A recent press article referred to ‘unsung heroes’, and mentioned Northamptonshire’s very own David Laing, who is in the final months of his role as the Lord-Lieutenant of Northamptonshire. David will be missed for his tireless and selfless work in support of the county’s charities, business and communities, so often and ably supported by his wife Mary.
David was born in Devon and is the second son of Sir Kirby and Lady Laing and the grandson of Sir John Laing, founder of the John Laing Construction Company. As a result, David grew up in an environment steeped in the construction industry, training as an architect before setting up a private practice.
He was a director of GHM Rock Townsend Architects until 1999 and Chairman of Country and Metropolitan Homes until 2005, taking it to a main stock exchange listing as one of the country’s larger developers. As an architect, David specialised in listed buildings and conservation area work. He personally totally restored the Grade 2* Fermyn Woods Hall, together with the restoration of the listed gardens at this historic house, following on from the full restoration of the Grade 1 Mackerye End in Hertfordshire.
David has led an active life in the City. He is on the Court of the Worshipful Company of Paviors, and was Master in 2006. He is currently Director of Eskmuir Properties Ltd, the Laing family’s property company. In 2014, David was appointed the Lord-Lieutenant of Northamptonshire.
The Lord-Lieutenant is Her Majesty’s representative in the county and, following the example of Her Majesty The Queen, seeks to promote a good atmosphere and a spirit of co-operation through encouragement of local voluntary organisations, and by the interest taken in the commercial and social life of the county. The main duties of the Lord-Lieutenant may be classified under the following:
- Representing Her Majesty The Queen at events in the county
- Presentation of awards and medals
- The Queen’s representative in the county for the Armed Forces, reserves and cadets
- Supporting the emergency services and cadets
- Promoting Civic, Commerce, Heritage, Arts, Education and Sport
It is also the role of the Lord-Lieutenant to welcome members of the Royal Family on official visits. Recent royal visits to the county have included:
- 5th April 2019 - The Princess Royal attended the Corporate Member Day of the Chartered Institute of Logistics UK in Daventry
- 28th January 2019 - HRH The Prince of Wales visited two shoe companies: Tricker’s in Northampton and Gaziano & Girling in Kettering
- 21st September 2018 - The Princess Royal visited The Daylight Centre, Save the Children in Higham Ferrers and Northampton Town Football Club Education Centre, Northampton
- 7th March 2018 – HRH Prince Harry, Royal Patron of The Silverstone Experience, visited The Silverstone Experience
David married Mary in 1968 and they have five children (four sons and one daughter) and eleven grandchildren. The Laings have a deep interest in music. David was a founding director of ‘Musicale Holidays’ and Harpenden Musicale, providing holiday music courses in some 20 centres around the country. David has maintained a strong interest in hockey which he played at combined University (international), County and Regional level. He also enjoys tennis, skiing and golf. He has a keen interest in motor sport, successfully competing in the Round the World Rally and Classic Le Mans as well as many races at Silverstone. When David and Mary moved to Northamptonshire in 2002, they quickly made a mark for themselves by re-instating the Brigstock Horse Trials at Fermyn Woods Hall. When they moved to Grafton Underwood, they established the Horse Trials in a new location at Rockingham Castle where it has maintained its international status.
It is through his care and concern for charitable causes, especially youth based ones, that David has made an impact, by serving on many local and national charities such as:
- Chairman of St John’s Ambulance, first in Hertfordshire and subsequently in Northamptonshire
- Trustee of St Andrew’s Healthcare and Chair of the Pension Fund
- Trustee of Youth Sports Trust
- Trustee of the National Hockey Foundation
- Trustee of Wooden Spoon (the children’s charity of rugby)
- Trustee of the United Church Schools Trust and the Education Fellowship Trust
- Chairman of Northamptonshire Community Foundation
- President of the Northamptonshire Association of Youth Clubs
- Chair of Adrenaline Alley, Corby (Europe’s largest indoor skate-park)
David and Mary are also very keen supporters of the Royal & Derngate Theatre where David is an Ambassador. He played a major role in the production of a ballet performed by Birmingham Royal Ballet at the R&D called Seasons In Our World, inspired by a series of poems by David which explored the relationship between the cycle of the seasons and individual human lives and communities. It was set to a new score from award-winning composer Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian. David is also a very keen supporter of NMPAT, the Northamptonshire Music & Perfoming Arts Trust, which celebrated 50 years in 2019.
What is David’s motivation for such prolific activity? In his own words: “I have been very fortunate, and I recognise that by supporting a wide range of charities, I am able to ‘open doors of opportunity’ to many who otherwise would have no chance to shine.”
A Lord-Lieutenant is supported by his Deputy Lieutenants (DLs), around 30 local people chosen for their contribution to the county’s civic, commercial, cultural and community life. One area that David has been particularly interested in has been how best to use his DLs in the county. When he came into office, the organisation of the DLs in the county was unstructured with sporadic use of individuals to represent the lieutenancy at events. David has since instigated a more business-like structure, dividing the cohort into groups based on their interests and areas of expertise. When appointing new DLs, he refers to this structure and looks at areas where the lieutenancy needs to develop areas of excellence whilst also maintaining good geographical representation. As David says: “I have learnt to my cost, when being put through my exercises by my physical trainer that without a strong ‘core’, an organisation soon becomes weak and flabby.”
Working in sub-groups, the DLs help extend the reach of the lieutenancy within the county. DLs have supported David in some of his major legacy initiatives, one of which is the Northamptonshire Britain’s Best Surprise campaign, an initiative he has led to promote Northamptonshire as a tourist destination given its rich cultural, gastronomic and heritage assets. Now in its third year, the Best Surprise campaign has focused on the county’s stately homes, its churches, its artisan food and drink sector. Next year the spotlight is on the county’s creative and cultural industries and talent. In addition, David has been keen to bring back the Northamptonshire tradition of Oak Apple Day, which celebrates the restoration of the Monarchy in May 1660 and takes place on 29th May each year. At All Saints’ Church, Northampton, a statue of Charles II is garlanded with oak leaves at noon every Oak Apple Day, followed by a celebration of the Holy Communion. As David so succinctly and aptly states: “without respect for our history, we have no future.”
A more recent initiative that David has established with his DL Business Group is his Lord-Lieutenant’s Leaders’ Forum, in which the county’s civic, business, community and academic leaders meet to discuss key issues for business and how business and not for profit organisations can work more closely together for a healthy community, by addressing priority social problems in a collaborative manner. In the Leaders’ Forum, David works closely with the University of Northampton, where he is Pro Chancellor. The next event is on Wednesday 20th November at the University of Northampton, where Deb Oxley OBE, Chief Executive of the Employee Ownership Association (EOA), will be talking about the fast growing and topical issue of employee ownership and its favourable economic and social impact. Whilst we will all be sad to see David retire as our Lord-Lieutenant on his 75th birthday next March, we are pleased to report that he has no intention of curtailing his activities in support of the county. David will continue in the post of University Pro Chancellor, where he intends to use his influence to support the wellbeing of his adopted and much-loved county, Northamptonshire, and – in line with the University’s own strategy – strive to make the county known as the best place to grow up, live, work, start and run a business as well as visit and enjoy its many attractions. David Laing – truly an unsung hero, quietly and consistently uniting and enhancing the county’s civic, commercial and community life. Thankfully with no plans to stop!
Save the date! Join David in an evening of surprises to mark his retirement as Lord-Lieutenant by celebrating Northamptonshire’s Olympians & Athletes, its Stars of the Stage, Music & Dance and our Community Heroes at the Derngate Theatre, Friday 28th March 2020.