A cup of tea with Operations Manager Luke Bowyer

Two Sides; The Visit - Tea - Lizzie Coombes

The engine room at the Irene Taylor Trust is kept running on a day to day basis by our Operations Manager, Luke Bowyer. Luke has overall responsibility for a number of different areas of the Trust’s work including finance and communications and is the grand master of multitasking. Read on to find out how he manages it… interview by Artistic Director Sara Lee.

ITT: Hello Luke. As the biggest tea drinker in the office, the title of this article is very appropriate for you. Which is your tea of preference? And a biscuit too, if you like. This is just to help us build a picture of you before we read your answers.  

Luke Bowyer, Operations ManagerI’m not fancy; it’s usually Tetley, though I tend to switch to peppermint late afternoon. My biscuit of choice is a dark chocolate digestive. So now you know.

ITT: You have been with the organisation for 8 years now. How has your job role changed and developed over this period?

Well, I’m on my third job title! One of the interesting things about being part of a small team is that you can’t be pernickety about job descriptions; every day brings new challenges, and someone will have to work out how to handle whatever it is… so over the years I’ve picked up quite a variety of unexpected skills. I started out as ‘Administrator’, then became ‘Projects Manager’ before arriving at the title ‘Operations Manager’. In my time I’ve done all sorts of random things – it’s great fun!

ITT: What is it about the work that draws you to it?

I’m very aware of the importance of having creative outlets in my own life, for my sense of self, my mental health, for the sheer wonderful pleasure of it. It saddens me that not everyone gets exposed to and encouraged to explore creative opportunities – and what I see so often in our work is people being inspired, getting excited, and finding something new in themselves and the world from making music. It’s beautiful.

When I talk to my teacher friends, I get really scared about what’s happening in our education system. I’m horrified that increasingly the arts are being seen as add-ons, rather than a vital part of everyone’s development and education. It scares me that we’re heading for a situation where the arts are not easily accessible for all. It feels like we’re needed now more than ever.

ITT: What has been the most moving moment you have witnessed since working with the Trust?

There have been so many, from attending my first Music in Prisons gig, to hearing Nick’s amazing arrangements for our A Bigger Sound collaborative project with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Rideout, to watching our Sounding Out band Platform 7 take to the stage of a sold-out Bush Hall, to just about every Music in Prisons and Making Tracks performance I’ve been to…

Beyond This DVD cover_Ian PlaterBut one that really stands out was our New Music 20×12 commission by PRS for Music Foundation for the Cultural Olympiad, working with Mark-Anthony Turnage and a group of men at HMP Lowdham Grange. We’d had to name the 12-minute piece on the original application, before having any idea what kind of thing it might be! After a lot of brainstorming in the office, we went with ‘Beyond This’, which was one of my suggestions.

I got a lift up to Nottinghamshire with one of our trustees, Peter Renshaw. The prison was very welcoming of all our guests for the performance, and had laid on a good spread – but I always get very nervous before our shows. So much work goes into making our projects happen; months of development and fundraising applications, then months of careful planning. It’s always a relief when it all comes together – and it always does, because our project team are so brilliant – but sometimes it’s particularly special, and sitting in the gym at HMP Lowdham Grange for the premiere of ‘Beyond This’ was one of those moments.

It’s one of my favourite pieces of music we’ve created. Possibly more than a year earlier we’d chosen a name for a piece that didn’t exist; and suddenly it emerged, at first simple and subtle, growing in strength and confidence, becoming joyful and heartfelt, then taking a turn to something sad, heart-wrenching, mournful, then calming down, rationalising, fading out serenely.

Accompanied by the film that Lizzie Coombes and Andy Wood created, I still find it utterly beautiful, devastating, optimistic, invigorating… I’m really proud to have played some small part in it.

ITT: Tell us about the events which led to you sprinting around Athens airport, attempting to retrieve 3 criminal justice colleagues’ luggage before it was put on the wrong plane…

Sara and I had been in Greece for a European best practice project Moveable Barres, when the famous Icelandic volcano caused chaos by spurting out a load of ash. Flights were cancelled left, right and centre. The reporting of it at the time was hysterical; no one had any idea how long it would last. So we had teamed up with two other Britain-bound colleagues and planned a 3-day trek home, involving a flight to Rome, trains, a ferry and more trains. While waiting at the airport, a flight to London was suddenly announced; one our travel companions jumped on it and managed to sweet-talk all four of us onto it. We had all of a few minutes to check in.

Unfortunately, the luggage was already on its way to the Rome destined aeroplane. Even more unfortunately, as we were travelling together and my surname was first alphabetically, it had all been put in my name. Ironically, I was the only one of the four who had only hand-luggage. And with even less fortune, as my name was on all three suitcases, they would only let me go into the special enormous room to try to retrieve them.

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Arriving back in the UK

It was like a nightmare version of the Crystal Maze. I was running around like a lunatic trying to find the right person to ask, the right carousel to peruse; then I had to actually find the unfamiliar suitcases amongst all the others, so I was frantically peering at labels… and finally, I had to run with three suitcases the length of the enormous space to where Sara was waiting to help.

We made it to check in with 30 seconds to spare. I was hero of the hour and incredibly sweaty.

ITT: What are your passions outside work? 

I’m an avid consumer of stories in many forms – books, theatre, tv, radio, cinema – and I write my own too. I love seeing live music. I’m an intermittent baker and gardener.

ITT: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given? Did you take it?!

There’s a song ‘Treat Yourself With Kindness’ by Brighton band Clearlake with lyrics that really struck a chord. It’s a reflection of ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ for people who are sometimes kinder to others than to themselves – it’s important to look after and be kind to yourself too.

And – I’m working on it!

ITT: Thanks Luke; duly noted! Let’s watch Beyond This!

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