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New Director of Estates: Francesca Fryer

13 September 2018

Francesca Fryer joined us as Director of UCL Estates on 3 September. Amid a busy week, Francesca found time to address some of the big questions about her career background, inspirations, first impressions and aspirations within her new role.

Francesca Fryer: New director of Estates

Welcome to UCL and UCL Estates! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I am delighted to be joining UCL following over 10 years in senior estates roles with the Ministry of Defence and the BBC. For the 20 years prior to that I worked in a professional services firm advising multinationals such as Accenture, Bank of America and GSK on their global real estate portfolios.  I feel very lucky to have had a career that has given me insight into so many different industry sectors and to have worked with world class organisations as they seek to manage their property holdings as strategic assets that can enable their continued success.

My career has also allowed me to indulge my love of travel including working in Hong Kong for 4 years.  Nowadays, the opportunities to get away are slightly less enduring, as my husband Nick and I live on a smallholding just outside Bath, with our two teenage children, 3 dogs and a collection of sheep, goats and poultry. Now I am with UCL, I will be staying in London during the week – so I am looking forward to a few quieter evenings!

Our village is pretty small but has a strong community and there is usually something going on. Our main contribution is to run the village film club which has proved very popular and also a good fund raiser for local charities – with up to 100 people packing the village hall for a film and a home cooked three course meal three or four times a year; as a family we also try and make the most of the theatre, sport and other events that both Bristol and Bath have to offer. 

What appealed to you about UCL?

As a property professional, the combination of the Bloomsbury estate which is so rich in history and varied and neighbours regeneration at both Kings Cross and Euston, together with UCL East, where there is the opportunity to partner with organisations such as the V&A, Sadlers Wells and the BBC to shape a cultural and educational quarter for 21st century London is a once-in-a-generation career opportunity.

At a personal level, the public service values that underpin UCL are important to me and it is very exciting to join an organisation that has the ambition and resources through the UCL 2034 strategy to broaden and deepen its impact globally. 

You’ve been here a week, do you have any first impressions to share?

That everyone you meet not only has a real passion for UCL but also a personal connection with the estate. From academics to alumni, students to staff, people feel a huge stake in the development and history of the campus.

When I visited in the summer, I was also struck by the energy and professionalism of the Estates team and their contractors as they prepared the campus for the new academic year and by how quickly recently completed capital projects such as the Wilkins Terrace and refectory feel fully integrated into the daily life on campus. 

I also had the opportunity to visit the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, the future home of UCL East. The sun was out and the park felt very vibrant with local families enjoying the open space and with the sporting venues hosting a wide variety of sports, including the Women’s hockey world cup on the day I visited. The spirit of 2012 felt very present and with UCL’s commitment along with that from institutions such as the V&A, Sadlers Wells, London School of Fashion and BBC, the realisation of the Olympic legacy masterplan as well as our own academic vision felt both excitingly tangible.

I was fortunate to celebrate the achievements of UCL’s Green Champions at UCL’s 6th Sustainability Awards on Tuesday 4 September. The event was joyous and high-spirited, which showcased the strong sense of community working to make UCL a healthier, more sustainable university. I look forward to working with the Sustainability Team to continue embedding sustainability further into the organisation.

What are you looking forward to most in getting to grips with your new role?

I should have also said that one of my first impressions was of just how much is going on, so there is plenty to get to grips with! As I have joined UCL in September, my initial focus will be on ensuring the Estates team have the support they need to be ready for the new academic year. We start the year with over 20% more teaching space, but also more students. The demand for student accommodation and timetabling pressure for teaching space will be high. Estates are working hard to make the most of the space we have. Most of the heavy lifting is done, so I will largely be an observer this year, but I am looking forward to taking forward the longer term Estates Strategy work. This will develop a longer term plan for how we best grow the estate to meet the growing needs of the university.

There are also a number of change programmes in flight. We will shortly be transitioning to new providers for a number of soft services and security, and I look forward to working with the team and our suppliers to make sure the transition is as seamless as possible for our customers. It is also a pivotal point in the capital programme, with several of the major projects in Bloomsbury, including the new Student Centre, the Bloomsbury Theatre refurbishment and the residences at Astor College due to be completed by the year end. Bringing these new facilities into use, whilst in parallel getting Phase 1 of UCL East and the new building for the Dementia Research Institute up and running, are key milestones in the Estate transformation programme.  

Any early thoughts on what some of the challenges might be?

There is a lot to do to meet the ambition and many competing demands for our resources and space! Estates will need to continue to establish supply chains that allow us the agility to scale our resources to meet variation in project needs, and to seek innovative ways to meet customer needs. However, legacy underinvestment and financial constraints, together with the historic and constrained nature of the Bloomsbury Estate mean that inevitably there will be tough decisions to make.

This also means that there will be variations in the conditions across the estate for some time to come but we’ll be looking to improve the consistency of customer service. I am already seeing examples of some excellent behaviours, but in such a large and complex organisation, there is much to be done to offer the appropriate level of communication, transparency and consistency across all our activities, large to small.      

If you could achieve one thing at UCL, what would it be?

A clear long-term plan for the estate that aligns with the academic aspirations of UCL and confidence in Estates’ ability to deliver it. Is that one or two? 

What historical figure do you most admire/identify with?

I wouldn’t say I would identify with her, as she is most famous as a Hollywood film star and had some six husbands, but I do find Hedy Lemarr’s lesser known story as an inventor inspiring. It’s a tale of the power of collaboration across genre and how it set the conditions for future unexpected innovation, all without personal gain.    

Austrian by birth, she fled from her first marriage, where she was a trophy wife to a munitions dealer to the Nazis, firstly to London then to Hollywood. Horrified at what she had seen in 1930s Germany and with the knowledge she had gleaned from her husband’s business, she collaborated with composer George Antheil to develop an encrypted radio guidance system for allied torpedoes. The spread spectrum technology they patented when she was just 26, used a system of frequency hopping developed from a piano roll.

She sought no personal reward from the technology, and although the US military were initially sceptical, they fully adopted it in the Cuban Missile Crisis and it subsequently became the foundation for many modern day telecommunications from the fax to Bluetooth.

In the 1990s, she was recognised by the US National Inventors Hall of Fame - which honours people responsible for the great technological advances that make human, social and economic progress possible.