Peer connects past to the present day

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OF ALL the 22,500 acres of the Elveden Estate, Lord Iveagh’s favourite place is the restaurant courtyard.

“I always feel good about it here. The buildings are old, built from Elveden brick, and the people here are doing work that is totally different from the past, but in the same place.

“They couldn’t have thought decades ago that this place would have become what it is now.”

Perhaps understandably for a man with such a rich family tradition, connecting the past to the present is a big thing for Lord Iveagh.

Now 41, Arthur Edward Rory Guinness – known simply as ‘Ned’ to many – is good company. Ruddy-faced, relaxed and jovial, he has an easy nature which has made him a popular figure on the estate where he is based with wife Clare and their two sons, Arthur, eight, and Rupert, five.

But even he admits that bearing the weight of a prestigious family name – the Guinness tradition was established in banking, philanthropy and, of course, brewing – and the responsibility incumbent with it is not as easy as it may appear.

“What a huge privilege it is to have a lineage but in the sense of ‘on the shoulders of giants you stand’.

“I love the story of my family, it can give you strength if you know what your grandparents did and you know they were good people, but at the same time, times were very different then.”

Bought from the estate of the Maharajah Duleep Singh by Edward Cecil Guinness, Lord Iveagh’s great great grandfather and the first to hold the title, the Elveden Estate sprawls over 22,500 acres of varied Suffolk terrain. It was originally known for its shooting, with royal parties frequently welcomed.

Now, large parts are devoted to arable farming, with potatoes, onions, parsnips, carrots and cereals on rotation. The rest is a mixture of woodland, scrubland, semi-natural breckland heath, housing and offices.

Managing such a multi-faceted patchwork of land is a substantial undertaking and the estate employs more than 150 people in 20 different areas to cope.

Although he confesses to lacking a specialism on the estate, Lord Iveagh is tasked with overseeing what he calls a ‘big enterprise’.

“I’m lucky enough that each element of the estate has skilled, single-minded individuals sustaining the enterprise. I’m not operationally managing things but encouraging and giving strategic advice to team members who can have more focus in their approach.

“In some ways it would be a wonderful thing to be more single-minded, but I’m also aware that it’s easy to get sucked in one direction. You can spend the whole of your life becoming the best of your era in a specific area, but do you know the bigger picture of where your work sits?”

He also sees fostering a strong community on the estate as part of his work. When I remind him that 50 of the estate’s staff attended the funeral of joinery contractor Bob Webb last year, he doesn’t seem surprised at the show of solidarity.

As one of the country’s biggest landowners – he also owns Burhill Golf and Leisure Limited which manages two 1,000 acre estates and 10 golf centres nationwide – having an understanding of the bigger picture is a key skill.

“I wouldn’t wake up and think ‘aren’t I burdened’ at all, it’s a huge privilege, but like anything in life of massive significance it comes with strings attached – as an employer, with all the roles you play to keep the show on the road.

“There’s also an enormous social responsibility to nurture the right things. The land can produce whatever you ask it to within reason, but people love landscapes and the view out of of the window or on the A11 as we’re out driving is very important to them so we want to make it an active, thriving place, not a dying one.

“That means a lot of the land is non-commercial and it’s a conscious and big effort.”

It would take a somewhat insular aristocrat to be unaware of the privileges in their birthright – particularly in these straitened financial times. Does he feel any guilt for his contrasting wealth and a title that put him in the House of Lords during his 20s, when so many are suffering at the hands of the recession?

“I would have absolutely no guilt. The only guilt I would carry, privately, would be not to make the most of the opportunities that have been given to me, but also to balance those opportunities with pushing my own life along and ahead.”

Privilege is a theme of the interview – unavoidable when you are talking to a man who has just posted at number 80 on the Sunday Times Rich List with an estimated worth of £850 million. But it’s clear privilege is synonymous with responsibility for Lord Iveagh.

Evolution is another recurring subject. He calls himself a traditionalist in terms of his family business, but is eager to develop the estate that he inherited in 1992.

“We’ve got to live in the real world in the sense of a sustainable estate. It’s a ghastly phrase but it’s a challenge, it’s a big asset. It’s a fair size but of course it takes management, it’s hard work but we’ve been developing the streams of business to take the place forward.”

He applies the same thinking to considering the roles of the titled classes.

Having inherited a seat in the House of Lords, he became an active cross bencher and says the experience was the ‘hugest privilege I had in life’.

In 1999 he was stripped of that position along with 600 other hereditary peers and says he would not want to go back. Does this new level of relative political impotence leave the titled classes without a purpose in modern life? Like the estate, he sees their position as evolving.

“We have to stay relevant. A title is just a title now. In the days when I was entitled to sit in the House of Lords I had a formal role in the British constitution but now I’m normalised, if you like, and I put a tick in a box like any other person.”

But for a man in his position, evading the clutches of political life is a tough job. As the owner of a large slab of the land between Thetford and Mildenhall, it is no shock that he has been at the centre of discussions over the A11’s planned dualling, a development he sees as massive for the estate and the area.

“It’s going to be a huge impact, a massive change. On a human basis, we’ve had people from the estate killed on the road and we’ve got the village shop on one side and housing on the other side, the church, local services – we are an estate cut quite dramatically in half.

“We’ve got some of the slowest moving, heaviest kit on the roads. It’s a huge cost, socially, economically and every way you care to imagine for this local community and this estate.

“The building work could have been a huge threat of course, to get crossing points and adequate access points to get on and off – the devil is in the detail, but we know the detail now.

“I suppose it must help the Government to have the majority of the route owned by one landowner.”

Work on the estate shows no signs of slowing with a mass of projects in the pipeline. This summer sees events ranging from triathlons to a day celebrating local produce. Former Claridges head chef, Peter McBurnie, has been brought in to run the estate’s development kitchen with a range of freshly produced food available on sale.

All these developments are part of the estate’s constantly evolving operations. Eight-year-old Rupert is next in line to take the reins. What he will inherit remains to be seen.

For now, his father will try to continue the good work he began when the land was passed to him.

“I inherited this wonderful and extraordinary place and the work is never done, but we are nurturing it for the next generation who will hopefully be inheriting a better place than the one that I found. Everything that can be in place is here.”