Deirdre Black grew up in Drogheda, in a family where everyone was either self-employed or a teacher. The Family businesses included a Garden Centre and a Pub. Her house was next door to the family business and says she was “conscious of what a customer was from the age of 6”. Business was very much part of her family life growing up and she credits her upbringing for giving her the desire to set up her own business.
Deirdre started her career in the creative industries, but she gradually realised that she wanted to do something that would allow her combine more of her interests, (for interests read passions) in culture, communication, design, ecology, the physical world and creating great spaces for people to live. She discovered that they way to achieve this would be to study Landscape Architecture. This was a little known profession in Ireland at the time.
She completed her Masters in Landscape architecture in UCD and started her Landscape Architecture career with South Dublin County Council in the Parks Department. She then worked for 12 years for a large Multi-National managing their landscape architecture department out of Dublin. During those 12 years she gained a huge amount of management expertise, knowledge, understanding and experience. “Landscape Architects are good at knowing enough about lots of different areas of expertise, to understand exactly what a project needs, we are able to pull together and manage multi-disciplinary teams to achieve the desired outcome.”
Deirdre had always wanted to run her own consultancy company. Her plan was to have her own practice by the time she was 35, “I had achieved it by 40: not too far off the mark!”.
When Deirdre originally went out on her own, She set up as a sole trader but soon found some of her clients (particularly the larger ones) were only comfortable paying invoices from limited companies. she was unsure about what she needed to do so she got in touch with Contracting PLUS. Deirdre was set up under an Umbrella Director solution. (Here comes the science part, in non-science language) Umbrella companies are pre-existing companies that are managed by a third party (Contracting PLUS in this case). Becoming a Director of an umbrella company allows you to operate as a limited company without having to go to all the time, trouble or expense of setting up your own company. Because the companies are pre-existing they can have usual names, not associated with you or the type of industry you work in.
Deirdre’s consultancy practice went from strength to strength, she was well-known and held in high regard in the Landscape Architect Industry. She knew that she had created commercial value in own name and that the strange company name she was operating under had at times caused confusion for her clients. She talked to her Dedicated Account Manager at Contracting PLUS and explained her situation. Contracting PLUS moved Deirdre out from her Umbrella Company and in to her Own Limited Company – ‘Deirdre Black Associates’. “I am delighted with the services of Contracting PLUS. I feel secure and supported by their expertise. I use their software for payroll, invoicing & expenses. They do all my administration and “keep me right” in relation to my tax liabilities and returns. I can focus on my core business rather than spending any longer than necessary on administration. My Dedicated Account Manager is responsive and brilliant and really helpful.”
Mid-Ulster Council wished to explore the potential for visitor access to the landscape that inspired the young Seamus Heaney and which resonates throughout his body of work. Working with Belfast-based consultancy, Oli, Deirdre Black Associates undertook an initial audit of potential locations.
Deirdre provides a range of professional consultancy services on many different types of projects; from greenway planning, parks and street-scape planning, tourism destination planning, green infrastructure, and assistance to areas (local, regional, geographic) on how to organize themselves to improve visitor experiences. She also offers Interpretation planning, this is deciding “how the stories of a place get told”, gathering the stories of an area organizing them into a theme and planning how these stories can be best presented to the public. The huge variety of projects gives Deirdre the opportunity to utilise her diverse skill-set. She often need to form and collaborate with very different very specialized teams; for example “I might need an ecologist and a cycling expert, or an economist and an archaeologist”. Communication and collaboration are vital to the success of the projects and Deirdre states that she has gained many insights from working with a wide group of different professionals.
Deirdre can’t drive and has no intention of learning. She states “it’s easier than you think to get places by train and bus, I have 2 kids and I work all over the county all of which I manage without a car. While I accept that having no car is unusual, I find it benefits my clients and my practice in lots of ways”.
Deirdre loves having her own Personal Limited Company and states “flexibility, variety of projects, collaboration, and a personal sense of achievement as the main benefits.
Deirdre says If you have a dream to set up your own company, it is more than likely that you have the capability to do it. Some people will say you are crazy particularly if you are thinking of leaving well paid, full-time employment. Listen to what they have to say but don’t believe everything. “Hold Your Nerve”
When asked about her proudest moment to date Deirdre says “I could list many projects I’ve worked on as achievements, but for me being a visiting lecturer in UCC has been my proudest moment so far. (Deirdre is a visiting lecturer in The Centre of Planning, Education & Sustainable Development, UCC) “Teaching what you know to people entering the profession is very rewarding, you can’t put your finger on the impact but you know that by sharing what you know you could in some small way be influencing the future”
She has also recently presented a paper on language and landscape governance to The Landscape Research Group in London.
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