The Power List - 20 Movers and Shakers in Tunbridge Wells and Tonbridge
by Andy Tong | 10th October 2018
Tunbridge Wells and Tonbridge are going through changing times, with ambitious projects and fluctuating traditions. Here’s our guide to the most influential people in our towns and the roles they play in shaping our future.
1 David Jukes
Leader of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council
David Jukes remains the undisputed chief of the council but rather than rest on his laurels, he is pushing forward with a hugely ambitious project.
The proposal for Calverley Square, the new theatre and town hall, has been variously described as a ‘vanity project’ and ‘Jukes’ folly’. But the council Leader has succeeded in having the £90million project rubber-stamped despite public concern.
The only blot on the landscape was the election of Nick Pope as a councillor for Tunbridge Wells Alliance, a single-issue party opposed to the development.
Cllr Jukes was born and brought up in South London and left school when he was 15 to become an electrician.
He was elected for Speldhurst and Bidborough ward in 1990, went on to be Mayor of Tunbridge Wells in 2010-11 and took over as Leader in 2012 after TW Alliance chairman Bob Atwood lost his seat.
He has brought his experience in the construction industry to bear on the town’s hot properties. The ‘eyesore’ of the old cinema site is finally scheduled for redevelopment after 18 years and there are plans to extend Royal Victoria Place – in May the shopping centre was sold for £96million.
Despite the barbs that are thrown at him – about parking, traffic, shops closing down – he continues to oversee a council with a healthy budget and optimistic outlook.
2 Ian Bauckham
Chief Executive of Tenax Schools Trust
Ian Bauckham is a leading educationalist who has been entrusted with navigating one of the curriculum’s trickiest areas – sex education.
Having spent 11 years as headteacher of Bennett Memorial Diocesan School in Tunbridge Wells, one of the South East’s highest-performing non-selective state secondaries, he is now in charge of the Tenax Schools Trust.
Tenax, which he founded in 2016, is a Church of England academy trust that now runs Bennett and has taken control of six local primary schools.
It was also instrumental in the opening of a much-needed new primary, Bishop Chavasse, in Tonbridge last December.
Mr Bauckham is advising the government on sex education ahead of the controversial subject becoming compulsory in all schools next year.
Alongside his work as an Ofsted inspector and member of the exams watchdog Ofqual, he has advised the Department for Education on headteaching and modern languages.
A past president of the Association of Schools and College Leaders – the main association for secondary principals – he was awarded the CBE last summer for his services to education.
3 Nicky Blanchard
Centre Manager for Royal Victoria Place (RVP)
Nicky Blanchard faces arguably the most daunting task in Tunbridge Wells: making a success of the town’s shopping centre in uncertain times.
Ostensibly the future of the 280,000 square feet of retail space has been assured. RVP was purchased by British Land, the second-largest listed property company in Britain, for £96million in May.
When Ms Blanchard took over in 2015, RVP had an annual footfall of 10.5million and sales went up ten months out of the following 12. But now shops are either going under or moving their operations elsewhere.
Plans are afoot to redevelop the site to incorporate a cinema, which led to other well-known stores being forced to shut – some after more than 20 years.
Permission was granted in 2016 for the complex to be extended by more than 140,000 sq ft but the future of this project remains uncertain.
In addition, traditional retail has been badly affected by online sales and the consumer is now looking for ‘experiences’ on the proverbial high street.
But Ms Blanchard has run shopping centres in London’s Victoria, Gravesend and two sites in Slough. And with the local knowledge she has built up over the last three years, she is ideally placed to oversee British Land’s ambitions.
4 Greg Clark
MP for Tunbridge Wells
The Conservative MP is standing right in the middle of the crossroads that Britain now faces over its Brexit future.
As Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, he is at the forefront of negotiations to build a trading future outside the EU’s Single Market.
Mr Clark finds himself in an unusual position in the South East (outside London) of representating a constituency which voted to Remain.
And yet it is a stance that would seem to be in accord with his liberal preferences, having started his political career as a Social Democrat at Cambridge in the 1980s.
Mr Clark was elected MP in 2005 and within a year he had been appointed to David Cameron’s opposition front bench. He was made a Minister for Communities and Local Government as soon as Cameron was elected in 2010, and became Secretary of State after his next election triumph.
