Today is my last day at social innovation foundation Nesta, where I’ve been covering maternity leave since April 2018. There wasn’t some kind of abnormally long gestation; I sort of ended up covering a couple of people’s maternity leave.
Work at Nesta started out as a necessity, to give me some stability after a difficult few years trying to get work in the environment sector after I retrained five years ago. My manager recently told me they realised after my interview that I’d “rather be in a field” – somehow, they still offered me the job. I’m glad they did.
I have become very fond of my team at Nesta and several other colleagues particularly in corporate services functions who have been working incredibly hard to satisfy the demands of an organisation that has scaled massively in the past few years. I wish them all the very best. Amongst other things, I’m really proud to have played a part in cajoling the organisation to adopt tools for collaboration and having replaced a godawful intranet with a lovely new one.
So, that change. In January I join the team at Deepdale Farm full time as their new Estate Manager.
A conversation with Jason Borthwick about charcoal burning a few years ago turned into an opportunity to survey the 40-acre woodland on the farm. From there, I started running conservation volunteering weekends with Jason and the estate and tourism teams, putting volunteers to work with hedge and tree planting and bringing their woodland back into management. We got talking over time about what more we could do, and a little while ago the conversation started getting serious – Jason asked if I was interested in going full time. We’ve talked a lot and I’ve asked a lot of questions, but doing this was a no-brainer.
This role brings a huge change. For Harriet and me it means a change of location as we leave London after many years. The townies who both came from the countryside are going back. We’ll be joining a new community. I don’t come from a farming background. I trained in countryside management, not farming. When I told a farmer on my table this at the British Farming Awards when I represented Deepdale in October, he said farmers would call countryside management ‘fake farming’. When I said I was going to be an estate manager, he suggested my uniform was a cocker spaniel, a leather-trimmed gilet and red trousers. The dog – I’d prefer a lurcher; the gilet – I could go for that; the trousers – not a chance.
Never mind all that. The cat’s world is about to be turned upside down.
And yet, this isn’t a huge change. This role has developed out of many hours of conversation and work. I’ve been working with Deepdale for more than three years. I love the farm, the surrounding landscape. The team are brilliant. Jason’s energy and curiosity is apparently endless. This role brings together so many things I’m interested in. There are a million questions. We’re still waiting for the new agriculture bill. Brexit is going to change a lot. We need to be ready, nimble, adaptable. I’m fascinated by all the possibilities. Recording, making use of data on crops, climate, weeds, inputs. What the farm needs to look like in five or ten years and the role of agritech and digital. How we protect and improve the soil. How we improve biodiversity. What new crops we could grow. How we manage the woodland. How the farm can be a resource not just for growing food but for education or social good.
We’re not starting from scratch. Deepdale Farm is already a diversification success, nominated in the British Farming Awards and a successful tourism business as well as an arable farm. That work was set in motion by Jason’s dad, who passed away suddenly in September. I’ll miss not being able to ask him a million questions. I hope he’d be proud of what we do with the farm.
It starts in January with a move, and it starts with me listening and learning.
Back in November, Harriet and I chatted with Jason for the Deepdale Podcast.