Living from the Heart – Harry Wild
Interview by Tracey Duke, Photography by Nick Hook.
Harry Wild is a woman with a purpose. Passionate about food, sustainability and social development, she’s dynamic, gutsy and certainly not afraid to make a difference.
A self-confessed foodie with a heart, the founder of Go Wild Communications, is a firm favourite when it comes to getting the message out there. With solid experience after working for the Eden Project, River Cottage and as PR Director for Michelin starred chef Paul Ainsworth, her impressive list of clients boast names such as Good Game and The Deer Park Hotel and through Raw PR she works with Salcombe Gin, Luscombe Drinks & The Venus Company to name a few.
I caught up with her at our Exeter offices to talk gumption, loving your work and staying true to purpose.
Harry, I’ve been so looking forward to this chat; I’m fascinated that, for one so young, you have an incredibly rich history of working with some amazing clients. Let’s kick things off with your proudest achievement to date. What is it that you can look back on and think; yeah I really nailed that one?
Thank you, Tracey! The thing I’d have to say I’m most proud of actually came from a volunteering project. I heard about the Eden Project’s Big Lunch initiative to encourage street parties up and down the UK and thought it sounded like a marvelous idea, so I decided to throw a street party in Wadebridge, where I lived. The day was tremendous – the first year saw a thousand people celebrate together, but each year it grew and grew. I loved the idea of throwing a party for no reason. No strings. No agenda. It was simply to get everyone together to have lunch and have fun.
I love being the hostess and having people around for dinner. When one day someone suggested hosting a street party, I jumped at it and decided to host the Wadebridge Big Lunch, in my home town. I was already interested in rallying up community spirit; my family has a health food business in Wadebridge, which has become a community hub.
I set to work brainstorming and planning the party. I was 21 at the time and I had no money to promote the event. I needed to think creatively to spread the word as much as possible without having any budget; talking to as many people as possible who could help along the way. I could hear my mum in the back of my mind saying, ‘If you don’t ask, you don’t get.’ Together with some clever arty friends, we took over the graffiti wall to spray a huge invitation for the town. On the run-up to the lunch, I ran a make-shift stall on the high street on Saturdays and asked shoppers to help decorate the banquet tablecloth through jokes, messages and colourful hand-prints. I worked with local schools, Scouts and Brownies, and got as many community organisations on-board to get involved.
In addition to posters, banners, newspapers and radio, I relied on social media to bring people together; from inviting people to help blow up balloons with me, to finding jugglers and musicians. Back in the early days of Twitter, it was incredible to see the power of social media for the good, in action. The lunch itself was such an amazing, happy day, bringing the whole community together.
I was working at the Eden Project at the time in digital marketing. It’s a simple thing, but there’s a huge wall of fridge magnets where you can write messages to each other. It’s used as a back drop for photos and so every morning I’d go down and write ‘Wadebridge Big Lunch 5th July’ to promote it there. It worked and it got attention.
The first street party gave such me a buzz for communications, especially after studying all the theory of marketing at university and doing my Chartered Institute of Marketing Diploma. Once you know how to build a community, share messages and engage with an audience; the possibilities are endless. I knew very early on that this was something that I wanted to continue doing in my career.
So that was your first stepping stone into what you’re doing now with Go Wild Communications?
When I realised that I could successfully pull off something so impactful in my spare time, it opened the door for so many other exciting opportunities; all of which gave me a sense of purpose.
With a belly full of community spirit, I wanted to roll up my sleeves and do more to help shape the town. So, at 22 I became a Town Councillor. Just like the essence of marketing, being a councilor was about listening to people so you can meet their needs and wants in the best way possible.
I co-founded a Youth Council while I was there, bringing young people with a voice together. Whilst they couldn’t vote, they would come along to full council meetings to listen, contribute and learn from each other. I learnt a lot about planning issues during that time and how to pull strings within the community.
From here, I then got involved with Love Wadebridge; a campaign which was brought about by two supermarkets wanting to build on the edge of town; something that would have caused all kinds of problems for local businesses. Instead of creating a negative campaign about why we didn’t want retail giants coming to the edge of town, we worked hard to make Wadebridge a better place to live; full of entertainment in the street, we hosted regular community events and plenty of live music evenings. This fortified us as a town of small independent traders and made us more resilient to external competition. We also succeeded in defending the impending supermarket planning – at the time, at least.
I get the impression Harry that you’re really not afraid to ruffle feathers for something you believe in. That’s something I hugely admire.
Absolutely! I crave being out of my comfort zone, whether that’s giving a talk to hundreds of people, or taking part on a radio show, or persuading people through lobbying.
That’s impressive, but something many people steer away from; wanting to please more so than ignite healthy debate. Tell me what it is that has scared you the most in life; that has led to the greatest growth?