Theresa May appreciated his abilities enough to chose him for the pivotal role in her own first Cabinet – one which has seen him accused of cultivating ‘Project Fear’ around Brexit.
Among other weighty matters in his portfolio he has been handling the collapse of public sector contractor Carillion, and is now a central figure in the debate about nuclear energy, fracking and renewables as alternative sources of power.
5 Olga Johnson
Co-Founder of Nourish Community Foodbank
Olga Johnson is an expert in recruiting the right people to run charities, and also stands at the forefront of the fight against poverty in West Kent.
She helped to set up Nourish Community Foodbank six years ago to help families in crisis in Tunbridge Wells – and latterly south Tonbridge.
Nourish provides short-term emergency provisions and support on a referral basis in partnership with more than 100 agencies. It has supplied more than 110,000 meals in the form of three-day emergency supplies to over 12,000 clients – 45 per cent of whom were under 18.
It has become a focal point for smaller community projects aimed at tackling poverty, and works with local homeless charities such as Porchlight and The Bridge Trust.
Ms Johnson has been a trustee of the Institute of Fundraising as well as three international NGOs. She started up one of the charitable sector’s first specialist recruitment agencies and was its chief executive for 23 years, as well as a prolific headhunter.
She specialised in board level roles and set up the Top 20 Salary Club in partnership with 20 charities, with an annual turnover of over £50million.
6 Michele Harriman-Smith
Chief Executive of Childrensalon
Michele Harriman-Smith stands as a beacon of the successful business model in Tunbridge Wells – while also remaining a champion of those who are less fortunate.
She is chief executive of Childrensalon, the luxury children’s wear retailer which has become a formidable online presence. The firm employs more than 350 staff and sells as many brands in more than 160 countries with a strong presence in Europe, the United States, Asia and the Middle East.
In the last five years, sales have increased by more than 500 per cent thanks to focusing on the digital marketplace, making Childrensalon one of the UK’s fastest growing companies. It is a prime example of a firm that looked to the future and diversified.
And yet the company has the humblest of origins, as a single boutique bought by Mrs Harriman-Smith’s mother Sybil on the High Street in 1952.
Childrensalon has not forgotten where it came from and works hard to help the homeless in close association with the council and the charities Porchlight, The Bridge Trust and Lookahead.
7 Dr Bob Bowes
Chairman of West Kent CCG
Dr Bob Bowes is at the forefront of modern thinking about the future of the NHS as it marks its 70th anniversary.
He has been a GP at Kingswood Surgery in Tunbridge Wells for 30 years and fills several senior roles within the NHS for West Kent.
He is chairman of the regional Clinical Commissioning Group’s (CCG) governing
body and the CCG’s lead on information management and technology, while ensuring that patients’ data is kept secure.
Dr Bowes studied at Guy’s Hospital and prior to taking up a position in Tunbridge Wells he worked in India as a medical officer in Padhar Hospital.
Under his guidance West Kent CCG has undertaken a variety of innovations including the creation of Urgent Treatment Centres (UTC) at Tunbridge Wells and Maidstone Hospitals.
These are designed to take the pressure off adjacent Accident & Emergency units. UTCs have also led to out-of-hours appointments being phased out in Sevenoaks, Cranbrook and Tonbridge Cottage Hospital.
The CCG is implementing changes to surgery provision, moving Primary Care services into commercially viable premises – moving away from the old-style cottage industry in residential buildings.
These super-surgeries will cater for 30,000 patients, which means village practices could become a thing of the past.
8 Tracy Moore
Cabinet member, Tunbridge Wells Borough Council
Cllr Tracy Moore is the driving force behind the council’s controversial Calverley Square scheme, which will see a new, 1,200-seater theatre and town hall built on Calverley Grounds.
It will cost of £90million – at current estimates, though the cost is spiralling. The ambitious project has been approved in order to provide more cultural revenue and attract West End-style shows, while the council insists its existing offices are no longer fit for purpose.
The taxpayers’ opinion is divided at a time when other councils are having to cut back on essential services to cope with government cuts. There are also objections to what the project might mean for the town centre’s attractive park.
As Portfolio Holder for Economic Development and Communication, Cllr Moore’s responsibilities also include engagement with business and public relations, and she has been defending the viability of retail in the town centre as a number of shops closed down.
Cllr Moore is American by birth and studied Business Administration at Georgetown University in Washington DC.
