Inspirational Woman: Clare Bowen | Head of Programmes at The Royal Parks

Clare has 17 years’ experience leading high-profile projects in the charity sector.

Clare Bowen

Clare has managed a diverse portfolio of projects focused on heritage restoration, art and education programmes, wellbeing initiatives and nature conservation.

Highlights include a $1.25m project to restore 5,000 acres of the Parks, supported by Tiffany & Co Foundation in New York and a three-year hedgehog research programme with 120 expert-trained volunteers, aimed at conserving central London’s last remaining population of breeding hedgehogs in The Regent’s Park.

Clare is particularly passionate about people and nature and the positive impact that this connection can have on people’s lives. From boosting short term memory, relieving stress, boosting the immune system and improving mental health.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I have 17 years of experience in leading projects in the charity sector and these have included managing heritage restoration, art and education programmes, wellbeing initiatives and nature conservation.

I joined the Royal Parks in 2005 and, in my current role as Head of Programmes, I love the diversity the job brings. I am hugely passionate about people and nature and the positive impact that this connection can have on people’s lives, so I feel very lucky to be part of the Royal Parks team.

My career highlights include welcoming HRH The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall to unveil a sports facility in Regent’s Park on their first public engagement together, managing a $1.25m project to restore 5,000 acres of the Parks and a four-year hedgehog research programme aimed at conserving central London’s last remaining population of breeding hedgehogs in The Regent’s Park.

Although every Royal Park is unique, my favourite place in London is by far Richmond Park. I grew up around there and spent hours playing amongst the ancient trees and discovering tadpoles in the ponds and hiding in the bracken. It feels like London’s little piece of wilderness and hearing the bellow of the stags at dusk during the Autumn rut is magical.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not at all – it has been a very organic process. Saying that, I am not a huge planner in any case as once I get stuck into something, I give it 110% commitment and am determined to build, grow and perfect every project I take on. As a result, I never seem to have time to take a step back and consider the next big step! I’ve always worked in a very fast paced environment and every day, every week, every year just flies and then all of a sudden, I realise that I’ve somehow been at the Royal Parks Foundation for 12 years!

I have let my passion for nature and people guide me through my education and my career so far. Being in an environment that you love every day is a real privilege and working with an incredible team of energetic, inspirational people, making a difference every day just makes this a dream job. I have learnt to accept that things will happen when the time is right and so who knows what the future holds.

Have you faced any challenges along the way? How did you deal with them?

One of the biggest challenges in my career so far has been dealing with huge organisational change, bringing together different organisations and working cultures. Change can be daunting but it’s so important for both organisations to buy into a shared vision, believe in the opportunities and for individuals to find a way of being heard and feel valued.

My advice is to accept up front that it’s going to be a bumpy ride, do your best to maintain a positive outlook, no matter how hard it may feel, keep in close contact with decision makers and strive to find solutions rather than dwelling on problems.

Taking a step back, having regular breaks also helps keep things in perspective! Diplomacy, collaboration, negotiation, determination, belief… all vital skills needed to survive this process.

I love Alfred Einstein’s quote – Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.

Do you have a typical workday? How do you start your day and how does it end?

With two young children, just getting to my desk every morning feels like an achievement in its own right! Then it’s the countdown until it’s time to leave and pick up the kids – the pressure is on.

No two days have ever been the same during my time in the Royal Parks and to me that’s the beauty of my job. There is never a dull moment! It’s the unexpected that I love. Crazy moments selling hundreds of Tracey Emin deckchairs over the phone one day (before we had an online shop), to collecting elephant dung from Woburn Safari Park to spread on the Hyde Park flower beds… (the stench in my car was IN-credible), dealing with three different national TV appearances in the space of 24 hours, to most recently taking Steve Backshall on a hedgehog hunt one night in Regent’s Park.

As a senior manager, a lot of my day consists of catching up with my team and sensitively supporting them through manic, intense times. I then jump on my bike (brilliant time to unwind from the day), deal with excitable (adorable) children at bedtime, and prepare to start all over again the next day!

Tell us a little bit about your roles and how they came about?

After my BSc I volunteered at a conservation charity and soon secured some paid work in organising wildlife events. Then, recognising that the ecological world is a crowded, competitive market, I signed up for an Environmental Technology MSc at Imperial College. Soon after, needing to earn some money, I tried my hand at painting and decorating. The same conservation charity where I had volunteered offered me a contract to repaint their offices!

