Last Tuesday I had the very great pleasure of interviewing Nicole Laken; Nicole was appointed as Business Manager in October 2015 to lead on the ten year business plan for Clevedon Pier & Heritage Trust Ltd.
At the time of her appointment, Chairman of the Board, Simon Talbot-Ponsonby said
“Nicole, with her previous experience in management and customer service, will be a huge asset for the Pier. I’m thrilled to have such a high calibre person leading the team”.
Following her appointment, Nicole has overseen a very challenging construction project in the shape of the beautiful new Visitor’s Centre. The latter incorporates a glass panelled restaurant/café and kitchen at ground level, while at the lower level there is a meeting/multi-purpose room with a dramatic new view along the pier through a large porthole window; there are aslo toilets and a storage area. A viewing deck above the restaurant offers a fabulous spot to take photographs from.
There have also been a vast increase in the number of events that take place on the pier and a growth in numbers visiting the Pier. This year they are on target once again for a spectacular 100,000 visitors.
From the outset of our conversation and throughout, Nicole was keen to stress that all of this is very much down to a team effort, a team which has grown from three to six and is still evolving. Her team are:
Abbie Edbrooke – Outreach and Heritage Officer
Joe Novell – Events Co-ordinator
Ben Park – Administrator
Tamsin Welch – Retail Supervisor
Ruth Charles – Visitor Experience Co-ordinator
Catherine Wren – Volunteer Co-ordinator
Nicole expressed great confidence in her team saying she was:
‘…..super proud of the team………. they manage their own workloads, they manage their own budgets, they are very self-sufficient and very supportive and I’m so lucky to have such a team in place. They know the job they need to do and the job they want to do – we are here for a reason, and that is to bring in some money to maintain our Grade 1 listed Pier……..’
There are also eighty volunteers working at the Pier which represents a 100% increase in the last three years. If you would like to volunteer then get in touch with Pier staff.
Nicole would particularly like to get volunteers over 16 to staff the new kiosk from Easter onwards. She would also like to expand the age range of the volunteers and hopes to attract some younger people. There are a huge range of experiences they could get involved with: events co-ordination, retail experience, gardening, media of all types, tourism, maintenance and customer service. Next year they are planning to launch the Duke of Edinburgh scheme and they also have the 150th anniversary which will be an excellent opportunity for young people to get involved, in particular at the May Bank Holiday.
For Nicole, the team always includes the volunteers who are of paramount importance to her:
‘We would be nothing without the volunteers, and when I talk about team, I always include them – we really are a family’
– a sentiment echoed by Colston Ridge, Chairman of the Clevedon United Junior Football Club who also works with a huge number of volunteers.
There is great loyalty and dedication amongst the volunteers; in the winter months when the hours of the casual staff are cut down many of them still come and volunteer.
I was interested in what a typical day looked like for Nicole. She told me that her predecessor had a sign above his door which meant ‘Every day is a challenge and an adventure’ not understanding initially, she now knows exactly what he meant! Nicole said no two days are the same, you can come in with a plan for the day, the phone rings and it’s all change! The example she cited took place in her first couple of weeks and was a call from a film company wanting to shoot a Bollywood film on the Pier. At first, she thought it was a wind-up but they hired the Pier for three days and transformed it into a beautifully decorated wedding setting! She would never have guessed that she would be involved in something of this nature.
Obviously, the core business is running a Pier and a shop but there is so much more to it and not knowing exactly what the day will bring is one of the reasons Nicole loves her job so much.
We went on to talk about other aspects of her job that she really enjoys – she loves the variety, the people, the volunteers, the Pier itself and she’s very proud to be part of the Pier’s history.
‘………….in years to come when the Pier’s still standing and I’m not around any more my name will up there somewhere, that I was here for that era – I’m really proud of that.’
Nicole loves the fact that she’s not in a 9 to 5 job and admitted that she doesn’t always switch off at home but then if she is thinking about the job it’s because she’s buzzing with ideas. When she does have free time Nicole likes walking her dog and spending time with her grandchildren which fills most of her free time.
I asked Nicole about what stage the Visitor’s Centre and the restaurant were at when she arrived; they were in fact just a massive hole in the ground covered in scaffolding. It was a very busy time for Nicole because although all the major decisions had already been taken, there was an element of decision making, she had a lot of involvement in the finer details and making sure that systems such as the computer network, were set up correctly. She joked about spending most of her time in a high vis jacket and a hard hat and walking miles back and forth to the site on a daily basis. This led us on to talking about the challenges that she faced on taking up post as well as on-going. Her biggest challenge, not surprisingly, was learning about the Grade 1 listed Pier.
‘When I first came here I had a hundred and fifty year old structure at one end of the Pier and an ultra modern structure at the other end – both very different but both needing a lot of attention. It’s been a huge learning curve but I’ve loved every minute of it.’
In terms of on-going frustrations not having adequate covered outdoor space and being weather dependent definitely hampers what can be offered. Nicole is currently trying to get some funding for some temporary cover. She reminisces about Abbie taking up post and telling her ‘to think big whatever you do think big’ but she adds, that this has to be tempered with realism. The outdoor screenings which were set up by the Curzon cinema were a classic example of being so weather dependent, the first one which was ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ was brilliant but the second one was an absolute washout because it rained and so they lost money on it.
I asked Nicole about any further developments on the Pier, aside from securing the temporary cover. She talked excitedly about the 150th anniversary celebrations which are a massive event and which she wants to include the community in as much as possible. She also talked about the new wedding hire package that they are about to launch which would mean that the Pier was closed for exclusive use of the wedding party and their guests and included catering with Tiffin.
Nicole would also like to get enhanced lighting at the end of the Pier. You can see the promenade pier lights in the evening but you don’t actually see the pagoda.
‘It would be my dream to get the pagoda lit up, if there’s one thing I really want to achieve it’s that. I would love to see this…..it would be magnificent…..it would be ‘the jewel in the crown’
Nicole and her team are very driven and very ambitious for our lovely Pier and I’m sure we will be seeing the pagoda lit up in the not too distant future. It was great talking to you Nicole.
Find out more about the Pier here: