Interview - Linda Lennon - by royal appointment

Linda Lennon joined the civil service as an admin officer when she was 18 and has worked in training, human resources and, before taking her post at the Royal Parks, was chief executive at the Parole Board. An avid blogger and conservationist, she says her biggest job now is to smarten up the parks for the 40 million people who visit every year after the 11 Olympic and Paralympic events they hosted.

Linda Lennon - Image: Royal Parks
Linda Lennon - Image: Royal Parks
Were you worried about park damage over the Olympics?

I felt no pressure because we have excellent parks managers, horticulturists, tree specialists and ecologists. Steve Edwards, for example, park manager at Hyde Park, has been here 30 years. The Royal Parks have years of experience hosting a wide range of events and we have great project managers who work closely with contractors and, in the case of the Olympics, LOCOG. We did as much as we could to give the reassurance and confidence people needed.
How do you feel to be number one at the Royal Parks?

It’s a dream job. I’m passionate about conservation and our main job here is to protect, preserve and enhance. I was out with our ecologist Dr Nigel Reeve recently and learned there are more than 1,300 species of beetle in Richmond Park. We have wild flowers in Greenwich, Hyde and St James’s Parks attracting bees and insects. I like the balance between formal and informal in our parks.
What skills will you bring from the Parole Board?

I led a team of 100 staff and 250 judicial, specialist and independent members improving performance, accountability, governance and stakeholder relations — all skills that can be transferred to parks. I’m an active champion for change. Why not take a look at my blog and the Royal Parks Facebook page?
What is your biggest challenge at the Royal Parks?

One is to ensure the parks are as good as if not better than before big events like the Olympics. Greenwich ran a test event last summer and within 10 days of replanting seed the grass was putting on healthy growth and looking as good as before. We are looking at ways of ensuring that parks can more easily revert back to their pre-event state.
Have the big events caused too much damage?

This year’s weather has affected events all over the country, but every Royal Park has a flexible reinstatement plan. With some parks we won’t know what the action plan will be exactly until all the infrastructure has been removed. Hyde Park is still running events through to September. But the team had 250,000 people for the Nelson Mandela concert and is good at sharing best practice with partners such as Natural England and the Forestry Commission.
Who runs Royal Parks? Boris Johnson or David Cameron?

The Royal Parks are an agency of the Government’s Department for Culture Media & Sport (DCMS) and we get a grant from them. Boris has appointed a Royal Parks board, which reports to him, while I report to the DCMS but meet with him once a month. We all want the same thing — to protect and preserve the parks for future generations.
That will be hard with budget cuts, won’t it?

Grant funding has gone down in common with all Government bodies, which means we have to look at how to make up the finance. This is not just about hosting big events. We have a Royal Parks Foundation, look to charities such as the USA’s Tiffany Foundation, which has restored some of our fountains and gardens, and get money from concessions. People can also adopt deer and ducks. We are reviewing our revenue streams and talking to friends groups.
How do you intend to tackle skills shortages?

We are looking at taking on more apprentices and undertaking a review, but we already have several apprentices and are building for the future. One of our apprentices is an amputee who has made a new career for himself in horticulture.
What have been your career highlights so far?

The diamond jubilee — seeing how many people flocked to St James’s Park and the Mall to have their photo taken in the park or beside a large floral crown we had specially made. We had a big clear up to do after the Queen’s carriage procession and the biggest compliment came from a tourist who told me the Mall was so clean he could eat his breakfast off it.
What would you like your legacy to be when you leave?

To improve the biodiversity of the parks. It would be great to be able to say the work we have done to encourage sparrows and skylarks back into the parks has paid off. I want my legacy to be on the conservation side of things because everyone can play a part in that.

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