To complete our March celebrations of inspirational women, we’d like to share with you a recent blog by We Are The City who spoke to Claire Jones about her fascinating career, constructions projects and leading role at Raby.
With a background rooted in the luxury leisure and tourism industry, Claire Jones has overseen the project management of many ambitious construction and renovation projects in Northern England, from concept and design, to build.
With an eye for detail, yet consistently focussed on the wider vision of delivering a first-class customer experience for the attractions she works with, Claire works closely with business owners to overhaul their offering, increase revenue streams and achieve long-term commercial success for future generations.
Claire is Head of Leisure and Tourism for Raby Estates and is currently Project Director for the ambitious new development at Raby Castle, known as The Rising.
We explore a little more about Claire’s previous experience and why The Rising is such a fantastic opportunity.
How did you become involved in development projects?
Even as a child I always had a project on the go, and nothing has changed in later life. My first house was a renovation project and when I started my career, I looked for a role that would provide all of the excitement and buzz that comes with a big project.
My first job was with a very progressive leisure and hospitality company, who at the time were introducing café bars (quite a new concept in the late nineties!) to the North West. They looked for interesting historic buildings, which would give their venues an edge, often breathing life into old banks and other landmark properties. I was involved in everything from the acquisition of buildings, through to design, construction and finally overseeing the operation of the business. We spent lots of time on research trips to London and further afield, to understand new trends and how we might introduce these to the North West.
How did your career progress?
From here I moved into the luxury hotel sector where I was able to mix my operational management skills with design and development work. I was again incredibly fortunate to work for entrepreneurial owners, keen to think outside the box, developing their properties to meet the needs of emerging markets, which included outdoor wedding venues, holiday cottages and spa retreats. In these roles, my experience operating leisure and tourism businesses was able to influence the design, working with architects and construction teams to ensure the venues we created would run efficiently, as well as look beautiful.
From here I branched out into country estate work, helping owners diversify their portfolio of land and property to include hospitality and leisure businesses. I also worked freelance, advising owners with limited sector knowledge, on how to design their buildings to become five-star hospitality venues.
Recent projects included the restoration of a beautiful manor house in West Yorkshire, derelict for many years, which the owners have successfully brought back to life as one of the most elegant and luxury hotels in the North. My last project before joining Raby was the development of a beautiful spa, swimming pool, gym and restaurant, to complement the existing hotel and grounds within a country estate.
What are the keys to success with new developments?
I think developers often focus on the specific design of a building but fail to look beyond the bricks and mortar, to the wider experience of guests arriving at a venue. Customers and guests need to feel that the design flows from the moment they turn into the grounds or estate; the arrival experience and surrounding landscape is just as important to the design process as the new building.
I think the other key factor is to listen to the experts who will be running the future business. Staff within a company usually have much more insight into how the building design might actually work in practice (or not) than the designers, therefore it is really important to get everyone involved at an early stage. It’s amazing how many times designers forget to add in a simple yet essential item such as a staff room or cleaning cupboard!
Why is The Rising such an exciting proposition?
Raby is one of those “once in a lifetime” projects. The opportunity here is mind-blowing. It truly is a blank canvas and I know what we are going to create will be exceptional.
My second interview with Lord and Lady Barnard was standing in a very overgrown, untouched part of the estate next to the Dutch Barn, a hidden heritage gem and them asking me “what would you do?”. What an opportunity! I knew I wanted the job there and then.
Lord and Lady Barnard have the perfect balance of being respectful of the history and heritage at Raby but progressive enough to see how sharing it with others in a new, innovative way, will preserve these buildings for the enjoyment of future generations.
What is the best part of your job?
Working within this fantastic setting with such a wonderful team who are thoroughly excited about our plans, is a delight.
Developments are hard work and stressful at times, but I get a real adrenalin rush from the tough deadlines and coordinating so many elements to come together all at once. I also think that working for independent businesses means you have the added joy of making the personal aspirations of a family or individual come together. It really is a case of delivering someone’s dreams, and there is a huge sense of satisfaction when you achieve this.