|Company||Falkland Centre for Stewardship|
"I see myself as an open book and an empty canvas; I’m always looking to gain new experiences and skills.
I’m Lesley McLaren, and I’m the Events Director at Falkland Centre for Stewardship.
Most of my job is involved with organising and running the various events that we put on throughout the year – from Scotland’s huge environmental festival, The Big Tent, to much smaller workshops and exhibitions. I absolutely love the variety in what I do.
I studied Fine Art at university, but always felt that this would be a stepping stone to other jobs rather than a route to becoming a full-time artist. It’s certainly been useful in what I do now – just recently I was painting KT Tunstall in a children’s Easter art workshop (the pieces produced will be on show at this year’s festival).
I get to meet all sorts of people – from contractors to funders to musicians. Flexibility is key in this role; you never know what will be needed next - you just have to muck in and get on with it!
Tell us about your job – where do you work and what do you do?I work for a small charity, the Falkland Stewardship Trust, based in Fife. Our offices are located in the heart of the Falkland Estate, with its acres of country and farm land and a backdrop of the Lomond Hills. Falkland Centre for Stewardship exists to promote stewardship, which we believe to be the act and art of nurturing assets for future generations - be that a skill, building, landscape or tradition.
One of my main tasks is the organisation and development of events – primarily The Big Tent, Scotland’s environmental festival. This event has grown from 4,000 people in 2006 to an expected 12-15,000 in 2010. It’s developed into 3 days of music, dance, performance, workshops, art activities, debates and more; a ‘not to be missed’ event in the Scottish summer calendar! I’m involved in the coordination and operation of the festival, from the logistics of infrastructure and equipment hire through to the performance programme itself.
The remainder of my annual events programme includes lectures, workshops (environment-based and artistic) and art exhibitions. For example, I helped to organise the One Planet Food lecture programme. I coordinate each event through to completion – which includes handling sales, marketing, catering, volunteer liaison and budget management.
I also produce our newsletters, and am the main volunteer coordinator. I’m pleased to have built successful working relationships with many student volunteers (among others) who have returned to help us in subsequent years.
What inspired you to do what you do? How did you get into it, did you have a plan?I kind of fell into this job by accident. After finishing a Fine Art degree at university, and working in the office of a building firm for a number of months, I saw the advert for a temporary administrative assistant. I was keen to apply as I was really interested in the work the organisation was doing, plus Falkland is only a few miles from the village I grew up in. I got the job, and an opportunity soon arose to take a more advanced and involved role in the running of events - so here I am!
Despite there not being a direct link between my degree (which I always thought would be a stepping stone for other jobs, rather than becoming a full-time artist) and my current job, I definitely feel it has helped me many times. It’s surprising how much creative flair and artistic license I can use whilst at work. Just the other week I was painting KT Tunstall in a children’s Easter art workshop – all the pieces look great and will be on show at this year’s festival!
After university my path was very open but now, having been in this position for 3 years, I definitely feel that I've found my career route. I very much like what I do, and I’ll be looking to continue with something similar for many years to come.
Why is your job meaningful? Both to you personally, and in how it benefits the wider world in terms of climate change and other environmental challenges.I was first drawn to my job because of the location, and I welcomed with open arms the opportunity to become involved in an organisation that’s doing things to benefit the local area.
Children are the influential makers and doers of tomorrow. If we can get them to have a better understanding of the issues and problems that we face in the future, then we’ll be steps ahead of where we are now. Throughout the year we work with many local schools on projects and workshops, and a big part of the festival is for families and children. Also, we firmly believe in the mantra “Think Global, Act Local”. The Big Tent started as a small, local event which has grown into a national festival and has even had volunteers and visitors from as far afield as Barcelona and Canada!
With all the work that we do, we try to educate people in a fun way - even if it’s on a small scale such as the realisation that local food and organic beer is “actually not bad” - in the hope that after they’ve gone home they'll begin to realise where they can make changes that can and will help.
For the festival we have a sustainability plan. We use local contractors and providers as much as possible and we promote local, organic and fair trade food. Through good practice, we aim to lower our carbon footprint significantly over the next few years. We'll do this through practical steps, physical changes and conscious decisions. We don’t believe in carbon offsetting, as this does not solve the problem; it only masks the issue.