A few weeks in, I was summoned into the CEO’s office wondering if I’d painted the walls the wrong colour, but I was actually asked to apply for an exciting new Project Manager role they had created. From that point on, I never looked back.

After five years, my boss retired and I felt in need of a new challenge. I spotted a little advert in third sector magazine for a new Project Manager role at the new Royal Parks Foundation charity. This was the only job I ever applied for and on meeting the CEO, Sara Lom, and seeing my new offices in Hyde Park for the first time, I knew immediately that it was the job for me with new challenges and opportunities, eight amazing Royal Parks, and most importantly an incredible boss.

My role evolved rapidly within the Royal Parks Foundation, and typical of a small charity, I soon turned my hand to most things just to make projects happen and as a team we delivered one ambitious project after another. I really enjoy working as part of a tight knit team and a growing charity, learning so many different skills along the way and meeting many wonderful people. It has always been a really positive, can do, highly energetic and rewarding environment.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you ever had a mentor or do you mentor anyone?

I have never officially mentored anyone although I have line managed many people during my career. I know that I love to work with passionate, dynamic and inspirational people whose energy is contagious.

I am very receptive to the idea of mentoring and sharing advice, particularly with those who are early on in their careers. I would love to share all the things that I have learnt as I feel very privileged with how my career has panned out over the last 17 years.

If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?

The two charities that I have worked in have been very female dominated, led by ambitious, inspiring women and I feel this has empowered me.

In terms of change, I am a strong believer in equal pay rights for both sexes. I’m used to working with strong, hardworking women that I admire hugely so the gender pay gap and notion that men on average get paid more than women in the workplace is shocking to me.

How do you juggle your career and your personal life?

Now is an even busier time at work than usual as we are focusing on growing our teambuilding Park Days initiative. The idea is to get London businesses to commit their teams to help with park restoration by getting them away from their desks and into the open air! The initiative has huge benefits to employee wellbeing and of course, the maintenance of the incredible Royal Parks, so it has been all hands-on deck to spread the message far and wide.

It’s definitely a juggle working fulltime with two young children. I often feel guilty about not being there for them more but they are happy and the time we do have is precious. Switching off as much as possible between work and home is really important and enables me to give 100 per cent to each.

It’s different for every family though, and what we have works for us. It can be exhausting, but my partner and I make a great team and the kids grow up so quickly, so we try to make every day count.

Exercise keeps me sane and cycling daily means that I don’t have to find extra hours in the day to keep me fit. And those 40 minutes are excellent thinking time – often my eureka moments happen when I’m on the bike. I also do everything to protect an hour’s boxfit class first thing on Saturday morning. I only manage a fraction of the exercise that I used to do pre-kids, but with a full on job, something’s got to give for now.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Hedgehogs are a passion of mine so leading a campaign to research the vulnerable population of hedgehogs in Regent’s Park has been a personal highlight.

We worked with some amazing people including two eminent scientists to carry out the most in-depth study of hedgehogs in the country and we also recruited and coordinated a team of 265 volunteers to support the campaign.

As part of the project, I was called as an expert witness for the Select Committee at the House of Commons and House of Lords, as High Speed 2 are planning to use prime hedgehog habitat as a lorry park during the 20 year railway build.

This was a very high profile campaign with lots of media attention and we executed a very successful partnership in what grew to be a widely recognised scientific study.

What are you hoping to achieve in the future?

This is a very good question!

Life is short and anything can happen. I love my work and as long as it remains fresh, challenging and fast moving then I will be happy.

I sometimes wonder what my legacy should be… nurturing well-balanced, motivated children, empowering my team to be best they can be, having positive impacts on other people’s lives, being instrumental in long-lasting team achievements such as the construction of an environmental education centre in the heart of Hyde Park, the LookOut, and the Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon.

To find out more about the Park Days initiative please visit: https://www.royalparks.org.uk/be-involved/volunteering-in-the-royal-parks/park-days

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Alison Simpson
About the author

Alison is the Digital Content Editor for WeAreTheCity. She has a BA Honours degree in Journalism and History from the University of Portsmouth. She has previously worked in the marketing sector and in a copywriting role. Alison’s other passions and hobbies include writing, blogging and travelling.

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