I was a co-founding director of Wadebridge Renewable Energy Network (WREN) to promote a low carbon economy; promoting micro energy generation, solar panels and wind turbines, which is a diverse and controversial topic. As part of my role, I gave talks and worked with schools and organisations to promote our objectives. Knowledge is power, so I immersed myself in the subject to gain confidence.
I was so far out of my comfort zone but I also found myself craving the adrenaline that you get when you challenge yourself. There are times when I just wanted the world to swallow me up, but at the same time thinking ‘come on let’s do this’! I think that if something both excites and scares you at the same time, it’s a good thing. Sometimes you need to jump in head first and make that change for the better.
I love how gutsy you are. It takes confidence and a real passion to stand up and be heard.
My work and volunteering projects have all served a purpose; they’ve either been a cause for change or have had a positive impact in some way. I’ve needed to be gutsy through lobbying, or educating or questioning. I was inspired by reading The Body Shop founder, Anita Roddick’s books – she taught me that it all comes down to having gumption in spades and that activism isn’t such a scary word. Nowadays, I regularly talk at Exeter University about ‘how to create the new norm’ and run a successful campaign.
So tell me; how are feeling about life right now?
To be honest, I feel more alive than I’ve ever felt; I absolutely love what I do. I’m incredibly lucky to get to do my dream job, mixing my expertise with a passion for food and drink. My clients are a pleasure to work with, which makes life much easier. Hope that doesn’t sound too smug…
Oh, I so get that! If you love your work, it’s almost like we have to play it down and mention the bad stuff too!
It’s true. I think maybe it’s a British thing that we don’t want to come across as being conceited and smug or complacent. But I’m not complacent. I never take it for granted and I’m always striving to do better.
But then, whose energy would you rather be in? I know for certain whom I would want to be around! It keeps coming back to whom we surround ourselves with. We are an accumulation of the five people we spend the most time with. Their energy will always rub off on us, either negatively or positively. Do you have a circle that you surround yourself with? A mentor group?
I’m so fortunate to have had fantastic mentors, throughout my career and personal life. That all stems from having parents who are assertive, push me and really challenge me.
Can I ask about your parents? How have they influenced you?
Well, 17 years ago, my parents had the crazy idea of setting up a health food shop and therapy centre. Within two weeks of having the idea, they sought the premise and opened Elixir Health’s doors. My dad, originally from Trinidad and one of eight children, worked by day as an English teacher in the local school, and by night he worked on Elixir’s e-commerce website. My mum brought her Norwegian ‘just get on with it’ practicality and ran the shop until my dad left his job in teaching to commit to the business. I’m so proud of everything they have achieved. They taught me that perseverance and passion with a good measure of hard work will get you far. They’ve always been amazingly encouraging and I really appreciate that now.
But I’ve also met other incredible people along the way; one man that made a huge difference to my life was Prof Stephen Frankel; a friend and Chairman of Wadebridge Renewable Energy Network. I wouldn’t be half the person I am today without his support and guidance. Aside from his incredible acumen, he also taught me that business doesn’t need to be cold, hard-nosed and all about the bottom line; profit doesn’t have to be monetary. And that it’s ok to form a campaign with love and positivity at the heart of it. At times, we can perceive caring and understanding to be feminine characteristics that don’t have a place in the boardroom and have to be brushed aside, which is just nonsense.
And that’s the thing; they don’t! It is actually ok to embrace our feminine nature and to be proud of it! As women, we bring something very important to the table and add a valuable dynamic to discussion and planning.
We do and it’s ok for men to embrace these traits too. When I worked at the Eden Project, Sir Tim Smit, another hero, used to give talks to the staff; he’d do the same talk three times, so that everyone, no matter their role, could make it. I used to go to every talk to hear the same words because I felt so lucky to hear him speak and wanted to soak up his inspiration. He talked a lot about beauty, love and ‘doing the right thing’. I’m sounding a bit hippyish here, but what he said made sense; you are allowed to care about your work.
And yes, it’s all about whom you surround yourself with. So many managers aren’t effective because they are so busy trying to squeeze every last drop of productivity from their staff, the hard way, whilst trying to stamp their authority. But you’re not going to get the same results from your staff and it’s not nearly as rewarding for them either. Valuing your team; leading with compassion and caring, will result in much bigger results all round.
I’ve been lucky enough to have some amazing bosses over the years who have nurtured and invested time in me. I also have incredible mentors; Mark Godfrey at the Deer Park being just one.
If you believe in your staff; if you empower and nurture them, you’ll create lifelong relationships that will reach far beyond the date they leave your business. You’ll get so much more than just an increased profit margin and that’s what really makes the difference all round.
Harry Wild is the Exeter based founder of Go Wild Communications specialising in food PR and digital marketing. You can follow her on Twitter @harrycornwall