Thursday, 12 April 2012

Steel Cap Shoes

Nature and Nurture: leading the nation in sustainable heritage

Jade-Lauren Cawthray explains the significant moments in her life that led her to being the first ever trainee in the Sustainability of Heritage hosted by the Garden Museum.

Jade holding a gardener's flip knife
I was 11 years old when I moved from central Leeds to Richmond, North Yorkshire, the gateway to the Yorkshire Dales and, to me, one of the most beautiful towns in the country.  My brother and I went from not being allowed out of the front gate for fear of us being run over or kidnapped to being told by our mum ‘Get out in those fields, I don’t want to see you until dinner time’.  I was suddenly granted the freedom of the natural world and spent the next six years roaming through fields, climbing trees, wandering through woodland and wading in the River Swale.  The natural world set me free and brought me a profound degree of comfort and strength.

At 18, as I approached my A-Level exams, I was set to study biochemistry at University, but it suddenly occurred to me that I wouldn’t be satisfied with a laboratory based job and that I wanted to spend my time outdoors, in the natural world.  Searching for a solution, I spoke to staff at a local college, one of whom suggested I look into doing an Ecology degree.  Enthralled by the idea I gathered a shortlist of 10 institutions.  I picked up the phone to call the Anglia Ruskin University, in Cambridge, to find out more about their course 20 minutes later, I had been offered a place on a BSc in Ecology and Conservation.

The greatest thing my degree gave me was an ever growing awe and appreciation for the natural world.  It also introduced me to Roots & Shoots, an environment and humanitarian youth programme co-ordinated by the Jane Goodall Institute.  Passionately involved, I was selected to represent the UK at the Jane Goodall Global Youth Summit in Florida.  Here I met  two Nepalese delegates who invited me to come and work with them out in Nepal.  Three months after returning from Florida, I was on a plane to work with them on environmental and humanitarian projects.  I lived in Kathmandu with a Nepalese family for two months and fully engaged myself with the culture.  What I experienced and observed in Nepal put my own life and society into sharp contrast.  Until this point I had intended to work in International Development, but I saw the biggest problem was at home [UK] and that I needed to direct my energy into helping my own nation develop sustainably.

On leaving university I found myself making my way through a string of jobs.  Bored in a position as an administrative assistant, I stumbled upon an advertisement for a position as a Trainee in the Sustainability of Heritage.  I applied and within weeks was starting my first week at the Garden Museum.

I was fascinated by the concept of coupling sustainability and heritage and immediately recognised the opportunity to help the heritage sector ‘lead the nation in sustainable development’.  I believe that museums have an innate responsibility to be sustainable and to preserve and protect the environment and human communities because their collections represent the diversity and beauty of our environmental and cultural heritage.  For a museum to have a detrimental effect on the environment and on human communities is hypocritical.  Museums also attract visitors that are eager to learn and have a personal interest in the subject matter that the museum exhibits.  You don’t get a more receptive audience than that, which provides museums with the perfect opportunity to educate their visitors on sustainability through the narratives of their collection.

As I approach my last few weeks at the museum [March 2012], I am reflecting on what this traineeship has achieved; community relationships have been strengthened through skill sharing, communications internally and externally have been improved using newsletters and front of house narratives, the cafĂ© has embarked on a food localisation project, our exhibitions are less wasteful.  But the legacy of the year has been the Zero Waste to Landfill project.  We installed a recycling system and trained staff how to use it. We visited a Materials Recovery Facility and an Energy from Waste Facility, but I felt a strange desire to see the role of the bin man, so I rang up our waste contractors and asked whether I could join a shift on the bins.  They were shocked by my request (apparently nobody had ever asked before) but kindly obliged, and so at 3.30am one September morning, I climbed into the cab of a 12 tonne truck [see image of the steel cap shoes I had to wear].  

Jade's steel cap toe boots
Read more at  As a result of this, we decided to arrange a new contract with our local council, so that our non-recyclable waste would go to an Energy from Waste Facility to produce energy, achieving our Zero Waste to Landfill target.

My year at the Garden Museum has given me the confidence and resolve to pursue a career in communicating sustainability.  To pursue this professionally I have been lucky enough to receive a position at the Natural History Museum as a Weekend Science Educator.  This is my next exciting step to improving my knowledge and gaining some specialist skills and experience, so that I can enthuse and inspire people about the wonders of the natural world and, in turn build a respect for it within our society.

Author: Jade-Lauren Cawthray

Jade has been instrumental in setting up Operation Green Museums, a sustainable museum group that meets to knowledge share and discuss and develop initiatives. If your museum would like to take part please contact Beatrice at: or via LMG’s Share London.


  1. There's lots museums need to do to make themselves greener. Thanks to Jade and her colleagues at the Garden Museum, I've been able to make a start. First thing looking into building energy consumption...

    Sue Kirby

    1. Dear Sue
      Thank you for your comment.
      It's great to hear about the fantastic sustainable work underway in the sector.