The mother-of-three moved to Tunbridge Wells in 2004 and is the Conservative representative of Park ward, which includes Calverley Grounds.
9 Miles Scott
Chief Executive, Maidstone & Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust
Miles Scott has been entrusted with the task of turning around the fortunes of the local NHS Trust [MTW], which runs Tunbridge Wells Hospital.
MTW was placed in special financial measures in 2016 amid estimates projecting a budget deficit of £23.5million.
Under the previous incumbent, Glenn Douglas, the Trust was rated as ‘requires improvement’ by the Care and Quality Commission in 2015. It received a similar rating this year, the Commission detailing 17 areas which need attention.
Mr Scott, who was appointed in January, has more than 30 years’ experience in the health service. He helped to set up NHS Improvement, which was established two years ago to oversee trusts and independent providers, and led a nationwide Ambulance Improvement Programme.
He brings a wealth of experience to his role, having previously run St George’s University Hospitals, Bradford Teaching Hospitals and Harrogate & District Foundation Trusts.
Among the issues he faces are failing cancer care – the Trust was placed in the bottom ten in the country – cancelling non-elective surgery over the winter as the hospitals become busier, and lack of parking provision.
10 Tom Tugendhat
MP for Tonbridge & Malling
Tom Tugendhat is a rising star in politics both domestically and on the international stage – and is tipped for the very top.
The MP for Tonbridge & Malling has been a visible presence in various debates from Boris Johnson to Russian state-sponsored executions.
He is chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee and will be on the front line of Britain’s dealings with Europe as soon as Brexit is activated next March.
Yet he is also well known for his vociferous campaigning on constituency issues, from the closure of surgeries to making motorways quieter and, in minute detail, tackling public grievances about bus services.
Lieutenant Colonel Tugendhat served with the British Army as a Territorial officer in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was awarded the MBE in 2010. He also worked for the Foreign Office and helped set up the National Security Council of Afghanistan and the government in the notorious Helmand Province.
He pursued Islamic Studies at Cambridge and learned to speak Arabic in Yemen. After he returned from active service he was military assistant to the Chief of the Defence Staff before standing for Parliament.
He lives in Hever with his wife Anissia, who is a high court judge in her native France, and their two children.
11 Dame Kelly Holmes
Double Olympic gold medallist
The athlete is an iconic figure in West Kent and across the UK, who warmed the nation’s hearts with her steely determination and infectious smile. She is the region’s undisputed celebrity.
The golden girl from Hildenborough won the 800m and 1500m at the Athens Olympics in 2004 after agonising years plagued by injury and depression – and she also documented her struggle with self-harming.
An estimated 40,000 people attended her homecoming parade through the streets of Hildenborough and Tonbridge.
She won the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award and in 2005 she became a Dame – having already received an MBE for services to the Army.
Dame Kelly joined up at the age of 18 and rose to the rank of sergeant, competing in men’s races to avoid embarrassing other female athletes.
Her no-nonsense style and girl-next-door persona were to prove popular in the media after her retirement and she was a highly visible figure ahead of London’s 2012 Games.
But she also went back to her roots in opening a café in Hildenborough, the village where she grew up – named 1809 in honour of her running number in Athens.
The Dame Kelly Holmes Trust, a charity which has raised millions of pounds to support young athletes and help the lives of young people facing disadvantage, is currently celebrating its 10th anniverary.
In May she was chosen to start the 70th birthday celebrations of the NHS,
which were launched at Tonbridge parkrun.
12 Jason Dormon
Co-founder of The Forum
A quarter of a century at the top of your game is impressive – and all the more so if your field is the music industry.
Jason Dorman has made The Forum into one of the coolest music venues outside the capital, and this year it celebrates its 25th anniversary.
From inauspicious beginnings – it’s housed in the old public toilets – the roll call of young acts that sounded out The Forum before going on to superstardom is extraordinary. The alumni include Adele, Coldplay, Ellie Goulding, Green Day, The Libertines, Mumford & Sons, Muse – and perhaps most unlikely of all, Oasis.
In 2012, the influential music journal NME voted The Forum as Britain’s best small venue, a rewarding accolade for a man who was born and raised in Tunbridge Wells and started out with the Rumble Club in Grosvenor & Hilbert Park.
Now Mr Dormon is behind the campaign for the town to have its first ever ‘night mayor’, lobbying the authorities on all issues for the nighttime trade from health and safety to getting home.
