A One Man Band
1st December 2020
Lee Turner, General Manager, Penllergare Trust
Until lockdown, Lee Turner was the office-bound manager of an ambitious project to restore a prestigious Welsh heritage site.
But with all his staff on furlough, Lee’s challenges grew quickly as he became a ‘one man band’, providing cover for his missing workforce by operating as a fundraiser, woodcutter, warden, social media guru, human resources manager and dog poop collector – all coupled with all his usual administrative responsibilities.
As a result of his dedication, Lee is one of a handful of workers around the UK formally recognised by The National Lottery for his outstanding work during the pandemic, with his image set to be beamed onto one of the UK’s most well-known heritage sites, Stonehenge,
Set up in 2000, The Penllergare Trust aims to restore and protect an area of 260 acres, five miles outside Swansea, including a large walled garden and an orchid house that was thought to be one of the first in the UK.
It received a grant of £1.7m in 2015 from The National Lottery’s Heritage Fund to restore the sprawling site, formerly the estate of the Dillwyn Llewelyn family, an influential family in the Swansea area.
The vast restoration has been helped because the original site was well documented by John Dillwyn Llewelyn, a keen photographer, and one of the first people to own a camera in Wales. He took many of the earliest photos of the surrounding landscape during the mid 1800s, including the extensive woods, river, lakes and waterfall, which sadly all fell into decline. Inside his Observatory John Dillwyn Llewelyn took one of the world’s first Photographs of the Moon!
Lee says: “When the Trust was first formed there were 70 burnt out cars in the river. The most costly work was excavating the upper lake, which had silted up completely, along with putting in paths and tracks. Then we set up volunteer opportunities, a small coffee shop and car park and it grew very quickly.
“Now it’s a place where we’ve got all demographics, all ages, all experiences and everyone gets a warm welcome. I think that’s part of the magic.
“We’ve got over 100 volunteers and some of the oldest are in their 80s and many are from all walks of life. It’s really been the strength of the project, there’s a lot of love for Penllergare.”
The trust’s team is normally comprised of two fulltime staff and six part time workers, including an estate manager, finance and admin Officer, a commercial officer and a woodsman who clears the site, but all that changed in lockdown.
Lee says: “My role normally is quite managerial; I sit behind a desk most of the time. I never get out much and type away, but lockdown meant taking on all the other roles that had been furloughed, including going out with a chainsaw and emptying the dog poo bins because people were still using the site.
“The people in the surrounding areas who live around us are very passionate about using the green space for dog walking and family walks, so there’s hundreds of informal entrances to the 260 acres even though we were officially closed.
“For me, it was really nice to see the area that I’m doing all this work for, but usually often don’t get to see. In some areas the wildlife also seemed to flourish very quickly because there were less people.
“The toughest moment was halfway through the first lockdown, when I was just completely exhausted. I was too busy to take any annual leave, and there always seemed to be loads and loads of jobs on the list.
“I was working through weekends and evenings and then finally got a week off once we’d started to bring back other staff on a part-time basis at the end of August, that was the first break I’d had since Christmas.
“For the Trust, there were also some tough moments early on. When we did the forecast for closing the coffee shop and car park, which act as our main income, we knew we had to pay £35,000 a year in a lease to the landowner. So that was ticking away alongside all the other overheads and the costs. It was quite a scary position to see how long our very limited reserves would last - and it wasn’t long at all. Luckily the National Lottery Heritage Fund were able to give us some emergency funding along with the Wales Council for Voluntary Action and donations from supporters. It really kept us afloat financially.”
Lee says of the project: “Penllergare is just a magical place. It’s one of those places you go and you instantly feel an affinity with. We received the Queens award in 2016, which was very special.
“With 100 volunteers I often say I’ve got over 100 bosses because they’re all so passionate about the area, and they’re all desperate to see us develop and that’s great. That’s been our biggest achievement, maintaining this support, given all the pressures there have been.
“We’re safeguarding this amazing site in Swansea that was long forgotten and protecting the wildlife and we’ve got people engaged and volunteering. A few people have told me that Penllergare saved their life, whether that was because they were socially excluded, or had health issues, its effect has been amazing.”