1 March 1996

Land agent who went in at the deep end…

WHEN the new resident land agent arrived at Maristow Estate, Roborough, Devon in 1993, it was with some apprehension, and not just because it was the first job for this graduate of the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester.

"My greatest fear was what people would think of me. Not only was I the landlords agent but young and a woman. Most people dont have these things against them and I was terrified of meeting some of the tenants," says Marion Hayward, now 27 and at ease with her role on this 809ha (20,000 acre) estate which is owned by the Lopes family headed by Lord Roborough.

It came as something of a surprise to her parents, who farm in Suffolk, that Marion should determine to become a land agent.

"I always wanted to do something in agriculture and as my brother wanted to farm at home I made the decision at 16 to become a land agent. This shocked people at school who thought because I was good at cooking and needlework I would do something like that."

After her A levels she took a year out to work for a firm of land and estate agents at Diss.

"I had a fantastic year doing all sorts of jobs, including auctioning eggs, and it gave me a very good grounding even for things I do now," says Marion, who prepared for her course in rural estate management very thoroughly, even to the point of learning to shoot.

At the end of the course, Marion found jobs were thin on the ground and she was getting somewhat disheartened. "Then I was called for interview here. There was a lot of competition for the job and I had thought that a resident land agents job was always destined to go to a man, but I got it and the salary was good for a graduate," she says.

Then it was in at the deep end with the tenants of 32 farms, plus residential properties, to meet and a huge area of land to get to know. "Just finding my way round the old estate office and discovering how staff and farms were ticking was a challenge.

"One of my first jobs was to build a new estate office and luckily I had designed one for my buildings final at college, so it was a really nice project to get started on."

The tenants were very welcoming and she feels it helped that she is a farmers daughter and understands what they are about.

There is no such thing as a typical working day, according to Marion, but a busy one from her diary started with her walking a farm for a rent review – looking at the land, buildings, stocking levels and the whole situation, and talking to the tenant. At lunch time she met with a residential tenant of one of the larger houses on the estate and made an inventory of the contents. Then it was time for talks with the location manager for The Vet television series.

Planning and development, tax and law work, letting and valuations are all part of the job and, of course, paperwork and telephone calls. She sits on several committees and attends conferences and as she came into the job as a graduate had to keep a diary scrutinised by a training officer for two years to get her letters as a chartered surveyor.

"I have had just one dismissal to perform, which was unpleasant. They never train you to deal with this aspect of things at college; it was quite an eye opener," says Marion.

"When I first came here one of the hardest things to come to terms with is that essentially you are on call 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week. I have been called out at night because of reports of poachers and once had to help a policeman catch a bat at 1.30 in the morning because it was setting off the alarms in the estate office!

"Even when driving about at the weekend you cant help keeping an eye on what is going on," she says.

"In summer I spend a huge amount of time checking the deer calving, we have over 160 in the park, and that is a job I love. The very best part of all is dealing with people, I love to meet them and learn from them.

"Communication is one of the greatest things in this profession – it breaks down barriers. Women are prepared to listen and talk, much more than men."

But life is not quite all work, and Marion got married last May. "My husband James is also a chartered surveyor, but in general practice. He is a friend of my employers sons who suggested we meet at a development meeting. It was love at first sight and eight months later we were engaged," confides Marion.

She didnt take her husbands surname, Allerton, when she married and is still Miss Hayward on the estate. "One of the reasons is that when I get home I like to switch from being Marion Hayward and be a wife and homemaker, not a business woman," she explains.

Marion does not come up against much discrimination now that she has made her mark and feels that the opportunities for women will grow, albeit slowly.

"You have to be very determined to succeed, particularly in an old fashioned profession, but every time another generation of employers drops off the next ones will have trained with women and be more prepared to treat them as equals," she says optimistically.

Tessa Gates

Devon land agent Marion Hayward: Theres no such thing as a typical day.