Thursday, 23 September 2021

Let's Get Down to Business: Helen Barnett

Let's Get Down to Business: Helen Barnett

HELEN BARNETT has been the Henley town manager since September 2016. She was previously head of communications and
marketing at the Bracknell Regeneration Partnership. She lives in Crowsley with her children William and Amelia. Outside work, she loves tennis, skiing, cooking and entertaining.

Describe your role

Henley is a wonderful place to live and work and my job is to liaise with and harness the energy of all the relevant stakeholders — the town council (which employs me), retailers and other businesses, festival organisers, charities and, of course, the community. I formulate strategic plans for our town’s continued growth and development. More specifically, my role is to attract and retain retail businesses, increase the momentum of community events and grow inward investment, tourism and footfall.

How many people does the council employ?

Twenty-seven, some of whom work part-time.

What did you do previously?

I have worked in both the retail and property industries. I spent 12 years as head of communications and marketing at the Bracknell Regeneration Partnership. This involved setting up the office and IT infrastructure and working with multiple stakeholders including councils, architects, planners, businesses, contractors and various committees. Before that I worked for Condé Nast Publishing (Vogue, GQ, Tatler etc) and then Chartwell Land, the property arm of Kingfisher plc.

What made you take on this role?

I came to Henley when I was chairman of the Bracknell in Bloom committee and we had a wonderful afternoon tea in the town hall provided by Time for Tea with vintage china. I thought then how much I liked the town and what a wonderful place it would be to work.

Do you have a mentor?

Yes — of many years standing. He is a good strategist and very pragmatic.

What would you do differently if you could?

Nothing — I’ve had an amazing career and been privileged to work with some outstanding people.

How do you market Henley?

We have established a tourism alliance that involves working with local attractions such as Stonor Park and the River & Rowing Museum as well as hotels, boat suppliers and operators, breweries and venues such as Phyllis Court Club. We are bringing it all together to create a strong brand for Henley as a fantastic destination. We want to promote all the things to see and do here whatever the season or weather.

What’s the best thing about your job?

Things working, projects coming together, objectives achieved.

What’s the most challenging aspect?

I have to remember that I’m working for the council, although it has been incredibly supportive. I would love to get everybody working together better, which can be a little challenging.

Where are you headed?

We have a variety of projects. This year, we are running the Henley Heroes Awards, a “Hearts and Minds” campaign and a Happy Henley initiative, embracing business and the environment and harnessing all the energy in Henley to be positive. There is also Refill (to reduce the use of plastic), Walkers are Welcome and other initiatives.

What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned?

Have patience — sometimes moving slowly isn’t a bad thing. Also, you don’t have to run everything personally in order to deliver on projects. Teamwork is everything.

What three qualities are key to success?

Being focused. Persistence. Being prepared to listen and adapt.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made?

I wish I’d listened to my grandparents more.

How organised are you?

I have a really big notebook where I write down not only my own to-do lists but also lists of what other people are doing so I don’t forget anything.

How do you dress for work each day?

Usually quickly! I dress according to the type of day I am going to have and who I am meeting. Boots in the winter and heels for occasions.

What can’t you be without at work each day?

My colleagues. It’s important to enjoy work.

Desktop or mobile?

Both but if my life depended on it, my mobile.

Do you lunch at your desk or out?

Usually at my desk but I do like getting out to see people.

Do you continue to study?

I like to study people but I also keep abreast of the latest technological developments.

What do you read?

Newspapers, magazines and online articles on retail, business, property etc.

How are you planning for retirement?

I’m not. Perhaps eventually it would be nice to make something that I could sell.

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