Having led the project to ensure the Mary Rose’s long-term success and financial sustainability, Bonser-Wilton will be embarking on a new endeavour at one of the nation’s most popular heritage visitor attractions – welcoming over half a million visitors in a normal year.
The incoming chief executive replaces Sir David Steel, who led the Leeds Castle team for five years, following his appointment as the Governor of Gibraltar last year.
As the intervening recruitment process took place, Robin Richman, the Castle’s financial director, stood in to take on the leadership role during a hugely challenging year. He will continue in his roles as deputy chief executive and financial director following the new CEO’s arrival.
“Leeds Castle enriches the lives of our many visitors and guests, and Helen’s arrival will enable us to build on what has been achieved and create an exciting future, preserving this national icon and developing the experience for everyone who comes here,” notes Niall Dickson CBE, chairman of the Leeds Castle Foundation.
Leeds Castle’s new boss
Having overseen the development of new visitor experiences at the Mary Rose, played an integral role in establishing a joint trading venture with Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, and built on the Trust’s archaeological and scientific reputation, Helen Bonser-Wilton’s time on the south coast has only added to her reputation in the sector.
Prior to heading to Portsmouth, she amassed extensive experience in commercial businesses and the management of heritage attractions – most notably from 13 years spent working in various roles for the National Trust.
Assessing the current state of affairs, Bonser-Wilton is realistic about the task awaiting her. “Leeds Castle is a key player in the Kent and South East visitor economy, but the Covid-19 crisis has wrought huge damage on our income.
“As a charity that relies on income from visitors, we need the support of the public more than ever now to care for this extraordinary place. We will be developing our offer to encourage more visiting during this season, as well as caring for the unique heritage assets so that future generations can enjoy them as much as the current generation.”
In the knowledge that Bonser-Wilton would be departing in early 2021, the Mary Rose Trust Board conducted an internal recruitment process over the Christmas and New Year period to determine her successor.
Following thorough deliberations, it was decided that Dominic Jones, the organisation’s current chief operating officer, would be the ideal appointee.
“Having worked closely with Helen over the last two years I am honoured to be taking over responsibility for this awe-inspiring world-class attraction and leading her dedicated and professional team of staff and volunteers,” Jones says.