Simon Thurley BA, MA, PhD.
Simon Thurley has worked at Board and Chief Executive level for seventeen years effecting radical change in three major heritage organisations through personal leadership and management expertise. He has also acted as spokesman transforming public perceptions and profile. Underpinning substantial leadership and management skills is a deep knowledge and understanding of the issues facing the built environment and archaeology.
April 2002 to Date: Chief Executive of English Heritage
English Heritage is the Government’s statutory adviser on England’s historic environment established under the National Heritage Act 1983. It is an executive non-departmental public body answering to a non-executive Commission of 18. It receives around 75% of its funding from The Department of Culture Media and Sport (£125 million in 2004/05) and the remainder (£33.5 million) is self-generated from commercial activity.
It has about 2,000 staff and operates from a headquarters in London, nine regional offices, the National Monuments Record in Swindon and the centre for archaeology in Portsmouth. English Heritage opens 412 sites to the public and disburses £40m in grants per annum.
At English Heritage Simon Thurley has set out to improve the way conservation is perceived and practiced calling for ‘constructive conservation’ - a more balanced and explicable way to protect the best of our heritage for future generations. In doing this the principal elements are:
- Leading a two year modernisation programme ‘Coming of Age’ restructuring English Heritage, reducing overheads and providing greater customer and client focus.
- Launching in 2005 a five year strategy Making the Past Part of our Future. The Aims of this are: 1: Help people develop their understanding of the historic environment. 2: Get the historic environment on other people’s agendas. 3: Enable and promote sustainable change to England’s historic environment. 4: Help local communities to care for their historic environment. 5: Stimulate and harness enthusiasm for England’s historic environment. 6: Make the most effective use of the assets in our care.
- Advising the government on a reform of the Heritage Protection System, leading to legislation in 2007.
- Launching a new set of principles to guide the practice of conservation.
- Launching training programmes for local authority conservation staff and officres called HELM.
- Implementing a Research strategy for English Heritage.
- Introducing a prioritised programme of property investment including a £2.5m project at Kenilworth castle, a £2m project at Battle Abbey and a £1m project at Osborne House.
- Increasing commercial turnover by 6%, 8.5% and 6.5% in three consecutive years to 2005/6
- Increasing members to 600,000 between 2004 and 2006.
- Leading a series of campaigns which include Save our streets to reduce street clutter and Inspired to help places of worship.
- Purchasing and Apethorpe Hall and Ditherington Flax Mill, two major buildings at risk, with the intention of restoring them and returning them to the private sector.
- Starting a series of major research projects including excavations at Chester Amphitheatre and Groundwell Ridge Swindon.
1998 to 2002: Director of the Museum of LondonThe Museum had 400 staff, an annual turnover of £18m, 375,000 visitors at its main site, a new research centre for its reserve collections and four remote stores. In 1998 it faced a number of significant problems which stemmed from systems and procedures unchanged since the mid-1970s. The task was to effect a major culture change to modernise the museum and make it successful again.
- The structure of the Board and its committees was modernised and a new code of practice defined roles and responsibilities both within the museum and with its two funding bodies.
- Simon Thurley introduced clear, strong and personal leadership and appointed a new executive Board. Work then started on helping middle management achieve the very challenging tasks described below.
- The Museum was given its own financial capability, new financial memorandum, financial regulations and accounting system. This led to the Director being made Accounting Officer. As a result of detailed budgetary review and without significant additional grant-in-aid staff numbers increased, the programme was enlarged and the revenue budget moved into surplus. Unrestricted reserves rose from £3.4m to £6.1m.
- A new exhibition programme, of 16 displays a year, combining popular appeal with intellectual integrity increased visitors to nearly 400,000 in three years. Exhibitions included London Bodies, Vivienne Westward, London Eats Out and High street Londinium. Careful use of press and the promotion of the Museum’s archaeological discoveries raised its profile.
- A master plan was prepared and a professional team appointed to rejuvenate the main museum building in two phases by 2006 costing £20m. Work started on phase I (a new entrance and exhibition gallery) in 2001 and was completed in 2003. A parallel gallery replacement programme will be completed by 2006. The first new gallery, London World City opened in December 2001.
- A new archive was built and transformed into an archaeological Research Centre with full public access. To it were relocated all the Museum’s archaeological functions. The £5m building opened in February 2002.
