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How I Became An Estate Manager

10th June 2024

The Post: Managing Partner, Brook Hall Estate & Gardens

The Post Holder: David Gilliland

Good communications skills are central to David Gilliland’s role as Managing Partner of Brook Hall Estate & Gardens.

Give a brief outline of your career to date.

I’ve worked on our family farm, Brook Hall Estate & Gardens in Derry/Londonderry since I was 16. After university in Newcastle I moved into engineering, designing and installing biomass boilers. I then retrained to become a secondary school maths teacher before moving back home to Northern Ireland to take over the running of the farm. I have diversified Brook Hall & Gardens into a sustainable agriculture research site and a tourist and events landscape destination.

Did you go on to further/higher education, if so what did you study and where?

I completed an MEng in Mechanical Engineering at Newcastle University, PGCE Secondary Mathematics at Newcastle University.

How did you get into your area of work?

Brook Hall Estate & Gardens became the home to my family, the Gillilands in 1856. I have followed into my family business with my father and late grandfather to work in it full time, with the intention of maintaining our family home and business for the next generation.

Is this what you always wanted to do?

Yes, and no, I’ve always loved living and working at our family home, but I never would have thought I would now be doing tours of the estate and opening the gardens to the public. My day-to-day has completely changed but every day brings interesting new challenges to take on. It has been particularly rewarding to be able to share the stories of the estate with visitors from Northern Ireland and tourists from other countries. This is one of the reasons we decided to participate in the upcoming free to attend Bank of Ireland Open Farm Weekend. We will be opening on Friday June 14 for school groups, and the public on Saturday 15 and Sunday 16 to showcase the farm and share our journey to become carbon neutral through the ArcZero project. The project benchmarked the carbon position of seven farms across Northern Ireland and provided the tools to improve their soil health and improve their carbon footprint.

Were there any particular essential qualifications or experience needed?

As the managing partner, the scope of my work is very broad and so an understanding of a wide range of topics is required rather than one particular qualification is needed. Having experience in project management, basic accounting and dealing with the public has been essential.

What are the main personal skills your job requires?

First and foremost, the main personal skill is working hard. Managing an estate has many challenges and you have to be able to work through the challenges to succeed. There are various aspects of the business so good project management and time keeping is important, as well as the communication skills required for managing staff and in a public facing role.

What does a typical day entail?

Most of my time is spent networking and looking for new connections for developing contracts with tour providers, and potential businesses to collaborate with, as well as keeping an eye on the daily finances of the business. Team meetings allows me to delegate workload and to keep up to date with different aspects of the estate.

What are the best and most challenging aspects of the job?

Both the best and most challenging aspects are running the family business. I love where I work, but it comes with responsibility to make sure that the business prospers. I have a personal responsibility as the House & Gardens has been in my family for generations so I want to maintain it for my children.

Why is what you do important?

Brook Hall is a historically and culturally significant estate having played a pivotal role in multiple historical events, from the Siege of Derry to the World Wars. Our family has been here for 175 years and the Gilliland family have maintained and developed this unique landscape through six generations to the present day. The gardens now host one of the finest arboretums in the northwest of Ireland, specialising in conifers, rhododendrons, magnolias and camellias. In more recent years, the estate has also led the way in researching and promoting sustainability in agriculture becoming the first farm in Northern Ireland to go measurably beyond carbon neutral. Without a managing partner the business would not be able to look forward and find new opportunities to continue growing.

What advice would you give anyone looking to follow a similar career path?

Work hard and take passion in your work.

If you weren’t doing this what would you like to do?

I probably would still be teaching in England if I hadn’t moved back to Northern Ireland.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to yourself on your first day?

Keep your head up, it’s not an easy journey, but it will be rewarding.

Describe your ideal day off.

Going to the beach with my family. As I work and live on the grounds it is important to have some time away to experience new things and have some family time.

And finally, what’s the key to any successful job search?

Give every opportunity your best effort, only you can prove that you’re the best person for the job. Understand your weaknesses and aspire to continually improve yourself. And finally, it’s hard to be successful at something you don’t enjoy, so find something that you can take pride in and always give it your best.

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