Martin Bamford, Photographer & Filmmaker, Bear Content
Born in Birmingham in 1979, our family moved to Gloucester for a few years, where my sister Emma was born, before finally settling in Cranleigh in 1984.
Football was my dad’s passion, and with two sets of grandparents living in Bristol, I was ‘encouraged’ to support Bristol Rovers FC. One of my fondest memories is slipping a goal past the distracted England keeper, Nigel Martyn, during the warmup for The Pirates vs Fulham game for which I was the mascot.
Though I was a happy child and enjoyed spending time in the Great Outdoors, life wasn’t without its challenges. I was born with leg length inequality, which resulted in major surgery at age 12. Doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital operated on my right leg to remove enough bone to stop it from growing, allowing my left leg to catch up by the end of my teenage years.
I went to Park Mead School in Cranleigh and then moved to Glebelands. Education was a mixed bag, and traditional academic subjects didn’t appeal. I struggled through these school years, and despite moving on to Godalming College, my attendance went off a cliff once I passed my driving test and could spend more time exploring with friends. I didn’t know then, but now I recognise I have ADHD. This meant I wanted to be doing things and pursuing new interests rather than studying in a classroom.
I later discovered business and finance at Guildford College, realising that I could make sense of practical subjects. Though University was never an ambition, my tutor at Guildford mentioned that I could ‘top up’ my Higher National Diploma with a year at Winchester University. I threw myself in entirely and loved the University experience! It was a place I could finally fit in, come out of my shell, and try new things. I even stepped outside my comfort zone to take a job as a bouncer!
Parallel to my educational journey was the inspiring story of my parents. In 1994, they founded Informed Choice, a financial advice firm. Observing their entrepreneurial spirit and having no idea what I wanted to do, I became inspired by the emerging digital world. I was motivated to write my university dissertation about business change at the speed of the Internet!
My professional journey began with the insurance company NPI. I enrolled on their graduate trainee programme and unexpectedly was invited to the weekly sales meeting on my first day! It turned out that the role was in technical sales and I had to quickly become proficient in the technicalities of the UK financial services system. Motivated to set myself apart from more experienced colleagues, I passed the Financial Planning Certificate. I moved on to the Advanced papers, which gave me the equivalent of a second degree.
Despite not being academic, I defied the odds to become one of the youngest Chartered Financial Planners at that time, aged only 28. I later became a Fellow of the Personal Finance Society and was awarded a second Chartered title as a Chartered Wealth Manager.
In 2006, I welcomed my daughter into the world. My first wife and I divorced after a brief marriage, and I filled my time with new challenges. Despite the leg issues I’d had in my childhood, I took up running for the first time in my life. Never to do things by halves, I pushed my limits to run the London Marathon a year later, proudly finishing in 3 hours and 39 minutes, and got to shake hands on the finish line with Sir Richard Branson.
Marathons led to ultra-marathons, culminating in an eleven-hour run along 50 miles of the North Downs Way. However, my running career was cut short by a nasty ankle injury I sustained running up Cranleigh High Street later that year. So, I pivoted, switching my focus to open-water swimming instead. I competed in races in the River Arun, River Adur, and the lake at Hever Castle.
Amidst these adventures, I met Becky. She had been friends with my sister for several years, but I had been utterly oblivious to her existence until one Saturday morning when we bumped into each other and got chatting. We started dating, moved in together a few months later, and have been married for over eight years. In Becky, I have found my biggest supporter and motivation, and our marriage enriched my life with two wonderful stepchildren.
In 2002, I joined the family business. After starting with giving financial advice to clients, my main interest in the business became marketing. I spoke to journalists, provided commentary about investment markets, wrote articles, and appeared on the radio as a guest expert.
My radio career started on LBC Radio. I would visit their West London studios once a month to participate in an hour-long phone-in hosted by the agony aunt Anna Raeburn, answering listener questions about pensions. I realised how much I loved radio and started doing stints on BBC Radio 4’s Money Box. I never did reach media stardom, but sometimes I wonder what might have happened if I’d accepted an offer to host my own television show on Channel 4!
In 2017, I launched a digital marketing agency and leased an office on the High Street. I threw my weight behind this new endeavour, but the coronavirus pandemic led me to reassess my decision and scale things back.
During this time, I transitioned my business from digital marketing to photography and filmmaking. Having loved photography since developing negatives in a small darkroom next to the science labs at Glebelands School in the 90s, I had owned and cherished SLRs, buying my first camera to take on a South African safari after University. Working from a log cabin in my garden during the pandemic, I realised that life is too short not to do what you’re passionate about.
