Fifteen to One | Ann Allen

From shaping the future vision for our amazing campus to focusing on delivering net zero by 2030, Ann Allen’s role at Leeds is as diverse as it is central to the University’s strategy and values.

Ann Allen, the University’s Director of Campus Innovation and Development

Fifteen to One | Ann Allen. January 2023

Appointed Director of Campus Innovation and Development in May last year, Ann is leading on the development of a re-imagined ‘smart and sustainable campus’ to support a new digital model for higher education. 

Key priorities for this ambitious blueprint are to offer opportunities for an exceptional student experience, provide first-class facilities for research and external collaborations, and meet the best possible sustainability standards.

In our latest Fifteen to One Q&A feature, Ann reveals the thinking behind this exciting project and where she draws her inspiration from. 

Can you describe your role in 100 words?

As Director of Campus Innovation and Development, I head up the Facilities Directorate (FD), which comprises five areas: Estates and Facilities, Residential (student accommodation), Commercial (including Sport, Conferencing and Catering), Sustainability and Business Support. It’s a diverse service, full of talented and experienced people, and I’m keen that we work together as one directorate, sharing great ideas that continuously improve our services. Everything we do is underpinned by the University’s strategy and values.

How have your first few months been since joining the University?

Fascinating! A clear focus has been starting to understand the diversity of work undertaken within each faculty and how FD can support them. Within the FD, it was clear a lot of colleagues had made tremendous efforts during the pandemic years, and one of my first priorities was to make sure people took time out during the summer. Since then, we’ve been looking at how the FD, its culture and ways of working can support the University. This year, we’re particularly focused on delivering net zero by 2030 and shaping the future vision for our amazing campus.  

What’s really impressed you about Leeds?

The ambition and the bravery of the University. The desire to act differently, to truly work in collaboration and to value our communities, as this is how I want to approach how we reimagine the campus.

What question have you most frequently been asked in your new role?

What do I actually do, as the title of Director of Campus Innovation and Development doesn’t automatically link to leading the Facilities Directorate. I love the title, as I want us to think about the campus and the services we deliver in new and innovative ways. 

What are you most looking forward to working on?

Reimagining the campus will take time but will be a fascinating programme. The challenges will be how we maintain some of our older buildings, which need significant investment, and how we achieve net zero by 2030.

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

A huge inspiration has been working with communities who shape their own places. I love the concept of place making, which encourages communities to lead on transforming the spaces they live and work in. It’s a process of creation centred on people and their needs, aspirations, desires and visions, and can be highly inclusive. 

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

On a personal level, I’m really proud that as a family we’ve planted more than 3,000 native trees in the past 15 years, so doing our small bit to help biodiversity. On a professional level, I was amazed when I was awarded the MBE. It was special as it was a way of recognising the work of the whole team at the University of Glasgow and included specific reference for work in diversity. I’m very passionate about improving diversity in the property and construction industry. 

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

Two things: firstly, everyone gets things wrong but the important thing is to learn from this; secondly, it’s my career and I can take ownership and determine who I want to be and how I want my career to run. 

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

I think it would always have been focused on the property industry and place making; thinking about how people use the places and spaces they live in to create the communities they want.

What are your campus highlights so far?

Seeing students back on campus as they brought a life and a vitality that had been missing. Starting to get to know colleagues across the FD, professional services and the faculties. Being constantly impressed by the work of the FD, from new buildings like the Esther Simpson or the Bragg Centre to attending the planting of the first trees at Gair Wood

Have you found a favourite location on campus?

I love the peace and quiet of places like St George’s Field, however the most stimulating idea is that I can walk out of the office and have a diversity of places to visit, from the bustle of the LUU to the peace of the Sustainable Garden or the biodiversity of the Roger Stevens pond. All of these help me with my own wellbeing.

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

Lots! I still have to visit many of our buildings and our residences. I love the diversity of spaces, like our cafes, and I want to make sure I get to more of them. What’s clear is that our students, staff and visitors are well served by the different locations and the quality on offer. 

What do you do to relax away from University life?

I’m very conventional. I love walking and gardening, and in the summer you will see me still in the vegetable garden, even when it’s dark. I also love cooking and I’m happiest when the house is full of people and I’m in the kitchen feeding the hoards!

Where’s your favourite travel destination and why?

I’m useless at choosing a favourite. We went to Alaska a few years ago and I loved it – the wide open spaces were incredible. It reminded me of the highlands and islands of Scotland. Closer to home, if I have an opportunity to get into the Dales or the North York Moors, then I know I will always come back feeling far more relaxed.

What’s your random claim to fame?

I don’t really have any. I’m too busy enjoying what I am doing to think about life in that way!

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