13 JJ Almond
Director of the Assembly Hall Theatre
John-Jackson Almond, known as ‘JJ’, is the man charged with bringing West End glamour to the Tunbridge Wells stage.
He has been in charge of the Assembly Hall since 2016 and has embarked on a programme which fits the bill for the council’s redevelopment plans.
He had previously been executive director of the Park Theatre in north London. The site next to Finsbury Park station was renovated into a thriving neighbourhood focal point at a cost of just £2.6million – with heavyweight celebrity backing.
He arrived in Tunbridge Wells just as the council-owned Assembly Hall had also been refurbished – and he looks set to preside over the demise of the old 1930s venue too.
Mr Almond has streamlined the operation, brought together the town’s artistic elements and placed a Creative Learning Manager centre stage. He is also trying to widen the town’s cultural audience by bringing in a Pay What You Can initiative for people on lower income to catch selected shows.
Now he is a pivotal figure on the economic landscape as well as the cultural one, as Tunbridge Wells Borough Council presses ahead with the construction of a brand new 1,200-seat theatre in its £90million civic complex.
14 Sian Carr
Executive Principal, The Skinners’ Kent Academy
Next year will mark a decade since the opening of The Skinners’ Kent Academy in Tunbridge Wells, and Sian Carr has been its Executive Principal since day one.
The non fee-paying school is funded directly by the government and supported by its lead sponsor The Skinners’ School, the nearby boys’ grammar, and the Skinners’ Company, one of the 12 great livery companies in the City of London which also runs Tonbridge School.
The school started with 280 students; today it has 765. A state-of-the-art £21million building opened in 2013, and the watchdog Ofsted rated it as ‘outstanding’ two years ago.
Their report said: “The school is led by an exceptional and ambitious executive principal. The very high quality of teaching leads to pupils making outstanding progress.
“Disadvantaged pupils make similar and sometimes better progress than other pupils nationally because school leaders ensure that they receive extensive and effective support.”
Mrs Carr, who is standing down at the end of this academic year, worked in four London schools before becoming head of an Essex comprehensive.
She has many other strings to her bow: former president of the Association of School and College Leaders – the association for secondary principals – a member of the International Baccalaureate Governing Council, and a governor at Sevenoaks School.
15 Rev Simon Burton-Jones
Bishop of Tonbridge
As the new Bishop, Rev Simon Burton-Jones has brought a breath of fresh air to the ethical life of West Kent.
He was inaugurated at St Paul’s Cathedral by the Archbishop of Canterbury in July. The Diocese of Rochester had finally filled the role after two and a half years of vacancy.
The Bishop’s region stretches far beyond Tonbridge to take in Tunbridge Wells, Sevenoaks and most of West Kent.
He began by sending out a message of support for young people in particular, in what he called ‘this very difficult and complicated age’. “We are going through a very extended era of austerity,” he said. “There’s a lot we can learn from one another.
“I have a feeling there is lots more we can do in rediscovering and expressing our social conscience.”
Rev Burton-Jones, 55, is an accessible preacher – and a witty tweeter – who sprinkles his addresses with cultural references. He admits to having an obsessive knowledge of The Simpsons and being a West Wing fanatic.
He hails from Fleetwood, Lancashire and studied Law at Cambridge, then worked at the Jubilee Centre, a Christian think tank concerned with the relevance of the Bible’s social vision in modern society.
He was the Curate of St Mark’s, Biggin Hill, then Vicar of St Mary’s, Bromley and Rector of St Nicholas, Chislehurst.
“My only real achievement in life was to get a quote in an all-time book of cricket quotations,” says Rev Burton-Jones, but he is likely to achieve a great deal more now.
16 Paul Fleming
Chief Executive of Tek Seating
Paul Fleming is an innovator at the cutting edge of industrial technology who has earned plaudits in the global market.
He runs the Tunbridge Wells company Tek Seating and has been involved with the family firm since the 18-year-old and his father bought it 36 years ago. The headquarters moved to the town in 1995, when it began to make its own chairs rather than merely distributing them.
One of the three strands of Tek Group is manufacturing specialist equipment for the defence market. Its status within the industry has been recognised by a contract with the Dutch army, as well as large orders from the Middle East.
It is a decade since the company was asked by the Motor Industry Research Association to make an anti-blast, anti-vibration seat for British military vehicles.
