Symondsbury Estate is as much about the people who work here as it is about the wonderful setting we’re in. The talented staff who work tirelessly here, from forestry and agriculture workers, to chefs, retail brand ambassadors, housekeepers and so many more – every single one makes a difference to the Estate and the experience of all the visitors who come to explore what we have here.
International Women’s Day gives us the perfect excuse to celebrate the many amazing women, in particular, who have chosen Symondsbury Estate as their workplace. They bring with them a great variety of backgrounds and skills which, together with those of the brilliant men on the Estate, create a formidable and multi-talented team.
Read on to find out the fascinating stories of three of our female team members, what led them to Symondsbury Estate, and the great talents they have brought with them.
TRACY FOX, BRAND AMBASSADOR HOME & GARDEN STORE
Tracy Fox joined our Home & Garden store team as a Brand Ambassador last year. She moved to Bridport in 2021 from South East London looking for a change of scene and a shift away from the stresses of a highflying career in the ‘Big Smoke’.
She had already walked around Symondsbury Estate before her move and, at the time, it struck her that this was a place where she would love to work. She says, “It was total kismet. Once I’d settled in my new home I came back for a walk and there was a sign on the Home & Garden door saying they were hiring. I instantly thought, this is what I want to do.”
Needless to say, we snapped her up as we knew that her fine art degree and transferable skills from previous jobs would make her an interesting and creative member of the team. For a start, after leaving art college, Tracy spent eight years working for internationally celebrated florist, Jane Packer, who taught her everything she knew.
They had a dizzying array of big-name clients, including Joseph Ettedgu, founder of luxury fashion brand Joseph, the Duchess of York and Aquascutum, for whom they created a show stopping Christmas window display. Tracy says, “It was like theatre, building something so beautiful out of cabbages, carrots and cauliflowers in front of an audience of onlookers.”
She also travelled with Jane around North America attending floriculture symposiums and taught at the Jane Packer floristry school. Unsurprisingly, then, you are likely to find Tracy tending, tweaking and watering our plants for sale, ensuring they are the perfect specimens for you to take home.
After floristry, a career as a buyer and set decorator in the TV and film industry beckoned, seeing her work on series including Extras with Ricky Gervais and period dramas such as A for Acid with Martin Clunes. This added a new layer to her skills which are also invaluable in her work here. “People are generous at Symondsbury, allowing me to step into areas beyond my remit, like styling, merchandising and talking about trends which will guide what products we want to sell.”
So, is she glad she made the move? “Absolutely. I do miss London, but I love it here. It’s not just the job itself, but everything else that comes with it. My commute used to be three hours driving there and back to studios on the periphery of London. Now I walk to work through woods and fields, waving at the sheep and saying hi to the pigs. It is perfect for me.
CHLOE SHEPHERD, SYMONDSBURY KITCHEN TEAM MEMBER & BARISTA
Finding and creating the perfect role for our staff as their lives evolve is something we are passionate about at Symondsbury Estate; it’s a really important way of retaining our fantastic staff, especially for women who often see big changes, for instance, when they have children.
Chloe Shepherd has been working at Symondsbury Kitchen for five years now, inspired to come here by her own family connections. Her mum, Rachel, has worked at Symondsbury for 10 years as a housekeeper for our holiday cottages and her younger sister, Ellie, also works in the café.
After having her baby, Tommy, in July 2022 she was really keen to return to Symondsbury Kitchen, but conscious that she would struggle to do the same full time role as Front of House Supervisor with a little one around. We were really keen to find a way to make things work for Chloe so we could keep her, and her great skills, in the business. By working with her we were able to change her position to a part-time role as Team Member and Barista, something that she would enjoy doing and was possible around childcare.
She says, “I feel really comfortable working here. I call it my home-from-home. It was important to me to come back as I would be able to be ‘myself’ rather than ‘just’ a mum. I’m so pleased we’ve made it work and actually see my days at Symondsbury Estate as a bit of ‘me’ time.”
We’re delighted she’s back too. She is not only great at supporting her team and chatting to our customers, she is also passionate about coffee and is a skilled latte artist. “People come to me for tips on how to make the perfect coffee, and I love giving advice. I’m also expanding my coffee art as I can do a leaf, heart and tulip but next I want to master creating a swan!” And, with her flair and determination, we have no doubt she will!
KATE MILBURN, GARDENER
Kate Milburn is a woman who brings her passion alive at work. She is one of our gardeners and can be found most days working in Symondsbury’s wonderful walled garden. Here she grows the delicious salad leaves, herbs and vegetables that you will find in many of Symondsbury Kitchen’s salads, sandwiches and other dishes, as well as for sale in our Home & Garden Store. All of these need constant care and attention, along with a touch of Kate’s growing magic.
Working as a gardener is a very physical role and, as such, may be thought of as a more male-orientated career. However, Kate is one of the growing number of women who are smashing it in a career as a professional gardener, with a survey in 2021 showing that over 10% of tradeswomen are now working in this role. Kate’s love of working outdoors and in the garden stems initially from her time picking grapes, raspberries and apples in the UK and across France for a number of years.Then, when she eventually moved to Dorset, she lived on a farm where she started helping out the farmer who had a stunning garden which used the pioneering approach of working with the weeds. Kate says, “I learned so much from helping out the farmer. She was really knowledgeable and had a real vision for her garden but was quite elderly. So, I would prepare the soil for her and then she would do the planting. It was a huge space and every day I worked it was like a battle, fighting the brambles and getting it ready for her while also working around the weeds, like Oxeye Daisies and Campion.”
Indeed, many of the Oxeye Daisies that now bloom around Symondsbury are ones Kate brought from the same farm and planted around the Estate. The other thing Kate brought with her to the Estate was the farmer’s ‘no-dig’ philosophy, which is being increasingly adopted across the estate.
“The old school way of gardening was to double-dig the beds which was not only bad for your back, but also bad for the soil,” she explains. “It disturbs the soil structure, you lose moisture retention, and you bring to the top the seeds from weeds which then flourish and take over the space. With ‘no-dig’, the soil stays firm, but not too firm; it’s better for worms and the environment, but there are fewer slugs, and ‘nasty’ weeds like couch grass tend to be less of a problem.”
Talking about her career in gardening, Kate adds, “I love being outside, so this job is great for me – plus, at the end of the day I really feel I’ve earned the right to relax. It’s a physical job, but I’m in charge of how physical it is and am careful to work within my own limits.
“Also, gardening jobs can often be a bit isolated, but at Symondsbury it’s quite a sociable role – not just with the other gardeners but also working with other teams, such as the chefs and retail staff. The view from the garden is wonderful, the soil is great, and I have quality muck on demand – a gardener’s dream!”
Click here for Kate’s wild garlic and nettle pesto recipe