Will this Kane be able to rescue Alexandra Palace?
PUBLISHED: 09:23 24 December 2008 | UPDATED: 15:44 07 September 2010
Earlier this month, Rebecca Kane left her five-year job as operations director at English Heritage to become managing director of the troubled Alexandra Palace trading company. She speaks to Robyn Rosen about the move, surviving her first two weeks and he
Earlier this month, Rebecca Kane left her five-year job as operations director at English Heritage to become managing director of the troubled Alexandra Palace trading company. She speaks to Robyn Rosen about the move, surviving her first two weeks and her plans for the future of the controversial venue.
Rebecca Kane has high hopes for Ally Pally. Her enthusiasm for the Muswell Hill palace is hard to hide and just two weeks into the job, the bright eyed and bushy tailed 33-year-old believes she can transform the troubled site, though it won't be easy. "We've got a big challenge," she admits early on in the interview.
Ms Kane is no newcomer to tough ventures. After graduating from Cambridge with a history degree in 1997, she launched herself straight into the working world and joined English Heritage just a week later.
"English Heritage appealed because of the history links," she said. "I'd also organised the May balls at Cambridge and understood how to run events in historic venues. English Heritage allowed me to marry that background with a commercial outlook. So it was really an obvious choice."
During her first stint at English Heritage (she would return six years later) she worked as an operational planning manager, opening properties to the public. During this time, she launched Eltham Palace in Greenwich and Darwin's home, Down House, in Kent.
But after two years, the large projects started thinning out and Ms Kane wanted to improve her commercial experience. She moved to the London Tourist Board where she worked for another two years, helping on Millennium projects.
Eventually, she got itchy feet and moved again, this time even further afield. In 2002, she uprooted to Rome, beginning a new language and career path, teaching English for a year. But in 2003 she decided to return to London and back to English Heritage.
"I went back because I had never worked anywhere where there was such a passion for what an organisation was trying to achieve," she said.
"There had been a huge change in English Heritage and it had become a good business outlet."
This time around Ms Kane became the operations director, responsible for 12 London sites. During her five years, her top achievements included securing the licence to bring the Kenwood concerts series back in 2008 after a year's absence and installing a new management team to improve the business and customer service aspects.
Ms Kane was approached to join Ally Pally's trading company earlier this year. She said: "A lot of the work I had done on Kenwood was relevant to the new job, such as working in a residential area with a widely- used venue in people's back yards, and striking a balance bet-ween getting on with the locals and making a business work."
But despite her extensive knowledge of London heritage sites, she admits knowing very little about Ally Pally previously.
"I had been to the fireworks and that was it," she said. "I had a little bit of knowledge of it and knew it had some value and something to do with the BBC.
"And that's the same with many people. I had heard so many different things about it before, people remembering watching horse races there, others taking their law exams in the great hall years ago, but no one was really sure of what the venues does now."
And this is just one of many problems the 135-year-old palace has encountered, the most recent being the Walklate Report - a damning review published in September criticising the weak governance regime, poor staff performance, lack of financial understanding and poor communication at the palace as a result of the failed deal with developers, Firoka.
As managing director of the trading company, Ms Kane is responsible for all commercial activity within the site. Any profits generated are given to the charitable trust, which is responsible for the maintenance of the building.
And how will this revenue be produced?
"Investment on a large scale," she promptly answers. "The palace has got to raise its game. We need a strong calendar of events bringing people in and we must make sure we engage with the local community."
Much to the delight of campaigners, Ms Kane also plans to reopen the theatre ("No one even knows there is a 2,000 seat Victorian theatre that's not open to the public there"), create more bars and host more concerts, plays and comedy nights.
"Kenwood doesn't have all the hidden gems Alexandra Palace has," she added.
One of Ms Kane's largest challenges will be not just restoring a run-down building which is hardly in use, but also the public's confidence in a site shrouded in controversy.
"The trading company has been invigorated and we have new confidence with new appointments - and we have been trading profitably for the last 12 months," she goes on. "Consultation and communication is something I am a huge advocate of. A lesson we have learnt is to talk to people, the clients and stakeholders."
Ms Kane believes that, after years of troubles, her new outlook will bring change.
"We've got a fantastic opportunity to start a fresh conversation about where this building will go and that's really exciting," she said.
"We're looking at rebranding and how to sell ourselves better. Another challenge is making sure people out there know what we can offer. It's a travesty when it's empty and we want people coming here day in day out, with events happening back-to-back."
She hopes that in 10 years time, the palace will be a bustling centre of events, filled with tourists and visitors. "This has got to be a living and relevant venue, not just a fond memory," she said.
One thing is clear: Ms Kane has a lot of work to do to achieve what she has set out. But she's not worried. "I like a challenge," she adds. "And I'm not intending to go anywhere."
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