Our Senior Events & Hospitality Manager, Laura, only joined the team at Bowcliffe in June, yet already her impeccably high standards are a perfect match for the ‘Bowcliffe’ experience. We took five minutes with Laura to find out why losing your head in the events business simply isn’t an option, why weddings mean so much, and three things we might never have known about her…
Name: Laura Shinkfield
Position: Senior Events & Hospitality Manager
When did you start working at Bowcliffe Hall and what made you apply for the position?
I began at Bowcliffe in June so I’m a relative newbie! I initially applied because as a venue there is simply nothing like it, and for someone in events it’s a treat to be able to work here. But, on getting to know the people and the ethos, it has become clear that the real reason it’s so great to work at Bowcliffe is that as a team, everyone is incredibly proud of what they offer. In previous employment, I fought to bring the standards of service to where they should be, but at Bowcliffe you already have the backing of the senior management and of course, JT (Jonathan Turner – Bowcliffe’s Owner and Custodian), it makes my job so much more enjoyable.
Tell us a little about your education and career history to date – how did you end up at Bowcliffe Hall?
It was very important to me from the get-go that I didn’t fall into a job that meant sitting behind a desk for 12 hours a day. After hours of scrolling through University courses, I finally came to Events Management. One trip to Leeds Beckett University – the UK Centre for Events Management – sealed the deal for me! The campus was amazing and attending lectures and seminars was never a chore. Since then I’ve always known exactly what I wanted to do.
I began working at Yorkshire Sculpture Park at 14 years old and continued there for the next nine years, working my way up from catering assistant to wedding and events coordinator. Like Bowcliffe, Yorkshire Sculpture Park is a unique venue and it’s perhaps for that reason that I decided I needed to widen my experience into other industries. Leading me to Woodlands Hotel in Leeds and Huddersfield Golf Club – The Home of Yorkshire Golf. In the end, though, it’s the ‘wow’ venues that really interest me – so here I am.
What does a standard working day look like for you at Bowcliffe?
A standard what? Haha, I’m sure it’s an expected answer but there really isn’t such a thing in events, especially not when you work at Bowcliffe! You do have a rare day where you spend a lot of time answering enquiries, but Bowcliffe is usually a hive of activity from the moment you step inside the door. One minute I can be working with couples planning their wedding, the next I might be organising a large corporate event, intimate dinner party, wine tasting or a huge themed birthday party. I love to be busy, so the mix of admin and operational tasks really works for me.
What is it that you think makes Bowcliffe such a special place to hold an event?
Bowcliffe is utterly unique, there is honestly no place like it. There’s something for everyone here.
With all the various aspects of the day, weddings must be amongst the most challenging events to get right. You previously worked as a wedding and events coordinator, tell us, how do you make sure every couple gets the very best on their big day?
The important thing is to be completely honest with the brides and grooms from the start. The great thing about Bowcliffe is that we can be flexible. We do have packages – because that’s what some couples want and need – but if the client asks for something specific, we are more than happy to accommodate. Jonathan Turner, Michael Gledhill (Director of Events) and Simon Crannage (Director of Excellence) are all on board with the idea that we try to accomplish anything a couple wants – the sky is the limit. Planning a wedding is a journey, it’s important to let the client know that you are there to help along the way. Being involved in a wedding from conception to completion is probably the task I take most pleasure from!
The toughest thing about working in events and hospitality?
Having a good work-life balance. Notoriously events and celebrations happen outside the standard 9-5, it’s par for the course.
The most enjoyable thing about working in events and hospitality…
The atmosphere. Spending months planning an event and then delivering it and seeing how much the guests are enjoying it makes the long hours’ worthwhile.
In your opinion, what are the most important questions to ask a person who approaches you about holding an event?
Availability! I’m sure you’ll get some people who would say budget or numbers are equally important – but availability always comes first in my book. In most cases, the client would have a date in mind and you need to be sure you can secure that for them, or find another date that works. After that, it’s about trying to find out as much as you can in that first communication effort. It avoids surprises later!
When you’re juggling so many events and occasions, how do you ensure everyone who books Bowcliffe for their event, receives a personal and truly bespoke service?
It’s really important to prioritise your events but still keep in touch with those who have an occasion that is taking place in the near or even distant future. So, of course, a large event happening in a couple of days time takes precedence, but with my wedding couples, for example, I make it clear that if they ever need anything, all they have to do is ask. Being available for organisers to bounce ideas off or dish out some advice at any time is a big part of the job, plus it’s what sets you apart from just a ‘good’ events manager.
When you’re not at work, where are we likely to find you?
I try not to waste my days off, as it could be a while until your next one. So, I always get up early, go to the gym and catch up with the people closest to me.
What has been a career highlight to date?
Getting my Events Management Degree. Weddings have always been my ‘thing’ having started working on them from such a young age, I even did my dissertation on them! Bowcliffe gives me the chance to work on weddings of a larger scale, the venue is limitless in terms of what we can provide.
Are there any specific personality traits you think are particularly important to do the job well?
Organisation, absolutely. And an ability to get the job done. If there’s a problem, you need to focus on the solution. It’s not a job for someone who is likely to lose his or her head in moments of stress – there are lots!
If you hadn’t ended up working in events and hospitality, what job might you have ended up doing?
I would have probably gone into the public services. My family is very police orientated, although my Dad never wanted me and my sisters to go into the police, which I suppose in the long run has been a good thing, especially as I like to have my nails done!
Tell us your dream event to work on…
In my mind, I’m still at the beginning of what I hope will be a long career in events, so I’m trying to stay open-minded about which I prefer to deliver. The excellent thing about Bowcliffe is I’m constantly working on new and varied things, unlike many country house estates which stick to a niche of weddings or corporates, at Bowcliffe the entire team love putting on pretty much anything from wine tastings, parties, corporate events, weddings or even art installations, auctions, and charity events.
Ask me again in 10 years and I promise I’ll try to give a straight answer!
Three things we would never know about you…
1.) I love Wimbledon! It would be an absolute dream to be able to go and watch a match.
2.) I own a Dance Association which has 700 members. I co-ordinate 3-4 competitions a year.
3.) My favorite drink is Jameson’s and Ginger Ale – with a slice of lime! (I’ve been to Dublin just a few times!)
Favorite part of the estate…
I love the entire outdoor space. The Estate is so beautiful. Having joined the team in summer I’ve been lucky enough to sit and enjoy the gardens on my lunch break. That said, I can’t wait to watch the Estate gardens change as the seasons do.