25 years is amazing Helen! What was your first job with the FC?
It was a temporary posting on reception at Mamhead, near Exeter. Within my first week we actually went on a staff outing to Westonbirt. The Superintendent back then, Phil Morton, took us on a tour of the Old Arboretum – I remember thinking that my mum would love it here!
Can you remember what your first day was like?
Too long ago to remember now! But on promotion to Bristol, I was very much thrown in the deep end on my first day there! My boss unfortunately had to have major surgery the day I started, so there wasn’t really anyone to show me the ropes. I do remember being told on my first day with the FC ‘You won’t succeed in the Forestry Commission unless you are a character.’ After 25 years, I wonder what character I’ve become?
You’ve certainly succeeded! Has Westonbirt changed much over the years?
It’s been wonderful to see how the site has grown and developed. There was no restaurant when I started; at my very first communications meeting here, we discussed plans for building the restaurant. The arrival process for visitors was also very different – there was no Welcome Building – people used to get tickets from a ticket hut as they drove in. Something that has never changed is how well the trees and landscape are cared for, and the team’s commitment to this beautiful place.
It sounds like the changes have been very positive. What part of your job are you most proud of?
I love helping to organise the group visits – although most of the bookings and enquiries come via the website now, I like to make time to speak to the group organisers. It’s so great when you hear that they had a wonderful time!
And if you had to pick your favourite part of the arboretum?
It’s difficult to choose between Lime Avenue, in the Old Arboretum, and Rotary Glade, in Silk Wood. There’s just something completely magical about those two spots!
After so many happy years is there anything that stands out as a favourite experience?
There are so many, but I suppose I should say meeting my partner, Scott. He was part of the admin team when I started. Although we’d met before, we didn’t really get to know each other until I came to Westonbirt. Another favourite was when I planted my own tree here. I dedicated it to my late sister, and it’s lovely to think that a part of us both will always be part of the arboretum. It’s a Bladdernut (Staphylea pinnata), and is just off Rotary Glade.