Sunday, 19 September 2021

Timing right for retiring chief

THE chief executive of the River and Rowing Museum in Henley is to retire after almost 15 years.

THE chief executive of the River and Rowing Museum in Henley is to retire after almost 15 years.

Paul Mainds took on the role in early 1999, months after the Queen opened the premises in November 1998.

He has overseen an increase in visitor numbers from 50,000 in his first year to last year’s new record of 117,000.

Last year, the museum was named one of the top 50 in the world by the Times.

Now aged 63, Mr Mainds says it is time to step down and let a new face take over.

His job has been advertised in the national rowing and museum press, as well as in the Henley Standard, and interviews will start next month.

If a suitable candidate is found, the grandfather-of-two hopes to be replaced by the end of the year. He will remain a trustee and says he is willing to advise his successor as they settle into the post.

Mr Mainds, who lives in Medmenham with his wife Nicola, originally planned to retire at 60.

However, when it was announced in 2005 that London would host the 2012 Olympic Games, he decided to stay until they were over.

He said: “There are still a lot of things I would like to accomplish but there comes a time when you have to stop and 63 seemed like a good age.

“It’s right for the institution as well. It’s good to have some fresh blood on board and a great opportunity for someone to come in and take the next step.

“I’ve done my bit but we have a great team here with ideas of their own and I’m sure they will be able to push those forward.”

Paddy Nicoll, chairman of the museum’s board of trustees said: “Paul’s will be a tough act to follow but we are happy that he will remain as a trustee and will be leaving us in amazing shape for his successor.” Mr Mainds said he was proud of the links the museum had forged with the rowing world.

Olympic champions Sir Steve Redgrave and Sir Matthew Pinsent, whose statues stand in the car park, have both visited on numerous occasions.

Sir Matthew is also the museum’s honorary vice-president.

In July, a cauldron that carried the Olympic flame during last year’s opening ceremony was donated to the museum.

It was rowed to the site on the royal barge Gloriana by 18 Olympians including Katherine Grainger and Leander Club’s Anna Watkins.

Sir Matthew formally received it and gave a speech as it was installed.

The museum also hosts official receptions every year for rowers in the royal regatta and the Henley Women’s Regatta.

Mr Mainds said: “I’ve been very lucky because we were the ‘new kid’ in the museum world when we opened.

“To have been able to play a part in shaping our role since then has been terrific.

“There has been a lot of goodwill from both the Henley community and the wider rowing community.

“I increasingly meet local people who tell me they visited the museum with their family and enjoyed it.

“I think there’s a very positive view of it in this town successive mayors have always praised us and what we do here.”

Mr Mainds said education was one of the museum’s key roles as it now hosts trips for more than 20,000 schoolchildren every year.

He said: “My office looks out over the entrance gate so I always see the coaches coming in and the expectant look on the pupils’ faces.

“It’s rewarding to know you’re giving them a positive experience they’ll never forget and we get a lot of positive feedback from teachers.”

Mr Mainds grew up in Amersham and took up rowing at the age of 15. He studied theology at Leeds and trained as a teacher in Durham, during which time he rowed for both universities.

In 1973, he was part of a Durham eight that won a string of regattas across northern England and rowed in the Ladies’ Challenge Plate at Henley.

He said: “That was the main achievement in my rowing career but I then had to make a decision did I want to carry on rowing or go into business?

“I was a bit too small to be a big-time rower but too heavy to be a lightweight, so from then I stuck to recreational rowing rather than the competitive stuff.”

Before joining the museum, Mr Mainds worked for a commercial haulage firm in High Wycombe for 25 years.

He became managing director 10 years after joining and when he left in 1998 it had a turnover of about £40m.

He decided to leave after selling the business to French transport giant Geodis.

Mr Mainds said: “I had always planned to do something different with my career and this was even more different than I had envisaged. It has been terrific fun and I am very pleased that I made that change. I recognise that I’ve been very lucky my business career bought my house and paid for my children’s education so that I could afford to step into the heritage sector.

“You don’t come into this business for the money but the satisfaction is a huge plus. I’ve had the best of both worlds and I’m now looking forward to my next steps.”

Mr Mainds plans to get involved with other heritage projects but said it was too early to name them.

He said the museum’s main priority would be completing the refurbishment of its river gallery, which began three years ago. The gallery hosts an exhibition called Source, which explores the role the Thames and other rivers play in people’s lives.

Mr Mainds said there was potential to expand the museum’s presence online and help educate children in other countries.

He said: “These are very exciting times. We have a chance to secure our place as a world centre for rowing history and heritage. I don’t think anyone else is trying to occupy that space at the moment so we could make it a centre in the same way that the royal regatta is a centre for competitive rowing.”

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