Also in the product range is seating for the agricultural, construction, marine and industrial sectors – as well as the Ultima GTR Supercar.
The third element, SitSmart, supplies ergonomic chairs and furniture for offices, control rooms, surveillance areas, schools and the NHS.
17 Maria Heslop
Cabinet member, Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council
Maria Heslop is busy turning Tonbridge and the surrounding area into a vibrant hub of activity and entertainment – and she is also the power behind the throne.
The Cabinet Member for Community Services in Tonbridge and the Conservative representative of Vauxhall ward, she is also the wife of council Leader Nicolas, and they have four children.
She does not always follow the party line, however. When the council authorised the sale of public land in the town centre last year, on River Lawn next to the Medway, she voted against the motion in Cabinet.
The town has become well known for its cultural programme around Tonbridge Castle, from the Medieval Fair to open air cinema, concerts and music weekends, as well as a prolific number of free public events organised by residents.
The borough is also the most active in Kent according to the latest figures released by Sport England – and has the lowest rate of inactivity too – which is testiment to the work of the council’s leisure arm, TMActive.
Cllr Helsop is a dedicated athlete and was instrumental in the establishment of parkrun and junior parkrun in Tonbridge – the former has now noted up 250 meetings.
She is a member of Tonbridge Athletic Club and came first in the over-50s female category at the London Marathon in April.
She is also Head of History and Classics at Beechwood Sacred Heart School in Tunbridge Wells.
18 Mums the Word
Events company and blog
Mums the Word is rapidly turning into a must-have resource for modern Tunbridge Wells parenting.
It is the brainchild of two sisters born and bred in the town, Natalie Mcilveen and Laura Swann. Their missions are to host inspiring meetings and construct a network for local women.
The siblings downsized after working in London and have more than 25 years’ experience working in PR and events.
They set up Mums the Word in 2016 when Mrs Mcilveen was on maternity leave and moving back to the town. Mums the Word was established in response to a lack of events for mums compared to what was available in the capital.
Now they hold regular events with guest speakers encouraging mothers to pursue business interests to coincide with their childcare. There are also breakfast and supper clubs and ‘Mamas Meet-ups’ with experts on diverse topics from hypnobirthing and psychology to cooking and fashion.
And there’s still time to have fun, so they stage daytime ‘wildchild’ parties for overgrown ravers and their children to let their hair down.
19 Will Bayley
Table tennis Paralympian
Will Bayley is an inspirational figure who overcame disability to win gold at the Paralympics – and delighted the nation with his celebrations.
The 30-year-old table tennis player won a silver medal at the London Games in 2012, then went one better in Rio two years ago. He became a global sensation when he marked his victory by jumping on to the table. He was given a yellow card by the umpire, whom he then embraced.
Mr Bayley, who grew up in Groombridge, was born with arthrogryposis, a rare congenital disorder that affects the movement in all four limbs.
He contracted Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a blood cancer, at the age of seven which required 18 months of chemotherapy – during which his grandmother bought him his first table.
He refined his skills at Byng Hall Table Tennis Club in Tunbridge Wells from the age of 11 and went on to represent Kent’s able-bodied senior team.
At 17 he was chosen for the English Institute of Sport, and his Paralympic journey began in Beijing in 2008.
He was awarded the MBE for services to sport in 2017. He has now become an ambassador for the Pembury disability charity Pepenbury.
20 Christopher Nevill
The Sixth Marquess of Abergavenny
The Marquess is from the old order of Tunbridge Wells, a town which boasts a rich historical heritage.
Having taken over the title in 2000 from John Nevill, who had no surviving male children, he is a significant landowner in a part of the Home Counties where property values have long gone through the roof.
The 62-year-old owns Eridge Park, a 3,000-acre estate which has been in the family since the Norman Conquest, and was where the famous Chalybeate spring was discovered which led to the town’s formation.
So it is entirely fitting that he also owns the Lower Pantiles, where 17th century society liked to perambulate while partaking of the revivatory properties of the spa water.
The title stretches even further afield, incorporating the market town of Abergavenny in Monmouthshire, Wales, while its holder is also the Earl of Lewes in East Sussex.
His father was Lord Rupert Nevill, once Private Secretary to the Duke of Edinburgh, and his mother Lady Anne Wallop was the daughter of the Earl of Portsmouth. Both were reportedly childhood friends of the Queen.