My 20 Years at James Blake Associates
This year, we are celebrating Vivienne Jackson’s 20 years with James Blake Associates. Viv is our wonderful Office Manager who always goes the extra mile, and whose attention to detail is second to none. We chatted with Viv about those last 20 years, how James Blake Associates has evolved over that time, and what it means to be a committed and passionate member of staff.
“What’s a Landscape Architect? This was the first question I asked my friend, who was helping with admin at James Blake Associates, and who suggested I apply as they were ‘in desperate need of some organisational assistance!’
With a newly completed computer course under my belt, (I had been using electronic typewriters up until then), I set off to James Blake Associates on Lavenham High Street. I wore a Laura Ashely navy pinafore and white shirt with a ribbon – the height of fashion in 1998. (A neighbour recalled seeing me on that day, in a recent Facebook post about my 20 year celebrations – how communication has changed.)
There were four men in the office when I started, and me. I started organising, and the rest, they say, is history.
As my children got older, I was able to dedicate more time to being in the office. I met and worked with many interesting, intelligent, and lovely people. Technology was progressing at super speed, and we were soon introduced to e-mail. It’s now hard to imagine how we operated without it. We certainly used telephones a whole lot more 20 years ago, and as it happens, this is something I really enjoyed, being the person to welcome and assist clients when they called. James has always called me the ‘sunshine voice of JBA’. If you call today, I will still answer with that same warmth. I’m a people person, and I love being client –facing.
We started employing students, and I became ‘Mum’ to a lot of them, particularly the girls who were away from their families. I wanted them to feel like they belonged to a family, and I’m proud to say, that’s how we remain today. We still welcome students; they are after all, our future.
Over time, James Blake Associates expanded, and we set up Ecology and Arboriculture departments, as well as taking on more admin staff. As the business grew, I found myself managing and delegating more and more. We soon found ourselves needing a much bigger space, so we moved into the Black Barn. It was small, dark and rather dilapidated, but after sharing ideas between us on how we might develop the space, it soon became the lovely, bright office it is today. That is one of James’ greatest strengths – he always takes on board what staff members think, and their ideas always matter. There’s a mammoth amount of passion, experience and skills amongst us, and James fully respects and utilises these.
The day we moved into Black Barn is a wonderful memory for me. We gathered our families and all mucked in together to help – husbands, wives and children too. It was a lovely summer’s day, and in-between shifting cupboards and desks, we enjoyed good food and drink while taking in the beautiful views across the fields. We are extremely spoilt with our location; we do work in the loveliest of settings. (We have on occasions in the past, welcomed lost sheep wondering into the office – there are not many offices that can claim that!)
When the recession hit, we were quite deeply affected. It meant we had to downsize in all manner of ways. It was a very sad and emotional time. However, we all rallied round and supported the business and each other. After much hard work and huge commitment on James’ part and the staff, the business started to turn a corner, and since then James Blake Associates has gone from strength to strength. We’re constantly evolving; we welcome change, and we consistently strive to be proactive.
One of my proudest moments at James Blake was when I was made an associate director. Thinking back to where I started, arriving in my navy pinafore with no idea as to what Landscape architects actually did, to where I am now – I just didn’t imagine it would turn out to be the fabulous journey it has been. From ensuring everybody gets a card and cake on their birthday to counting newts and bats with our Ecology team, I’m passionate about supporting all our staff and helping steer them towards an exciting and dynamic future.
There’s still so much I’d like do at James Blake – to learn more about CAD for example, and go out on tree surveys. I completely value the need to stay fresh in my role, to keep learning, and moving forward. Whenever I pick up the phone, I intend to be that forever sunshine voice, but perhaps more importantly, to stay informed. It’s essential that we offer all our valued clients the best service possible.
I’m extremely proud of my history and my position at James Blake. It’s a fantastic company to work for – we really are like family. If I can continue to grow in my position, remain a good role model, and serve the company well, then I will stay happy. My children gave me a card which congratulated me on my 20 years, and part of what they wrote included the words ‘you always give 110%’. That truly captured who I am, and I’m proud to say James Blake Associates will always get my 110%.”