The Post: Strategic manager, Lough Neagh Partnership
The Post Holder: Gerry Darby
HOW I BECAME A STRATEGIC MANAGER
A passion for history and heritage has helped strategic manager Gerry Darby develop his career.
Give a brief outline of your career to date.
I first started working in Scotland, processing Margaret Thatcher’s Right to Buy housing policy and selling off the best of the public sector housing stock. I then moved into the area of Urban Regeneration in Glasgow, using the largescale transfer of housing stock to smaller Housing Associations and Housing Cooperatives as a regeneration tool. These smaller bodies were able to attract private finance and really kick started the whole regeneration of inner-city Glasgow. I absolutely loved this job. After the 1995 ceasefire, I returned to Northern Ireland transferring my regeneration knowledge and skills to a rural environment, working in the Sperrins and then Lough Neagh on European Development Programmes. In 2010 I set up my own heritage consultancy business and continue with this on a part time basis. In 2016 I returned to work for the Lough Neagh Partnership as its part time assistant manager and now presently work for the Lough Neagh Partnership as its overall Strategic Manager.
What was your favourite subject at school?
My favourite topic in school was history but I had an awful history teacher who put me off pursuing the topic on an academic basis. Luckily enough I kept an interest in the subject through my own personal reading and learning and have managed to use this passion for history and heritage to develop my own career.
Did you go on to further/higher education, if so what did you study and where?
I studied Housing Management in the University of Ulster followed by an MPhil Planning from the University of Glasgow. I also have a Diploma in Business Management from the University of Ulster.
How did you get into your area of work?
Transferring my set from working in Urban Development in Glasgow into a rural environment in Northern Ireland. I then moved from rural development specialising in environmental and landscape management and have been involved in managing Lough Neagh and drawing up the major heritage and environmental plans with other bodies over the last eight years.
Is this what you always wanted to do?
Well it’s close enough. I always wanted to be an archaeologist and like a many others I fell into working in another area by default. However, on Lough Neagh I draw up a lot of heritage plans and applications to Heritage Lottery Fund. I recently drew up a successful £3.5 million Heritage Lottery Landscape Plan for Lough Neagh which included a large number of archaeological research and excavation. So, in a way I have come full circle.
Were there any particular essential qualifications or experience needed?
There are no essential qualifications but a good qualification in the area of planning or environmental or heritage management would be relevant. The main experience necessary would be in the areas of project management and partnership development.
Are there alternative routes into the job?
The management of big landscapes like Lough Neagh require a variety of skill sets, so there would be a number of routes through either an environmental qualification or a heritage management qualification. There are 10 people who currently work for the Partnership managing over £4.5 million of programmes and we recently recruited new staff. What I am really looking for is not necessarily people with environmental knowledge but rather people with good communication and people skills who can talk and persuade other people to work in partnership.
What are the main personal skills your job requires?
The main skills required are being able to develop long lasting working partnerships with major funding bodies and government departments. I have developed and overseen five major programmes from a large Heritage Lottery Fund landscape management programme to a smaller European INTERREG water quality improvement programme. Other skills include good reporting and communication skills, together with being able to manage significant budgets and projects.
What does a typical day entail?
A typical day would involve checking emails early in the morning, meeting staff to update on project progress and attending a number of specific meetings with project partners. I would usually be out of the office for some time either meeting partners or visiting specific sites on the shores of the Lough and then on evenings and weekends I attend consultations with farmers, funders and the general public in relation to the various projects I manage.
What are the best and most challenging aspects of the job?
The best aspects of the job are getting out and working on the Lough. The main offices of the Partnership are based in Ballyronan and in Oxford Island so the working environment is truly unique. The most challenging aspect of the job is dealing with the multiplicity of issues that are involved on Lough Neagh and persuading government departments to give due attention to the Lough.
Why is what you do important?
Lough Neagh is probably Northern Ireland’s most important designated natural resource, yet it has received little state management and attention over the years. The Lough has been fortunate to have very strong Councils who have shown a keen interest in its promotion and development as a tourism resource. In recent years the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs have, through the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, also shown a stronger interest in its management but surprisingly it still has no official navigation authority
What advice would you give anyone looking to follow a similar career path?
Seek out some volunteering experience in environmental or heritage management and ascertain a keen understanding of who in government is responsible for funding and helping manage places like Lough Neagh. I would also advise people to maybe look at the option of setting up their own business after they have gained two or three years working experience.
If you weren’t doing this what would you like to do?
I would return full time to my heritage consultancy business. Alternatively, it would be nice to maybe retire to Tuscany.
If you could go back, what is the one piece of advice you would give to yourself on your first day?
People politics can be as important as hard work and dedication. There are more times in my early working days when I worked really hard on a project and gave it 100% of my time and energy only to find another person had received promotion or a bonus because they had a better personal and working relationship with the boss. So the advice is always keep your boss happy.
Describe your ideal day off.
My ideal day off would be walking along a beach in Sligo or Donegal on a sunny winter’s day.