My first paid photography gig was accompanying a journalist from an international newspaper to Cranleigh Village Hall to document the opening of one of the first community vaccination centres. I’ve not stopped taking photos for clients since! Some of my favourite assignments so far include covering a Royal Visit by HRH The Countess of Wessex to a local charity, providing behind-the-scenes photography of Jamie Cullum’s Christmas music video, and taking pictures of Boris Johnson turning on the Christmas Lights at No 10 Downing Street.
I now have a small photography and video studio at Smithbrook Kilns, a fantastic community of businesses. As much as I love living and working in Cranleigh, driving just a few miles from home allows me to separate work from family life and get more done without distraction.
Having lived in a community that has been such an enormous part of my story, ten years ago, I decided I wanted to give back to the local community. Volunteering has always been close to my heart, with my dad, Nick, coaching two football teams, and my mum, Andy, being a leading figure in Cranleigh in Bloom.
In 2015, Richard Graham from ONE40 asked if I could add my business experience to a revitalised Cranleigh Chamber of Commerce. We knew that Cranleigh High Street faced a bleak future unless we found new ways to promote economic growth and support businesses. In April 2022, I became President of the Chamber and helped lead a successful campaign to establish Cranleigh High Street as a Business Improvement District (BID). This will raise around £500,000 during the next five years to pay for improvements to the area.
One of my favourite ‘jobs’ for the Chamber is helping to organise the Christmas Lights switch-on, where the group’s business objectives meet a wonderfully festive family event. The amount of planning, logistics and sheer hard work that goes into pulling this event off each year is mind-boggling, especially for a small group of unpaid volunteers. I’m relieved that the Cranleigh BID will take responsibility for the event from next year, with an employed coordinator to take the work off our plates and no doubt do it to a much higher standard!
Cranleigh Chamber of Commerce led me to membership of Surrey Hills Enterprises, the commercial arm of the Surrey Hills National Landscape (what used to be called the AONB). I threw myself into volunteering with that organisation, too. Last year, I was honoured to receive the Gold Trademark Surrey Hills Award; it was the first time this accolade was presented to an individual member.
I also took on the role of Chairman of Cranleigh in Bloom for a few years when no one else wanted the responsibility, and the Chamber felt it would be a shame to allow the organisation to fall by the wayside. I know that hanging baskets and floral displays can seem trivial, especially when so many significant issues are happening in society and the economy. Still, civic pride undoubtedly makes Cranleigh a nicer place to live, work and play.
With running having played a big part in my life, one of my proudest voluntary achievements was helping establish Cranleigh parkrun in 2014. As it stands, 4,682 people have finished Cranleigh parkrun and completed 25,741 5km runs between them! This weekly event has helped to provide a meeting place for people and a sense of community for runners. Perhaps it has even contributed towards putting Cranleigh on the map!
My largest contribution to the community has come from my work at Knowle Park. I attended an exhibition about a new housing development on the edge of the site back in 2016. After lodging my strong objections to the plans, I received a phone call from the landowner, inviting me for coffee so he could share his vision for Knowle Park. During this meeting, Nick Vrijland won me over with his ambition to create a new 60-acre country park for Cranleigh.
Keen to help Nick realise a considered housing scheme for self-build plots and a local lettings policy for affordable homes, I accepted Nick’s invitation to join a team. Known at the time as the Knowle Park Initiative, it was a forerunner for the charity that would ultimately manage the country park. I was already a very busy volunteer, but Nick’s vision for the country park was compelling. I believed, and still do, that the plans were crucial for the future of Cranleigh and wanted to see it come to fruition.
Despite much criticism along the way, Knowle Park finally opened its gates in May this year. During a global pandemic, we turned 60 acres of unloved pasture into a thriving country park and nature reserve. The reception from visitors has been astounding, and I’ve been humbled by the feedback we’ve received. I’ve lost count of the people who had told us they objected to the plans and now love the place, including one of the councillors who voted against them! We’re working hard to build teams of volunteers to help look after the park, and we’ve employed former Cranleigh Showground manager Grant Pearman as our ever-capable park manager.
I’ve been on a winding road of self-discovery since moving to Cranleigh at the age of 5, and though I can’t say what the future holds for my career or voluntary work, I’m optimistic that my future lies in Cranleigh. Sometimes, what I thought were my biggest weaknesses have become my greatest strengths, and I’ve grown alongside the community I have worked and volunteered with.
I believe that Cranleigh will continue to evolve as I have. Despite the changes, or perhaps because of them, Cranleigh has always been an incredible place to live, work and play. Reflecting on my time in Cranleigh makes me realise that what makes it unique is the welcoming feel of the community and the willingness of so many to give selflessly in the service of others.
My source of inspiration has always been the things and people I see around me. I am so grateful to the local community in Cranleigh and am invested in what the future has in store for this beautiful part of the world.