Joy England came to ‘sunny, clean-aired Sydney from small-town Wales’ as a wide-eyed four-year-old, travelling with her ‘ten-pound-Pom family’; she describes it now as ‘the classic 1960s immigrant experience’. A decade later the family returned to Wales, where Joy attended high school and university, completing an honours degree in business and law, followed by an MA in marketing. After working in the retail industry in London, she followed her love of textiles and took the plunge, setting up a business with a friend: ‘I designed wedding and evening dresses for a while, and I still love textiles’.
While she moved back to Australia in 2006, Joy retains a strong connection with her homeland: ‘Coming from North Wales, not surprisingly, I’m a big rugby fan. As everyone knows, it’s a land of “castles and choirs”, so there’s this love of history and storytelling and singing, and of course, a proud Celtic fieriness. When I was married and went from being Joy Thomas to Joy England, funnily enough, there were a few raised eyebrows, especially with my late father. It’s still a bit of a talking point’.
Today, sitting in her office at SLM headquarters, as email alerts ping in rapid succession, Joy projects a bright and easy calmness. There’s Welsh fire, but also a gift for well-worded sentences and a calm, unhurried manner. Her background in what she terms the ‘philanthropic space’ spans several years in Sydney’s private school sector, firstly at SCEGGS Darlinghurst, fostering Indigenous scholarships, a capital campaign and other fundraising initiatives, and more recently at Pymble Ladies College with its dedicated alumni community: ‘Fundraising for Pymble Ladies College centenary celebrations, with all the overlapping aspects of education, heritage, community and philanthropy, was incredibly satisfying’.
Joy joined SLM in 2016, drawn to the role by her love of culture: ‘art, history and beautiful buildings, but also travel and adventure’. While France and Italy are favourites for faraway jaunts, here in Sydney it’s the dazzling seaside: ‘I spend a lot of time walking. I’m a veteran coast trekker and have done a number of big fundraising walks’.
Fundraising, for Joy, is all about shared outcomes: ‘My job is really about connecting the work of SLM to like-minded people, where there’s a mutual benefit’. In other words, cultural giving is more than just generosity or patronage: ‘It’s about finding and forging relationships with people especially keen to see our projects shine’. Joy loves enabling other people to pursue their interests and passions via philanthropy: ‘What I enjoy the most is joining the dots between people who are passionate about our places and collections, and the kind of things we do, and our own experts and knowledge. You can see how that kind of enthusiasm rubs off on each other, it goes both ways, and that’s such a great basis for philanthropy’.
Joy also finds the process personally satisfying. After a recent event at Vaucluse House to celebrate the drawing room refurbishment – a project achieved through extensive fundraising efforts – she describes ‘walking through the moonlit garden at Vaucluse House, thinking, what a great achievement by everyone – the donors, the curators and upholsterers and artisans, and Sydney Living Museums itself, as an organisation that inspires these sorts of things to happen. You can’t help feeling a sense of pride, a sort of collective pride if you like, knowing that we’ve all worked together to achieve something so impressive’.