An interview with the new Home Bursar

Ian Wright took up the role of Home Bursar in February, taking over from James Bennett who retired in autumn 2020. We asked him a few questions about him and his experience at Catz so far.

What did you do before joining Catz?

I served in the Royal Air Force for 21 years, undertaking many tours in several roles across the UK and in a few choice locations overseas, mainly in infrastructure, personnel and executive roles, but covering the complete range of support responsibilities.  I undertook an Executive MBA during my Service, and then decided that it was time to start the next chapter in my life, whilst achieving some stability for the family, and so I retired in 2012.  My last tour was in an educationally-focussed role as Chief of Staff of a scheme looking after 350 students at the Defence Sixth Form College and a further 480 undergraduate bursars, and that coupled with involvement with school governance, really did cement my desire to work in an educational environment.  I saw an advert for the Head of Administration and Finance in the Department of Earth Sciences at Oxford, and thought that was destiny – my undergraduate degree was in Geology/Petroleum Geology.  I then had a fantastic 7 years running all the support elements in the Department in the very devolved structure in the University.

What attracted you to the role of Home Bursar at Catz?

I had thoroughly enjoyed my time in the Department of Earth Sciences, and getting involved in various committees and initiatives in the wider University, but had harboured ambitions towards a bursarial role and joining the fellowship of a college.  I was instantly attracted to the opportunity at Catz, given its unique situation and architecture, the scale of the role, and its reputation as a high-achieving yet friendly and inclusive college.

What does a Home Bursar do?

The Home Bursar is of course a Fellow and Trustee of the College, and that is a very important responsibility.  It is a very broad role leading and delivering the domestic support in support of the academic objectives of the College, so my responsibilities include catering, hard and soft facilities management, personnel, IT, and conferencing, all of course in liaison with the other Fellows, staff and the student body.  I also have to ensure safety, data protection, environmental considerations, and a whole range of regulatory compliance.  The job is hugely varied, and the routine swings from the strategic one minute, to getting right down ‘in the weeds’ the next, sometimes quite literally, as the gardens also feature in the responsibilities!

What are your priorities for the College over the next few years?

There is lots of work to do on infrastructure as I am very conscious of my charge as a guardian of a very special place, and not just because the buildings and gardens are in part Grade 1 listed; of course infrastructure work is always balanced against available funds, which are inevitably limited, especially in this immediate post-COVID era. We have two significant projects currently underway: one to replace the boilers and other plant following a catastrophic flood just before I arrived; and the second to replace the Hall ceiling which has reached the end of its life.  We are working up projects involving the Library and Master’s Lodgings, and this summer we will also start upgrading the WiFi, and the Audio Visual equipment in conferencing, teaching and meeting rooms to allow us to ‘work smarter’, and compete in the conferencing market.  The latter has taken a significant hit during COVID-19, and rebuilding the conferencing business, and updating and improving the offer, is critical to the future of the College. Finally, one day, I have an ambition to get all the slabs nice and level, as I am sure that everyone associated with Catz will have fond memories of uneven slabs in the Jacobsen Quad.

We also have significant responsibilities to ensure that everything that we do is balanced against the impact on the environment, is as sustainable as we can make it, and encourages biodiversity, and we have lots of ideas on how to improve on the already impressive credentials in these areas.

What do you see as the main upcoming challenge for the College?

Rebuilding for everyone after some pretty torrid times faced by all during COVID, but we have had to learn a great deal about how we operate, and we have a great opportunity to ‘build back better’.  Of course there will likely still be COVID-related challenges to meet, and we have to remain mindful of the impact that the last year in particular has had on wellbeing and mental health, especially of the student body.

And finally, what do you you spend your time doing when you aren’t busy looking after the College?

We have 3 school-age children, so that is most of the time outside work fully accounted for!  We are a very outdoors-focussed family, and we enjoy spending time in the mountains, hills, woods and coastline around the UK, or canoeing on lakes, lochs and rivers.  I also enjoy gardening and DIY, and the eggs from our chickens, and one day I might get the opportunity to tinker with my motorbikes once more.  I am also a Director/Trustee of a Multi Academy Trust, and Chair of Governors of a local primary school, so that sees any remaining time filled!