Be Inspired Series
Jon Kerr is heading up the £6m, three-year conservation project at Mount Stewart
What does the role involve?
As property manager for the Mid Down region of the National Trust my role involves looking after a substantial slice of County Down, from Lighthouse Island in Belfast Lough to the Narrows just south of Portaferry. This includes Strangford Lough, the largest sea Lough in Britain and Mount Stewart, with its internationally important gardens.
I am also be heading up the team responsible for the delivery of a £6m conservation of the Mount Stewart mansion house. The project will take three years and aims to recapture the vision of Edith, Lady Londonderry who was responsible for the interior and exterior décor.
How did you get into the position in the first place?
I had been working in the entertainment business when I spotted the opportunity to join National Trust. I have always loved getting into the country side and exploring our built heritage and this was too good an opportunity to miss.
Did you always want to work in this sector in some capacity?
Over the course of my career I have had the opportunity to work in a number of Frank Matcham’s fabulous Edwardian theatres including our own Grand Opera House. Of the 80 theatres he designed only about 20 survive. I have always been concerned about how fragile and undervalued our landscape and historical buildings appear to be. One building or landscape being destroyed or irretrievably altered seems to raise little comment. Once they have gone they cannot be replaced or recreated as currently we lack the skills and the craftsmanship to easily replicate these treasures.
What training or previous experience do you have that has helped you in your current role?
Most of my training and experience has been gained working in the entertainment business. From rock production management to ballet and opera, West End musicals and sound and lighting design. My experience has given me a fairly unique skill set and an unusual way of looking at challenges and opportunities that has been very useful in my current role.
What is the organisation’s role in the local community?
The local community is at the heart of our properties and we encourage involvement in all aspects of our work, whether that is by volunteering, taking action on climate change or helping school children to care for wildlife.
We feel that access to our properties improves health and well-being, providing access to safe and welcoming spaces for leisure and enjoyment. Working in partnership we enable people to develop new skills through volunteering and apprenticeships.
We hope that we inspire our supporters to act on issues that they care about and to look after the natural and historic environment. Working closely with local schools, our education programmes deliver out-of-classroom learning, hosting thousands of school visits each year.
And how does your role fit in as part of this?
We believe that access to the natural and historic environment promotes health and well-being. Inspiring places encourage learning and participation, leading to personal development and a sense of achievement. My role is to make sure that all of these opportunities are available to everyone.
What sort of personality and qualities do you need to do your job?
My job requires me to be able to work with people at all levels. It is my role to set the vision for the property and then deliver that vision through our fantastic team of dedicated staff and volunteers. I think that passion, perseverance and being willing to have an open mind are also essential.
What are the biggest rewards of the job? And the biggest challenges?
The greatest reward of my job is seeing people enjoy the properties; the greatest challenge is making sure that the properties remain for their children and grandchildren to enjoy.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
My English teacher at Ballyclare High, Sammy Thompson, a wonderfully eccentric man, introduced me to the joys of poetry and to a quote from Daniel H Burnham, city planner and architect for Chicago at the end of the 19th century: “Make no small plans they have no magic and in the end make little difference. Make big plans.”
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to do the same job?
My advice would be to get involved in any way you can. As long as you have passion, enthusiasm, aptitude and a little skill you can overcome anything.
What do you enjoy doing outside work?
I most enjoy spending time with my three boys Jack, Mason, and Ryan and my long suffering wife Karen. I am also a voracious reader and avid music fan.