Interview: Joanna Littlejohns, Development Manager

Joanna started work as the new Development Manager of St Peter’s Church Trust at the beginning of October. Here she answers questions from Chairman, David Du Croz. 

Before you came to Marlborough you worked in Guernsey for about ten years. What was your job there and what did it involve?
Thanks David. It was an amazing role which literally started with a blank sheet of paper. In that way it has similarities to the role you have given me at St Peter’s Trust as it was primarily to look at what we could develop, specifically in the arts, for the Channel Islands (the Bailiwick comprising of Guernsey, Herm and Sark). I was the senior civil servant for the arts within Guernsey’s government and was also tasked with setting up an Arts Development team. I wrote the first Arts Strategy for the islands and from this it was decided, in order to make best use of the States of Guernsey’s funding, that we needed to set up an arms’ length charitable organisation. We duly did this and the Guernsey Arts Commission (GAC) was formed. I was seconded as the CEO to the GAC’s Board of Commissioners and in this position, I initiated and had direct responsibility for setting up an Arts in Health Service Level Agreement between the GAC and the Health Department. Alongside this arts-in-health programme I grew a team to run an extensive community arts programme which included commissioning artists to work in the public sphere to produce both temporary and permanent public sculpture. 

I also set up and directed a contemporary art space in the centre of St Peter Port and delivered a series of arts’ events each year including Art on the Beach, Arts Outside, and Arts Sunday. This gave me experience in running public facing spaces and delivery on a wide range of events engaging with many sectors of the islands’ community. I initiated a series of open public forum Art in Context lectures and chaired the Conference Committee which delivered two international conferences at Castle Cornet. Through this I gained a great deal of experience of working with a charitable organisation while ensuring the Trustees were kept abreast of any development and were a crucial part in all decisions ensuring ever widening and deepening opportunities of engagement in the community.

When you moved away from the Channel Islands, what brought you to Marlborough?
I went to school in Wiltshire and have always loved this part of the country. Our plan was always to return to the UK even though we took over 20 years to achieve it! I also have family living in Marlborough and both of us were really struck by what a beautiful and vibrant place it is. We were lucky to find a property just off the High Street although it needed a lot of work, which is still ongoing!

What are your impressions of St Peter’s Church and its place in the local community?
I must admit that I only got to know St Peter’s once I was talking to the Trustees about the Development Manager role. I, like I suspect many others (especially pre-Covid), worked elsewhere and life in Marlborough was largely evenings and weekends. So, you can imagine my delight when I discovered not only the building but also the range of events that go on including the wonderful Tower Tours and the Concert Series.

What sort of things do you hope to bring to the life of that community through your work as Development Manager at the church?
It’s early days and, at the moment, I’m finding out as much as I can about the Trust. I’m also mining the knowledge bank held by the incredible Trustees who have all, without exception, amazing facts and stories to tell. It is only once I have a much more in depth understanding of St Peter’s Trust that I will be able to make meaningful and relevant suggestions. I do though initially think we need to be clearer about our Mission and to start communicating this to the community. I’d also like to see a wider range of the community visiting our venue and taking part in a growing array of events.

Do you have any particular areas of personal interest which you hope to utilise in this role?
My background, as outlined above, is in Arts Development but I have a specific knowledge of contemporary visual arts having worked in both public and commercial galleries while living in London. I am a member of AICA (International Association of Art Critics) and have written numerous artists’ text. I also ran an International Artist-in-Residence Programme for a decade and enabled projects for artists such as Sir Antony Gormley, Andy Goldsworthy, Dick Smith and Sir Peter Blake. I’d like to draw on this knowledge and involve professional artists in specific commissioned projects.

How do you best relax away from work?
I have an allotment at Elcot Lane which although not always ‘relaxing’ gives me a great deal of satisfaction; particularly when we get to eat the produce. I also enjoy walking and discovering the diverse landscapes that surround us – me and my husband found this particularly relaxing during the succession of lockdowns.

What would be your top “Desert Island” piece of music and book choice?
I love opera as it’s so fantastical and I have visited opera houses all around the world. One of my favourites was a production of Aida at the Kremlin which included a cast of thousands, and a live elephant. During the interval the elevators only travelled upwards to a grand open space where free champagne and caviar was served to all members of the audience – after 20 minutes the elevators changed direction and we all returned to our seats. This was pre-Perestroika. It’s difficult to choose a particular piece of music so I think I’d go for Caruso singing a selection – there’s a wonderful early recording I own where the accompaniment is minimal, and you can just focus on the magic of his voice. A book is also impossible to hone down to one but I relatively recently ‘discovered’ John Boyne (Sunday morning event at a previous Marlborough Lit Fest) and bought The Heart’s Invisible Furies. I think the opening chapter is a masterpiece of writing and, since then, I’ve read all his books.

What would be your favourite holiday destination and why?
Again this is tricky. I love travelling and have been fortunate enough to live in several countries including Australia, Germany, America, and France and have had long work trips to such countries as Canada and Venezuela. I do though love Italy and recently followed the Piero della Francesca trail which led to discovering such towns as Urbino. I’d like to explore other similarly sized places while enjoying Italian sun, wine and food. Good company would make it perfect. 

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