Fifteen to One | James Wright

From delivering festive joy across campus every year to hosting teams for the Rugby League World Cup, the life of the University’s Senior Maintenance Manager is nothing if not varied!

James Wright is the University’s Senior Maintenance Manager

Although describing himself as a ‘Jack of all trades’, the difference is James Wright is a master of many.

In our latest Fifteen to One Q&A feature, James reveals the secrets to his success, from manoeuvring a 35ft Christmas tree into Beech Grove Plaza to how he ended up sitting in a taxi with one of the BBC’s most respected sports presenters.

Can you describe your role in 100 words?

Jack of all trades! I manage a diverse and extensive portfolio within my team. The external spaces and sports grounds team manages and maintains the external estate, including the main campus, Sports Park Weetwood, Sports Park Bodington, Gair Wood and Spen Farm. Within the team, we manage the large contracts that undertake planned and reactive maintenance across the residential, farms and off-campus sports and healthcare buildings. Management of the majority of our fleet of vehicles alongside pest control for the entire University completes the majority of the work the team undertakes.

How have you enjoyed your time at the University?

I’ve worked at the University for more than 11 years now. It’s amazing to see how the estate has developed over this time. Continued investment in new facilities has added to the student experience.

The residential estate currently consists of 146 buildings, both low-rise and high-rise, covering modern, traditional and heritage construction types. The buildings are of differing age, layout, type and construction detail. Work will also be carried out in conservation areas and to listed buildings.

What’s really impressed you about Leeds?

The size of the campus is amazing. Even having worked here for so long, I sometimes need to double check I’m going the right way! 

St George’s Field is a great space that some people may not even know exists. The history behind this space is even more impressive.

What are you most looking forward to working on?

Delivering the Gair Wood project and net zero targets across the estate and my portfolio of buildings. 

Is there something, or someone, that has inspired you in your career?

Todd Voss, Chief Operating Officer, Double Eagle Club in Galena, Ohio. Todd was my boss when I undertook an internship in America when I was 19. I had the pleasure of working under him for four years, understanding his management skills and work ethic. I’m still in touch with Todd, and I recently had the pleasure of showing him and his wife, Heidi, around the campus, including the University Christmas tree!

We all have that professional or personal achievement we’re incredibly proud of – can you tell us yours?

As we head into Christmas, the work the team has undertaken delivering festive joy to the entire University has been amazing. From installing and planning the logistics to manoeuvring the 35ft tree into Beech Grove Plaza and the 8ft tree into the Facilities Directorate (FD) building. It’s a challenge every year meeting everyone’s specific requirements, but I’m proud of how Sean Craven and the team delivered it this year as the campus returned to normal this winter.

The team also did a great job obtaining gold status and becoming a category winner at the Yorkshire in Bloom Awards this year. This involved collaboration with other areas of the FD.

What do you wish you’d known at the start of your career that you know now?

Take a step back, listen and look at the bigger picture. This is of significant importance in a senior management position. 

If you didn’t work in HE, what would have been your chosen career?

If I hadn’t worked in HE, I would have remained in golf course management. When I was younger, I aspired to be a pilot but reality set in with my rather weak eyesight!

What are your campus highlights so far?

I will try and list the top five:  

  • Being part of the delivery team that converted the sterile Roger Stevens pond into a location for urban wildlife… and a great spot for Instagram pictures!  
  • The BBC Test Match Special event that was broadcast live from Sports Park Weetwood.  
  • Hosting teams in the Rugby Union and Rugby League World Cups at Sports Park Weetwood and Sport Park Bodington. 
  • My team’s responsibility for bringing festive job to campus every December – it’s amazing to see how important this is and the global impact the Christmas tree in Beech Grove Plaza generates.

Have you found a favourite location on campus?

The University has such a broad and diverse campus, I struggle to select a favourite.  The views from Gair Wood across Leeds on a nice day, the quiet and tranquillity in St George’s Field or watching the ducks, fish and heron feel at home under the watchful eye of Hermes (the figure depicted in the bronze sculpture on the side of the Roger Stevens Building).

What’s still on your ‘to do’ list to visit?

I need to go up on a few more roofs and enjoy the excellent vistas across the city of Leeds!

What season do you most enjoy on campus and why?

I really enjoy Christmas on campus and the winter graduations. Seeing all the graduates and their friends and families mixing around the Christmas tree for the perfect picture. The tree helps bring people together and is a great focal point on campus.  

The work you undertake during the winter ensures the landscape looks its best for spring and summer. The team works hard in the last few weeks of the year and they fully deserve the time off with family and friends over Christmas.  

Following that, moving into spring as the bulbs emerge and provide colour to campus as we exit the long, cold, dark months of January and February. We’ve planted some additional bulbs this autumn – I’m looking forward seeing how they establish in the spring.

What do you do to relax away from University life?

I enjoy getting out on my bike and seeing the great sites we have in Yorkshire and beyond. I’m looking forward to a 50-mile ride around North Yorkshire next week, which hopefully won’t be too cold!

Where’s your favourite travel destination and why?

I like going back to Columbus, Ohio, to see how the city has changed but also to share the experiences I had with my children.  

What’s your random claim to fame?

I sat in a taxi with BBC Sport presenter, Mark Clemmit, on the way to the Grounds Management Association Awards in November.

Further information

Check out our past Fifteen to One Q&A features, including:

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