- After negotiations with the unions the archaeology service (MoLAS) was restructured and divided into two businesses, new terms and conditions of employment were introduced, expensive commercial office space sublet and new offices built. Overheads were drastically cut and profits in 2002 reached £500,000 while the trading reserve stood at £300,000.
- The Museum’s shop and publishing arm were loss making with very high stock levels. In 2001 commercial activities made £700,000. A careful development strategy successfully raised £1m for the exhibition programme, £2m for the galleries, £5m for the new archive, and £10m for phase I of the redevelopment.
- Partnerships were developed with London University and joint MAs were offered with both the Institute of Archaeology and Royal Holloway College. A new £500k pa backlog archaeological publication programme was launched in addition to the existing developer programme. In the period 1998-2002 15 major monographs were published.
1990 to 1997: Historic Royal Palaces: Curator and Main Board Member
Historic Royal Palaces (HRP) is responsible for Hampton Court Palace, the Tower of London, Kensington Palace, the Banqueting House, Whitehall and Kew Palace. In 1998 it was the largest Heritage business in London with some 400 staff, 3.5m visitors, a turnover of £33m per anum and a commercial surplus of circa £9m. Key accountabilities:
- A key member of the Board moulding the strategic direction of HRP. Played a central role in effecting a change in culture from a central Civil Service department to a fast-footed commercial executive Agency.
- Board member professionally accountable for the display, care, security and conservation of the collections and interiors of the palaces and their parks and gardens. Also accountable for standing and buried archaeology and an extensive programme of building research and recording.
- Established in 1990 a curatorial department for the first time. In 1998 it had 53 curators, archaeologists and conservators and a budget of £1.5m.
- From 1996 also responsible for the Surveyor of the Fabric’s department with a professional staff of 60 and the management of HRP’s £11.4m capital programme.
- Identifying the commercial potential of the Textile Conservation Studios at Hampton Court and converting a small in-house service into the largest commercial studio in the UK with an international clientele and a turnover of over £600k.
- A significant project management role leading the restoration of Hampton Court Palace and Gardens including the kitchens (1991), King’s Apartments (1992), Tudor Apartments (1994), Georgian Rooms (1995) and Privy Garden (1995). The total value of the projects was over £3.9m. Hampton Court’s commercial deficit of £5m in 1989 was transformed into a surplus of £900k in 1998. The redisplay of the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London, a complex multi-disciplinary project with a total spend of £10m which secured the Tower’s commercial income.
1988 to 1990: English Heritage: Inspector of Ancient Monuments
For the Crown Buildings and Monuments Group, exercising statutory regulation over the building, repair and development programmes in the Crown Estate managed by the former PSA. Principally as a member of the Hampton Court design team for the Restoration of the fire-damaged wing of Hampton Court.
1985 to 1989: Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London.
PhD: English Royal Palaces 1450-1550.
MA (Distinction): Art History
1982 to 1985: Bedford College, University of London.
BA Top 2:1: History
1972 to 1982: Kimbolton School, Cambridgeshire.
- Visiting Professor of Medieval London History and Honorary Fellow at Royal Holloway College, University of London.
- Visiting Professor of the Built Environment Gresham College
- Council Member for St. Paul’s Cathedral
- Patron of the City of London Archaeological Society, Patron of the London Parks and Gardens Trust, President of the Huntingdonshire Local History Society, President of the City of London Archaeological Society
- Member of the Institute of Field Archaeologists and Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries.
- Chairman of the Society for Court Studies
- Honorary Member of the Royal Institute of British Architects
- Honorary Member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors
- Honorary degrees in Heritage Management from the City University and the London Metropolitan University
- Chairman of the European Heritage Heads Forum (the association of EU national heritage chiefs)
- Member of the Institute of Field Archaeologists
- Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries
- Fellow of the Royal Historical Society
- Member of Department of Culture Media and Sport Advisory Board
- Member of the Parochial Church Council and fabric officer of All Saints church King’s Lynn
Advisory Council member for Royal Collection Studies and Editorial Advisor for the London Journal, the British Art Journal and BBC History MagazinePast Appointments
- President of the London and Middlesex Archaeology Society.
- Vice President of National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts Societies
- Trustee of Dickens House Museum
- Member of Parochial Church Council of Christchurch Clapham
- Chairman of the City of London Archaeological Society