Lucy Cavendish prepares for the 20th anniversary of the Holker Garden Festival
PUBLISHED: 16:22 07 June 2012 | UPDATED: 14:43 21 November 2017
As the Holker Garden Festival prepares for its 20th anniversary this month, Mike Glover interviews Lucy Cavendish as she prepares to take over the reins of the family business behind the popular event
It may not be recognisable as such to any fans of Lord Sugar’s BBC TV series, but Lucy Cavendish is serving as an apprentice. Unlike most apprenticeships, however, she is heading straight for the top job.
She is three years into her four year intensive training to become chairman of a £20 million a year business employing 250 people.
Previous experience – as an oil painter – may not be obviously relevant, but she insists the two roles are not incompatible. And besides, she has one advantage no other candidate could have: the role as chairman of Holker Group is in her DNA.
The elder daughter of Lord and Lady Cavendish has come home to take over the reins of the wide-ranging family business which is based in Cark-in-Cartmel and has branches throughout Lancashire North of the Sands. The family has run the estate for 250 years.
Lucy, now 38, grew up on the magnificent 17,000-acre Holker Hall estate. The Elizabethan-to-Victorian neo-Gothic hotch-potch that is Holker Hall was her home until she was 15-years-old.
She then went off to board at King’s School, Canterbury, before uktaking an arts degree at the City and Guild Arts School. She then spent a decade as a professional painter, living in London, Spain, Morocco and New York before returning to set up a studio in London, where she lived for seven years.
Her style is representational landscape with a particular skill for weather over the fells and features surrounding Morecambe Bay. The forbidding clouds which dominate her canvases conflict sharply with her bright and jolly nature.
‘I realised being a landscape painter living in London wasn’t really practical,’ says Lucy who came home to Holker in 2008.
She arrived at a time of great change in the family business with a new management structure across the portfolio, which includes Cartmel race-course, six slate quarries, three holiday parks, two hundred flats in Barrow and, of course, Holker Estate.
Within months she had embarked on the apprenticeship which started with a year running world-famous Burlington Slate, which generates more than half of the group’s turnover.
She earned her management spurs as chairman of Burlington Slate, focusing the business on cutting down waste, so the smallest sliver of the precious black and blue or green rock, 400 million years in the making, is not wasted.
This theme of sustainability is one she is keen to spread across the business and one where her artistic background comes to the fore. ‘Being creative, dealing with people, having ideas and a vision for the future are important to both careers,’ says Lucy.
More than 20,000 visitors, a high proportion of whom come from the Fylde and rural Lancashire, are expected to visit the estate this month for the annual Holker Garden Festival which runs for three days from Friday June 8th, and this year celebrates its 20th anniversary.
Lucy is keen that the festival retains its firm base in the world of horticulture and doesn’t stray into duplicating the agricultural shows.
‘The festival grew from the gardens at Holker and my parents’ passion for all things horticultural and English traditional gardening. We hope visitors to the festival are drawn into the gardens themselves.’
There are 32 exhibitors in the horticultural marquee, 180 outside stands, nine show gardens and a floral art marquee.
But for those with wider tastes, there is a tipi village on nature and wildlife, a Victorian fair-ground, a bandstand, birds of prey, chainsaw carving, arts and crafts and a food tent.
‘It is important that we reflect the rural community, without losing our focus on being the Chelsea of the North,’ adds Lucy.
Being the 20th anniversary means there will be much reflection on how the festival grew out of the passions of Lord and Lady Cavendish.
And to that end there will be no celebrity gardener this year. Instead Lord Hugh Cavendish will be launching his book A Time to Plant, sub-titled Life and Gardening at Holker, which is illustrated by his wife Lady Grania’s photographs.
At 11.30am in the Holker Festival Garden Theatre, visitors will have the opportunity to hear Lord Cavendish share extracts from the book, describe the challenges of writing it and reveal the history of Holker and its gardens. This will be followed by a half an hour book signing session with the chance to purchase a copy of the book.
Lucy says: ‘My parents are semi-retiring although they will continue to be involved in all aspects of the Holker Group. My father is 70 and is conscious that the business needs to look to the future. It can’t get stuck in a rut, although the key philosophies of loyalty, commitment, honour and integrity are increasingly important as people become ever more cynical of multi-national corporations. Ours is an organic approach.’