Castlederg woman about to embark on another ‘massive adventure’
Thursday, 9 March 2017
CASTLEDERG native, Deborah Maxwell, has this week embarked on what she has described as another 'massive adventure' - taking charge of one of the most famous mansion houses in the UK.
She spent her final day as manager of the Omagh Leisure Centre in the middle of the hustle and bustle of two election counts for much of last Friday, while still making sure the facility ran as smooth as ever, with the help of stand-in manager, George Beacom, better known as the manager of the Bawnacre Centre in Irvinestown.
This week the popular and affable Deborah takes up the position of general manager at Lyme Park which is near the town of Disley, Stockport, Cheshire. The facility is managed by the National Trust, is the largest in Cheshire and is recorded in the National Heritage list for England as a designated Grade One listed building.
In fact Lyme Park and its hall have been used in several films and television programmes. The exterior of the hall was used as Pemberley, the seat of Mr Darcy in the 1995 BBC adaptation of Jane Austen's novel, 'Pride and Prejudice'.
Deborah has enjoyed an interesting and varied career in the leisure management, which has seen her go from one side of the Atlantic to the other via Canada, the Czech Republic, Lough Derg and Omagh!
She was working at a facility in the town of Golden, in south eastern British Columbia, Canada, as an executive director of a not-for-profit agency, before returning home for a most unusual and challenging assignment - at the Lough Derg pilgrimage site.
Deborah was the first ever manager appointed in the 1,500 year history of Lough Derg. She described her 12 years there as "an amazing experience".
Lough Derg lies about four miles north of Pettigo just over the border in County Donegal. Station Island, the location of the pilgrimage, is often referred to as Saint Patrick's Purgatory or simply Lough Derg.
"Lough Derg was run by monks and priests of various orders over its history. I was working in Canada at the time I got the job and interviewed initially over the phone and stranger again because of the fact I was a woman ...and a Presbyterian!
"I was at home that Christmas and saw the ad for it. It was vague in that it only said the position was for that of a manager at a visitor attraction site in Co. Donegal. I was thinking of coming home because my dad had just passed away and, as Donegal was not too far away from home, I thought I'd give it a go.
"I never thought any more of it until I got a call. I knew very little about it apart from what friends had told me. Anyway, it was an amazing time to be there and they really wanted the place opened up and had a vision for it. I've always thought it would be very difficult to ever find something like it again."
After finished up there she worked for a spell with the Czech FA helping to set up an international football tournament and a period she could only describe as "interesting".
Having studied leisure management at university and having worked in the Omagh centre during work experience as a 16-year-old when at Omagh Academy, returning to work at Omagh Leisure Centre was a case of coming the full circle.
She began work there as manager just before it opened again after major upgrading and modernising in July 2014. She joined in March - three years ago last week - and, as well as helping with the opening itself, she was also involved in restructuring operations there.
"It was a very short time frame to get a half finished, half empty building ready. It was hectic but we got through. We've now got a throughput of almost 400,000 which is up on previous figures and a membership which has gone from 500 to 1,800. We've a good team here with hundreds of years of experience, a great combination of age and experience and young energy and you need that when you're starting again. I've seen Omagh Leisure Centre go from a building site to hosting an election count. In fact this is the third since I've been here."
Her journey to her new job began shortly after she left Lough Derg. She had applied for a job with the National Trust then and got it, but decided not to take up the post. Then one day late last year as she was the Trust website to get information about membership when she scrolled over and looked at the jobs page.
"I clicked and saw a position for general manager at Lyme Park, Disley, Cheshire, and uploaded my profile and never thought any more about it. I went to India just before Christmas and got an e-mail after a couple of days from the National Trust inviting me for an interview. I told them I was in India and wished them all the best with their recruitment process. I had just arrived back in Belfast after 20-something hours travelling when I got another phone call from the Trust saying they were still interested. We had a telephone interview a few days later and following further interviews and tests, I got the job"
From this week on Deborah will be based at Lyme House which sits on the edge of the Peak District against a backdrop of sweeping moorland and with extensive views across Manchester and the Cheshire Plain. The house is renowned for its elegant interiors and beautiful gardens. The 1,300 acre estate with its medieval herd of red and fallow deer offers fantastic walks and stunning views. She added the place reminded her a little of Lough Derg with its wonderful spirit.
As general manager Deborah will be involved in many of the facility's activities including conservation, tourism, educational, directing a staff of 75 and more when they take on casuals in the summer time not to mention some 700 volunteers - the biggest volunteer site in the UK.
"It's a massive adventure and I'm up for it," she said.
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