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The first six months

24th June 2020

Appointed in December 2019, the first six months of Kate Willard’s tenure as Thames Estuary Envoy have been played out against the backdrop of the General Election, Brexit and the pandemic. Despite those challenges, Kate is ready to lead the Thames Estuary Growth board, deliver their action plan, ‘The Green Blue’ and drive good growth for the region.


What did you set out to do in your role as Envoy?

Right at the beginning, I laid out a set of five criteria for what we would do. And, as importantly, what we wouldn’t do. 

  1. We will add value and not duplicate. It’s a waste of everyone’s time when there are too many fingers in too many pies. 
  2. We expect to be held to account. This Board and this Envoy are backed by government and have a real responsibility to deliver. 
  3. We will bring clarity and brilliance, cutting through the fluff and becoming a single voice for the aspirations for the Estuary. 
  4. We will lead by listening. There are lots of good and great voices to be heard.
  5. We know that this is all about people. It is about business across the Estuary and the businesses and investors who will want to come here. It is about the people who live here and the people who visit. These businesses and communities need to feel that things getting better, and that the Estuary is a better place because of the work the Board does and the things we make happen.


How have people reacted to you as Envoy for the Thames Estuary?

I’m not really at full volume yet (which may surprise some people!), but the politicians on the Board love it because it means I can act independently when it’s useful and sensible. And where there are things which are politically complicated or sensitive, the Envoy can act with agility and sometimes say those difficult things – those hard truths – which are challenging. 

The business people I’ve worked with so far have welcomed the ability I have to act with speed to deliver results very quickly. Speed for businesses is really important. When things get blocked, it can make or break investment. As the Envoy, I can make quick decisions without needing to go back and ask the Board to approve a certain course of action. I can pick up the phone and get stuff moving. 

Perhaps the Envoy is one of those beautiful – and rare – things that has universal appeal; welcomed both by politicians and businesses!


Can you explain what the role of the Thames Estuary Growth Board is?

The Board isn’t about talking, it’s about doing. Nothing is going to be as powerful as people seeing what we’re doing and understanding the impact of it being done. Our Action Plan – which is launching in mid-July – is hugely important for us. It sets out our road map. But, we are doing stuff already. For example, we have been working with a developer who needed our help to get an investment over the line. We helped. It worked. 


What have been the highlights so far?

There are a number, but I want to focus on one that is so, so important to our success. 

When I was first appointed, there was a Board in existence with representatives from North Kent, East London and South Essex, and it was very clear that they were representing their respective patches. Recently, however, we had to put a panel together with Board members to support the recruitment process to find our private sector members. When I spoke to the Board, I said, “do we need to have geographical representation?” and the Board came back as one voice and said: “nope, we are the Thames Estuary Growth Board, we are the Estuary”. 

That, for me, was a real arm in the air, fist-punching moment. That this Board sees itself as The Thames Estuary and they are proud of that is real progress. This really helps to underpin our capability and deliver on our aspirations. It was a real highlight and a great nod to those slightly jaded voices who have consistently said that the politicians wouldn’t come together to make this work. You know what, they have….


What has been the greatest challenge?

I’m seeing challenges as a great thing. My head buzzes with the unique opportunities that we have here in the Estuary to help our local, regional and national economies to grow and flourish and blossom in a dazzling way. To challenge isn’t negative. Challenge drives us, it is our engine.


What successes can you point to so far?

We have made some great progress on key set-up. There is some brilliant work happening around communications because it’s one thing to do great things, but we need to make sure the right people know about it! There is also excellent work happening on recruiting our private sector members. 

Getting the groundwork and solid foundations laid is so important. That’s why we’re not doing ‘same old’ here unless the same old is the best thing. We are doing ‘let’s get the job done’. 


What do you hope to have achieved by Christmas?

I would like to have landed a strong, irresistible and charismatic brand for the Thames Estuary nationally and internationally. A brand that is the place that people are talking about. A place people want to know more about, go to, be part of, hang out, live, do business, invest, and all the rest of it. And we want to be the people they want to work with.   

One of my measures of success will be when I am standing in the pub (a dream in itself, right now!) and I overhear them say: “have you seen what those Thames Estuary guys are doing, they’re amazing – and do you know what, they are fabulous to work with too”.

We are going to do some brilliant stuff. And we can’t wait for you to be part of it.


If you have a question for Kate Willard or would like to get in touch about our action plan, please visit the Contact page. We would love to hear from you.