James Weld: keeping it local

Stephen Swann talks to the man who heads up the Lulworth Estate, an estate which has been in his family since the 17th century

Lulworth Estate's James Weld doesn't need to log on to one of those burgeoning 'trace your ancestors' websites to find out what skeletons lurk in his family's cupboard; his family has a long and well-recorded history that can be traced back at least as far as the 16th century. The Welds aren't aristocrats but they are 'old money' and, needless to say, they are 'landed'. In fact, the lovely estate that is Lulworth was acquired by one of James Weld's ancestors back in the early 17th century, not as was often the case, through royal gift, but as a result of trade and business done in London. Today the estate is itself a business and like many old family estates, in modern times that business is based not just on agriculture, as was the case in the past, but is very diverse indeed.

Recently I met James Weld, the man who heads up that business, and I began by asking him to tell me something of his early years. He was born in 1960. He has two brothers and five sisters. James was educated at the Catholic school in East Lulworth, Farleigh House in Hampshire, Downside, and the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester, where he did a year reading estate management. "Around this time I went off to Australia on a single ticket with �200 in my pocket," James informs me. "I did various jobs on farms, in vineyards, and installing kitchens, though I did draw the line at washing-up!"

Back in England he joined Savills as a land agent and gained his letters with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors before going on to set up his own business as a land agent in Salisbury. In 1993 he took over running the estate, an estate that has gone from having 45 people on its staff when he took over, to employing some 200 today. "We have 12,000 acres, 9,000 of which are farmland, 4,000 of which we farm ourselves," says James. "There are more than 170 houses on the estate, most of which are let to staff at around half the going rate. I believe that people are the single most important asset of any business and that it is important to keep things local and seek out ways of employing as many people in the countryside as possible."

Farming, then, is very important at Lulworth but more than 60% of the estate's turnover comes from revenue generated by other enterprises. With the Durdle Door Holiday Park, Lulworth Cove, the Castle, shops, pubs, property management, outdoor events, gigs, civil marriages and wedding receptions, conferences, team building and banquets, Lulworth, the company, the brand, has done what a lot of farming-related businesses have been urged to do in recent times and that is diversify. With Lulworth, though, it has to be said that they have done it big time and done it very successfully indeed.

I put it to James that heading up a business as multi-faceted as Lulworth must be somewhat demanding. "It's a hard job," he tells me. "I never really stop work but then I always think I'm lucky to be doing my hobby as a job. I'm certainly not a worrier. I go home after work and I don't find it in the least bit difficult to fall asleep!"

I ask him about outside interests. "We, that is my wife Sara and I, have three sons - Joe, 17, Oly, 13, and Guy, 10 - so as you can imagine, much of my life outside work revolves around the family. We have holidays, though often I can only manage to get away for a week at a time. I enjoy boating, I've got a RIB that is great fun, and I do quite a bit of shooting in the winter. I am Chairman of the Jurassic Coast Trust, an independent registered charity which is governed by a board of trustees, which aims to inspire people to appreciate and enjoy the Jurassic Coast and to safeguard it for future generations."

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Listening to James, I cannot help but be aware that here is a man who is doing what is obviously a very demanding job but who nevertheless manages to do it with a light touch. "I aim to make sufficient money to protect the estate and to ensure its future, of course I do," James says. "But it is also about keeping the local community intact. I certainly don't see myself as some sort of toff; if anything I see myself as the boss of a medium-sized company."

Finally, I am keen to know what really annoys this easy-to-like, thoughtful, at times funny, at times serious, man. "Litter. I hate the stuff," is his succinct reply. It is the answer of someone who loves the bit of England that his family has called home for some 400 years.

Visit www.lulworth.com and www.jurassiccoasttrust.org for more information on the Estate and the Trust.

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