Many jobs in this sector are very new, how long has your job existed?This job had only existed for 6 months prior to my arrival. Initially it was a funded position for a year, but fortunately it's since become one of only 2 permanent positions within the organisation.
What personal qualities do you think have got you where you are today?Being flexible has been essential in this job - during an event you never know what you may have to do, whether it’s being a spokesperson or cleaning the toilets! You just have to roll up your sleeves and muck in.
Besides that, I’m honest and reliable, and consider myself to be a good communicator. I relate well to others and have a friendly, personable manner (which works wonders when dealing with contractors, volunteers and the people who fund our work). I can remain calm in a crisis, and I have the ability to think on my feet – crucial when you don’t know what the day might throw at you!
What are the essential skills for your job?Excellent time-keeping skills are essential in event management, and I believe that good IT skills are necessary in most jobs these days.
What qualifications do you have? Are these typical for people in your role?I have a BA (Hons) in Fine Art, which is probably not typical for someone in my role. A number of universities do now offer Event Management courses but, that said, I believe that on-the-job experience is invaluable. I’d recommend volunteering and getting as much relevant work experience – and variety of experience - as possible.
I also have a certificate in Food Health and Hygiene, and am looking to complete a First Aid course in the near future.
What do you think most helped you get where you are now?I see myself as an open book and an empty canvas; I’m always looking to gain new experiences and skills. Previous jobs in restaurants and bars meant I acquired skills which have helped me along the way – things such as planning ahead, managing a team of workers during shifts, banking and cashing-up procedures. Plus, I not only organised and contributed to my own degree show, I also helped out with several other exhibitions at university. This gave me knowledge and experience specific to event management.
Please describe a typical working dayFor a few months, during the run up to the festival, my typical working day revolves around The Big Tent. I share an office with 2 colleagues and we’re avid lovers of a cup of tea! Instead of having a set break mid-morning or afternoon, we find that a group cuppa is often a good way to pause and take stock of where we are in the day.
I check my emails first thing, as I’m the main contact for all traders, exhibitors and volunteers. I like to register all application forms expressing an interest in the festival (whether it’s for trading, exhibiting or performing) on the computer then on file in the office. This takes up far more time than I would like – but doing it right makes it easier to find the correct information as quickly as possible on days of the actual event, so it’s worth it in the long run. I always have lots of questions to respond to and information to give out - luckily we have a student volunteer in the office and she helps to screen the calls; I do like the personal approach, but I have to draw the line somewhere or I’d spend most of the day answering the same queries over and over, and my other work would suffer.
I find that a site visit is needed most days (the new festival site is directly across from our office), whether it’s to take a measurement, check the layout, or show someone around. Then there’s time spent on the event programming. I work with my boss and other contractors on this, and it can take the form of a sit down meeting or just a chat over our computers - with a cup of tea!
All that said, with my job there really is no ‘typical’ working day and I have to be flexible to deal with the ever-changing tasks and requirements. I use a priority list in my notebook and cross things off as I do them – unfortunately things lower down the list can appear for several days until I get around to them! Being part of a small team, there’s a need to be flexible about other duties too – which can include everything from filing, checking stock levels and subsequent purchasing, handling invoices, letter correspondence and database work.
What do you enjoy most and least about what you do?I really enjoy the variety and the fact that, sometimes, when I arrive in the morning I really don’t know what the day might bring.
Festival days are exhausting – both mentally and physically - but the adrenaline helps; it’s exhilarating to think that a year’s work boils down to the success of just 3 days!
It can be frustrating working with external contractors; you sometimes work with one arm tied behind your back because a company or individual is not responding to you or not working at your speed.
What kind of people do you meet through your work or do you work alone?I meet a whole variety of interesting people; individuals from students to government professionals to musicians, as well as members of other organisations, charities and businesses. Every day it’s different.
Do you feel well paid for what you do, or is it not about the money?Ultimately, I enjoy the work I do and I’m very passionate about it - in particular The Big Tent, which I’ve seen grow and have helped to develop from its small beginnings. So, no, I guess it’s not about the money!
Finally, what do you know now about jobs, careers and the future that you wish you’d known when you were at school?I really wish I’d volunteered more – or that there had been increased opportunity to do so at school.
If, say, each term you could volunteer with an organisation and gain experience, then potentially you’d have several routes that may interest you, which you could then choose to move forward. It’s very difficult deciding where to go after school, and any extra guidance that you can get will help enormously.