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WATCH: Durrell at "inflection point" following historic vote

WATCH: Durrell at

Saturday 04 May 2024

WATCH: Durrell at "inflection point" following historic vote

Saturday 04 May 2024

Durrell leaders have spoken about their relief after members voted against ousting the charity's trustees and opening an independent investigation into the running of Jersey Zoo.

But the beloved Trust is due to be held more accountable than ever on the complaints that were raised.

Express spoke to three Durrell leaders about the outcome of Thursday's Extraordinary General Meeting, and the charity's future...

Dr Lee Durrell, Honorary Director

Gerald Durrell's widow spoke about how difficult the past months had been for her.

"Now, we're kind of at an inflection point," she said.

At Thursday's meeting, Dr Durrell spoke to members about planning the animal collection around her dining room table – a spirit she said she wanted to maintain, despite the staff not fitting around her table anymore.

She explained: "We've certainly grown enormously in terms of numbers of staff, in terms of budget, and all that sort of thing. There's always a danger if you grow too fast, too quickly, if you lose sight of your mission. 

"I think that's one thing about Durrell, we don't lose sight of our mission and we never have."

Dr Durrell warned against "mission drift", when a large organisation loses its sense of purpose.

"It depends on having a good strong board, good staff who are absolutely on board and sitting around the dining room table. That's what we did so many years ago."

With the Rewild Our World strategy – which sets the direction for Durrell in Jersey and abroad – due for a refresher, Dr Durrell commented that she thought "we should be setting the strategy for the next 100 years".

She acknowledged that staff losses had meant losing expertise.

"We tackle it by hiring really good people, learning on the job, learning from those who are still left, reading about things," she said.

"It takes experience, obviously, and you can't just immediately buy that. But slowly, slowly, gradually, I know that we'll build up to that expertise, that very fine, valuable expertise that we have lost, we've got to do it and we will do it."

Dr Durrell added that accountability was "absolutely vital" and that the charity had been accountable, with "robust procedures in place" – although these had been improved along the way.

She added that she was now preparing to mark what would have been Gerald Durrell's 100th birthday early next year, adding that everyone was invited to "join the party".

Rebecca Brewer, interim Chief Executive Officer

Rebecca Brewer, who took over the role of CEO after Lesley Dickie's departure in September 2023, said she valued hearing everyone's thoughts.

"It was clear that there was a huge amount of passion for Durrell, and a huge amount of support out there as well.

"I was on the stage when I could see the votes go up. It feels like a long journey to get to this point, it's been hugely impactful."

Ms Brewer said she was "really relieved" to hear the result.

"We've heard really loud and clear that there have been people [who feel] that we've lost our way with Gerry's legacy, and that's really not the case," she said.

"But actually, what can we do to bring everyone together, share their thoughts, feelings, views on that?"

She added that a number of improvements were being made – including a whistleblowing hotline due imminently, and regular "Breakfast with Becky" events for staff.

Ms Brewer said that the Trust sometimes had to get started on building projects before getting planning permission "where it is in the best interest of animals".

Matthew Hatchwell, Chair of the Board of Trustees

Matthew Hatchwell said that it was a shame to have found themselves in the EGM situation in the first place.

He said: "It has caused a lot of difficulty for staff here at the Zoo in particular, who have borne the brunt of a lot of the criticism that's been levelled at the Trust, but we're very pleased with the outcome... and it enables us to focus on the future and on the new strategy that we're going to start putting together in coming months to increase, in turn, the impact that the Trust has around the world."

He added that the priority right now was on "healing the differences in opinion that have arisen" between members and between staff.

Mr Hatchwell explained that every three years, the Board of Trustees is subject to an external assessment, with the next one due later this year. These would normally not be public, he said – but this might change.

"Previously, the outcomes of those assessments haven't been made publicly available," he said.

"We've discussed it and we will consider making at least some of the findings public, because there's clearly an interest in that and we're very open to self-scrutiny.

"In fact, as part of the strategic planning process, we're going to be looking at the governance of the Trust, our role as a Board, looking to make sure that the structure of the Trust as it is is fit for purpose."

He added that the Trust's focus was now on "the next stage in Durrell's history" and on the upcoming 100th birthday of Gerald Durrell, next year.

Speaking for the Board, Mr Hatchwell wanted to thank the staff, particularly at the Zoo, who had to bear the brunt of the criticism.


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INSIGHT: Who are the campaign group behind the push to shake up Jersey Zoo and what do they want?

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Cost of dealing with rebel zoo members has been "extremely high"

INSIGHT: Key resignation and campaigner concerns pile pressure on Jersey Zoo

FOCUS: Sloths, social media posts and 'snubbed' staff... The drama before Dr Dickie's departure from Jersey Zoo

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