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Muddy Meets: Laura Chesterfield, The Lost Gardens of Heligan

Head of Garden Experience at the Lost Gardens of Heligan, Laura Chesterfield tells Muddy Cornwall how she uses her previous experiences of encountering discrimination to ensure Heligan is a workplace of equality.

International Women’s Day celebrates the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women as well as being a call to action for accelerating women’s equality. Here at Muddy Cornwall we are marking the day once again with an interview series of inspiring women across the Duchy.

Tell me a bit about your background and what you do – and how you came to do this? 

I was born in London, but grew up in Cornwall. My family were part of the group of people in the early 90’s who re-discovered and restored The Lost Gardens of Heligan, and so I grew up in my own secret garden and have loved it ever since.

My career has been varied, being trained in equine yard management and business, to then re-training as a counsellor and advocate for victims of abuse. I spent 10 years in the criminal justice system advocating for victims of abuse within Cornwall, a career I am very proud to have had. After children I turned back to both my love of animals and of Heligan and joined the team. Five years on and I am now a company director and Head of Garden Experience, which is a lot of fun.

Has your day to day working life changed at all during the pandemic and if so, do you think it has highlighted any need for change?

It has seen many changes over the two years with a whole business restructure being forced into place. Our visitors now pre book to visit us, which has actually enhanced their experience. This has now proven to be positive in its change, for the team and our visitors.

Have you encountered any examples of bias in your working life?

I have certainly been judged in a number of ways due to my appearance and gender, especially when I was based within a police station working within a male dominant location and responding to gender based crime. This discrimination pushes me to prove people wrong about female capability and to support equality in all workplaces and campaign for it within all homes. (Even if I don’t work within that sector anymore).

What are you/ your team doing to call out gender bias, discrimination or stereotyping?

I don’t feel there is a bias at Heligan and we are extremely proud to now have many female leads within our team and equal opportunities for all of our team members. I am the first female on the board of directors for over 10 years and our senior management team is equal in male/female split, and our head gardener and farm manager are both inspiring females.

What’s the general vibe among women in business / business owners in Cornwall?

I think that there are many supportive partners and that collaboration is key to sharing ideas, information and creativity. We are proud to be a platform in Cornwall for many skilled workers and specialists to share their expertise with our audience. We work closely with The Great Gardens of Cornwall, Visit Cornwall and CATA which strengthens and supports all of our businesses. Our collaborations with RBST, 3 bays Wildlife, The Cornish Dahlia society, Cornish heavy horse society to name a few, are partnerships we are really proud of.

Do you have any role models?

Yes many! My parents have taught me to always believe that anything is possible if you are kind, generous to others and maintain your curiosity for life. I try to remember that. 

In my early career my role model was Laura Richards, Bsc, MSc, MBPsS. Laura is a Criminal behavioural analyst whose expertise has developed life changing and saving assessment tools and contributed to training at government level on how to keep victims of domestic violence and stalking safe. She is an incredible woman!

As a child my role model was Sally Gunnel. A woman at the top of her game and achieving great success in sport through dedication and hard work, I wanted to be her!

What’s your favourite Cornish beach / view?

Hemmick beach is my happy place 😊

What do you do in Cornwall to make the most of living here?

Walking my dogs anywhere and everywhere, catching crabs from the harbour in Fowey with my kids, enjoying the beach in the winter just as much as the summer and riding horses when ever I get the opportunity?

Favourite cafe/ restaurant / shop / business that isn’t yours!

I love The Hidden Hut (below); its just perfect, and the food is always delicious. I also love the Refill Hut at London Apprentice for its ethos and community spirit and dinner at The Longstore (Charlestown) is great for any occasion and delivers tasty food and exceptional customer service. Cornwall has so many great places to eat, with the very best fresh ingredients. We are spoilt!

heligan.com

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