After 19 years of exceptional service to Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust, the Chief Executive, Bill Ferris OBE DL, will retire from this role later this year.
Bill was appointed Chief Executive of Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust in December 2000, at a time when the Trust was facing significant financial and reputational challenges. He replaced the original ‘living museum’ concept of the Dockyard with a more ‘serious’ museum/heritage approach and spearheaded the preservation through re-use strategy – a strategy that would ultimately lead to the long-term financial sustainability of the Trust on a revenue basis.
Over the next two decades, Bill led capital development projects totalling £47 million and secured more than £40 million investment from external sources to support major projects. This included the multi-award winning and runner up for the RIBA Stirling Prize for Architecture, Command of the Oceans project; No.1 Smithery – an at-risk 19th century Scheduled Ancient Monument now converted into a state of the art building and exhibition hall; and most recently the Fitted Rigging House project which was officially opened in October 2018. With £8.2 million investment, the completion of the Fitted Rigging House project played a significant role in unlocking the long-term financial sustainability of the wider Historic Dockyard site.
Through a careful balance of commercial tenancy, tourism and residential, today the dockyard is home to a thriving community of 115 houses; over 110 businesses and organisations, including the University of Kent (and its 800 students); 190,000 visitors annually and it supports over 500 jobs; these combined activities generate in excess of £29 million to the local economy each year. Understand Bill’s leadership, the Trust has won countless awards including Historic England Heritage Angel Award for Large Conservation Project (2018) and RIBA South East Regional Award (2017).
In recognition of his services to heritage, Bill was appointed Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 2011 and made a Deputy Lieutenant of Kent in January 2016.
Commenting on his decision to retire, Bill said, “I consider my time with Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust to have been a privilege. I want to pay particular tribute to the three chairmen that I have served and to the trustees who have been a constant inspiration from day one. It is a fact that it’s the people involved with this great place, along with the spirit of partnership and mutual support that has led to the led success we see today.
Over the last 19 years, the Historic Dockyard site has changed beyond recognition and one of my proudest achievements has been developing our business strategy of ‘Preservation through Re-use.’ This has been delivered by the wonderfully dedicated team of staff and volunteers that I have had the honour of leading. The result is that we are now a leader in the field of heritage-led regeneration and education within a superbly-restored heritage environment back in its rightful place at the heart of Medway.”
Bill added, “After nearly two decades commanding the bridge of the world’s most complete dockyard from the Age of Sail, I leave the organisation with an extraordinary sense of accomplishment and a confidence that the Trust is in a strong position to flourish under new leadership. I take incredible memories and unforgettable experiences with me as I hand over the reins to the next generation and allow them the opportunity to lead the Trust into its next chapter.”
Sir Trevor Soar KCB OBE DL, Chairman, Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust said, “After nearly 20 years at the helm, Bill has steered the Trust through a period of great change. The charity has benefitted significantly from the continuity and stability Bill has provided over so many years. We have faced enormous challenges and Bill has never been afraid to make key decisions.
Bill’s drive for excellence and entrepreneurial thinking, underpinned by carefully considered charitable choices, has been central to our development. He has played an instrumental role in making the Trust the financially sustainable charity that is today.
“As Chairman, I am personally grateful for the outstanding leadership, endless contribution and selfless commitment which Bill has given during his tenure. He leaves the Trust in an exceptionally strong position and has laid the groundwork for what will come. I know how much he will be missed. He has been a strong leader, mentor and advisor as well as a supporter to many across the heritage sector. I would like to express the thanks of the entire Board of Trustees and wish him in the future.”
The announcement of Bill’s retirement and coincides with the launch of Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust to a point of financial sustainability on a revenue basis. Due to completion of the Fitted Rigging House Project, the Trust’s current Corporate Plan (2016 – 2021) is ahead of schedule. A new 5-year Corporate Plan will be launched by Sir Trevor in February 2020. With a focus on evolution, not revolution – balancing the core charitable objectives of preservation and education, the new plan will chart the work of the Trust through to 2025.
The recruitment process for a new Chief Executive is underway and a formal announcement will be made later in the year. In the meantime, the Board of Trustees, led by Sir Trevor, remain committed to delivering the Trust’s charitable objectives and closely managing the transition period for new leadership.
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