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Staff Profile – Andy Wilson – Maintenance Manager

I’m not a gardener but I know a special garden when I enter one and Heligan just has something about it, it’s a magical place with so much energy coming from the land. When I walk to my workshop in the early morning, I always feel a sense of pride and of satisfaction about working in such a beautiful setting. It’s a feeling that will never wear off.

I had holidayed in Cornwall for many years and I always felt at home. One Christmas Eve my family and I moved down from where we were living in Derbyshire and have never looked back!

Previously I had worked as a joiner and project manager in London, but now in Cornwall, I had no real idea what I would do next. When a role became available at Heligan in March 2014, I went for it immediately and was over the moon to become the new manager for the maintenance department.

I absolutely love my job as I get to work with every single team on site, and within every corner of the garden and estate. Some of the work our team does is not always obvious to visitors as we are ‘behind the scenes’, but as I look back at the projects I have helped to co-ordinate, I feel very proud.

One of the most physically demanding jobs I’ve completed is the rebuild of the Jungle boardwalk. I can’t even imagine how many metres of boardwalk we fitted! The job was completed over winter and so the colder wet weather made it a hard task. We had to dig out so much soil and carry huge timbers down the steep terrain. I designed it so that it was as accessible as possible, with minimal steep parts to enable as many visitors to venture down to the Jungle as possible. The upside of that job was being in the Jungle early in the morning when the fog hasn’t risen, you feel like you are abroad somewhere. It indescribably beautiful and a real privilege to be able to watch the wild deer, kingfisher and other wildlife go about their morning.

Another huge job I took on was the design and build of the incredible new play space on East Lawn. I took inspiration from watching our younger visitors running and jumping, climbing and sliding in the woodland and wanted to create a space that allowed children to be adventurous, to enjoy the outside and to simply have fun. To enable it to suit all ages and abilities was the detail that was so vital, and to now see so many young visitors out there playing in the tunnels, on the balance beams, up inside the castles and whizzing down the slides is just wonderful. Nothing makes me happier. It was a big job, but to handcraft the whole space from Heligan timber, was simply brilliant. Putting the roof on the final tower and looking out at the Mevagissey view was a moment of achievement for my team and I.  I’d like to go on to create a zip wire and swings, plus a tiny version of the space for the youngest of our visitors…but that’s perhaps the next phase and something to look forward to.

The design part of each job is what I enjoy. To think about the materials, the look and feel of something and to be able to put my mark on things is fantastic and all the while to keep it feeling like ‘Heligan’. I helped to design the new Ticket Office and Plant Sales areas, the outside eatery and pizza oven kitchen, the new changing spaces toilet and the bore hole! No day or job are the same! One moment we might be building new installations for a family trail as part of one of our events, whilst the next helping to walk the pigs across the Estate to a new enclosure we have built.

The worst part of my role is every aspect of the toilets and drains. When the sewerage pipes get blocked it is simply awful to be the person on call to unblock them!

I am currently working on the restoration of the glasshouses which is an important but time-consuming job. The Pineapple Pit frames have just been repainted and fitted and look superb. I have sourced a more durable timber this time to create longevity, whilst keeping the look and feel of the frames as per the original restoration.

My favourite spot at Heligan is the very back corner of the Flower Garden, beside the Peach House. I love to take a moment to stand here when I am locking up the site in the early evening. It’s such a peaceful scene and you can easily imagine staff from the 1930’s suddenly appearing and not looking out of place.

Working outdoors is something I relish, even in the winter. Going up for a roast lunch or a bacon sandwich by the fire of the Heligan Kitchen makes even the soggiest of days a bit more bearable.

I am hopeful that the autumn sun stays a little longer so that my team and I can get to finish the works on the Vinery and Citrus House, ahead of winter arriving.

With a variety of jobs planned for next year, I look forward with excitement to helping Heligan retain its magic whilst continuing to evolve new creative ways for our visitors to explore and enjoy it in the way that we hope for.

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