.

Dame Fiona argues we can reinstate beauty into society, and proposed three solutions. Firstly to replace GDP with wellbeing as a measure of progress. Secondly to build integrated places to connect us to the resources we use – food, water, our jobs and homes. And thirdly to change the role of the individual in society from consumer to citizen.

Watch the lecture