Let's Meet: Jenn Holgate

Senior Legal Counsel Jenn Holgate joins us to talk about zoning, Eurovision, hiking and more in this month's interview.

Where did you grow up?

Sully, which is a village near Cardiff, Wales. It’s the neighbouring village to a place called Barry, which became famous in the tv programme Gavin and Stacey! Sully is the village where Nessa (Ruth Jones) moves into a caravan with fiancé Dave Coaches. Tidy.

What little known fact about Sully would tell someone visiting there?

I moved away from Sully when I was ten and so my entire memory of the place is through the lens of effectively a seven year old child. With that in mind, my favourite (I think little known) things were the really massive 2 penny cola bottle sweets in the local newsagents, the den I created in my Dad’s shed, the extremely large bonfire and fireworks near my school on bonfire night and the really big field at the back of my house on Cog Road, where I would feed the cows rhubarb leaves.

What has been your education and career path?

I studied social history at Warwick University, where my elected modules included (amongst other more traditional topics) the history of pubs, the history of chocolate and creole literature. I undertook a history degree always knowing I wanted to (eventually) become a lawyer. I then undertook a second degree in Law at Nottingham Law School, following which I trained to become a solicitor in a law firm called Eversheds (now Eversheds Sutherland).

I knew from the moment I started training I was particularly fascinated with renewable energy and infrastructure and so when I qualified, I went to do just that. I spent twelve years in private practice all over the UK, doing a huge range of different things – from advocating on behalf of the North Wales Police in relation to the Wylfa Newydd nuclear power station, to drafting parliamentary legislation, to going to the Court of Appeal on behalf of housing developers, to being involved in the setting up of joint ventures and partnerships. And everything in between. Eventually, caring about climate change and wanting to actually see projects on the ground and be involved in them – not just sitting from afar - got the better of me. I decided to go “in house” and Vattenfall Heat UK was the perfect role as it combined my areas of expertise of low carbon energy, housing and infrastructure.

What's something that you've always wanted to do - ie on your bucket list?

I am a complete Eurovision Song Contest nut and I would love to visit the final one year, or even the semi-finals. I was all set to go to Rotterdam last year and we all know what happened then - and what didn’t happen - in 2020. Every year I go all out (with friends or my ever patient husband, although I would do this by myself if no one else would do it with me) – dress up, cook the food and drink the alcohol of the nation that hosts.

What's an interesting project you've been working on lately?

I have really enjoyed the work and thinking we have been doing within the team on zoning – areas in the UK that could be mandated to have certain low carbon heat solutions and/or networks in homes and commercial buildings. It’s actually a very complex problem to solve, but a necessary one. We have to decarbonise and take accountability for our global carbon footprint as a community. Particularly, working out some of the legal solutions to having millions of gas boilers currently in homes in the UK is exciting and challenging.

There are so many legal “levers” the Government could chose to pull – for example land sale, building regulations, planning, tax. We have been undertaking workshops, writing papers, researching and engaging with stakeholders to hone our thinking.

What kind of things do you like to do in your down time?

Currently, for me “downtime” (when I can get it), is a mix of exercise, listening to audiobooks, barbeques in the garden, playing my saxophone, hiking in the Surrey Hills, cooking, a drink or two, catching up with friends. BC (before COVID) there would have been a lot more of spending weekends away in the UK, museums, heritage, spa days and different experiences. I would like to settle for a mix going forward if possible.

Jenn Holgate hiking in the Surrey hills

What's something that not a lot of people know about you?

I’ll give you two – I played lacrosse for Wales and I have a permanent baby tooth. I am equally proud of both.

What topic could you give a 20-minute presentation on without any preparation?

At university my final year history dissertation was on the subject of “going over the top” during World War I. I approached the topic from a few different angles, starting by reading original diary entries at the Imperial War Museum from soldiers that survived the Battle of The Somme. I then undertook a socio-linguistic interpretation of the phrase “over the top” and how it evolved in the twentieth century from a phrase associated with literally going over the top of a trench, to much later on meaning someone perhaps overreacting or being dramatic in some way (don’t be so “OTT”!). Then – just to throw in what on reflection was probably media studies into a history dissertation, I analysed the way going “over the top” was depicted in fictional film and literature.

It was a fair amount to cram into 10,000 words (far too much), although many years later I could quite happily present on this topic. It’s probably not a topic I would use as an ice breaker over a glass of wine, so if you meet me (and I do enjoy meeting over a glass of wine) I wouldn’t intend to lead on this as a conversation starter!

What’s the closest thing, in your opinion, to real magic?

I’m a bit of a failed pagan at heart - I do think that the basic fact that the Earth and human beings are all ultimately composed of the same elemental stuff is pretty incredible. I also think, as the general newcomers to the universe, human beings have a lot to learn about harnessing our own selves and learning about our relationship to the Earth. By way of example, I have been really getting into Wim Hof (also known as “the iceman”), a Dutch extreme athlete that uses a breathing technique to withstand incredibly low temperatures. He has done some pretty amazing things, such as climbing up Everest in just shorts and shoes. What is more interesting however is the way that under scientific observation, Hof has managed to actually control his nervous system and immune response.

Of course, as a lawyer, you are taught to find holes in arguments but for me, there has to be something in this. In the same way, for example, you hear about the placebo effect curing crippling illness such as chronic arthritis, it is clear the interrelationship between mind and matter is far from known. This for me is “real” magic – something that we don’t yet really understand, but we will do one day.

Image: Lighthouse and Sully Island by Ben Salter from near Cardiff, Wales, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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