Heléna Holt: Chief Executive, Devon Air Ambulance

Heléna Holt: Chief Executive, Devon Air Ambulance

Biggest professional achievement to date?

This is hard because most are down to the efforts of the team.  Before returning to Devon though, I was running a small charity that ran a basic accessible playground in East London. The council earmarked the site for housing and gave notice on the lease.  It was the only accessible play area in a densely populated deprived neighbourhood. I had to quickly develop a new vision for the site, canvass local support, lobby councillors for planning permission and then run a large capital appeal to build a properly equipped adventure play area, two outdoor sports pitches, community centre and sports hall. It was hair raising at times. The nature of the funding meant that cash flow kept me awake at night. It was great to revisit it a few years ago and see some of the children I knew, now there as youth leaders. 

Most profound business moment?

Probably the day I heard I’d secured the first big grant towards building the youth and community centre and there was no going back. The project was hugely challenging for me. There was no leadership team to draw support from. I had to go a long way out of my comfort zone and deal with a lot of setbacks and failures. I’m a much more resilient person because of it. 

Best life advice ever received?

Early on my mum said to me “You can only do your best.  What’s the worst that could happen?”  It’s always good to stand back and put things in perspective. 

Advice for a young woman stepping into the world from school, college or uni?

Don’t be afraid to try something if you’re not sure you can do it. Do your best and you can fail with honour and learn from your mistakes. It’s good to learn from other people’s too, but that’s much harder as you won’t have their insight into what went wrong! 

Which book has had the greatest influence on your life?

I’ve always loved, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee,  for its warmth and insight into how we learn to fear or embrace difference; not just visible differences like race, but the invisible differences illustrated in the character of Boo Radley.  Children whose fears are reinforced, grow up to be fearful adults. Fear is a root cause of prejudice against people who are other than ourselves and what is familiar. 

If you could make one change to the world?

If I had a magic wand, I’d introduce free, flexible, universal education for every child. There would be no politically contrived targets. It would be play and exploration based for young children and introduce  project and team based learning as they get older, nurturing independent thinking, flexibility and creativity. 

The most influential woman in your life?

How to choose when I can think of many?  My sister has probably been my biggest inspiration.  She’s had to live with chronic asthma all her life and I’ve lost count of the times she has been rushed to hospital.  It’s terrifying to witness, so how much harder to go through, yet she never lets it stop her from living life to the full every time she is back on her feet. She is brave, funny and sharp as a whip. She works hard, plays hard and says what she thinks.  We laugh a lot!

What does 2018 hold for you?

This year I’m looking forward to rolling out our digital strategy and congratulating the first group of our paramedics when they complete their MSc’s in Pre-Hospital Critical Care, Retrieval and Transfer. 

Heartfelt belief?

We can only change ourselves, our own behaviour and how we perceive and communicate with others.  If you want someone else to change, you have to think about what you can change to inspire them to follow. 

“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity” Amelia Earhart

Video From The Celebration




100 Most Influential Women 2018

Grow Exeter Magazine launched the ‘100 Most Influential Women 2018’ in Exeter and the region in December 2017 and we received around 500 nominations for influential women from all walks of life; our panel was spoilt for choice and hard-pressed to select only 100 from the talented nominees that they viewed.  The Launch of the ‘100 Most Influential Women’ awards in 2018 has perhaps even more value than in any other year as it was just 100 years ago that the first woman was granted the right to vote in the UK.

Women have truly shown that they can shine in any environment, whether that be in the boardroom, teaching our children, climbing mountains, navigating uncharted waters, they can do anything that they set their mind to and we can’t wait to celebrate our own talented 100.

Honouring women in our March edition of Grow Exeter falls in line with International Women’s Day on the 8th March and the 100 finalists will also be featured in this special edition. To see the 100 finalists individually featured, please grab a copy of our March edition by pre-ordering through the link below. We will be publishing each woman online throughout March so watch our Facebook page or the website for their stories.

A huge congratulations to everyone nominated and to the finalists, you are all amazing!


March Edition ‘Women in Business’ – AVAILABLE NOW!





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