Julie Chalmers – Customer Services Assistant since 2009


On childhood

Julie is an Ileach, born and bred. She’s lived here ‘all her years’ and was raised on the southwest tip of the island in Port Wemyss.

“There were lots of kids in Port Wemyss/Portnahaven growing up, especially in the school holidays. All the kids that came to visit just became part of our wee gang. We were just flung out a back door and we got to go and play, roll in the muck, swim in the sea and ponds, finding crabs and welks. My childhood was really fun and not too strict.”

On milestones

Julie chose to stay on Islay after high school. She started working for Bruichladdich at 18, met husband Alex at 20. Two years later she was engaged, another two after she was married, and then daughter Willow was born another two years after that. With Willow now 21 months, the three-month tick to the next milestone has her wondering what’s next.

“Certainly not another baby. I didn’t stay on Islay just because the family life is good, if I was going to have done it, it would have been in my late teens but I soon met Alex, soon got married, soon had a kid. Anything I wanted to do off the island wasn’t a priority anymore. That was ok for me but I’d want to get Willow to spread her wings, see the wider world. It’s not that you had to do it, but I want her to do the things I wish I did.”

Having worked for the distillery for almost a decade, Julie has experienced a variety of roles. She began in the shop, then moved into an admin based role, then on to PA for then-CEO Simon Coughlin before taking on the customer services side of the business. She’s now due to take over the HR function at Bruichladdich when current head (and Julie’s cousin) goes on maternity leave.

“The milestone for this year is just to get through this year, get through another winter. Emma leaving us in September will make things a bit more on the go at work. I want to put myself into that rather than do too much at once. I’d like to focus on my career for a bit.

Portnahaven, Isle of Islay

On work/life balance

“Some of my friends have moved off the island. They’ve moved for more education or career opportunities or even just a more laid-back lifestyle in Australia. We’re good at keeping in touch, over WhatsApp or whatever but we don’t see each other as often as you would like. You know what it’s like, you get washed away in home life and work.

“Right now I’m working part time. I’ve got a good work life balance being Mum and being me. It’s the perfect balance and the job is quite flexible, I can work from home so it’s not a big deal to be taking on more. I just have to suck it and see how busy it gets.”

On lessons learned

Describing herself as a bit of a diplomat, Julie’s laidback character has made her a friend to all colleagues. Nevertheless, she acknowledges her ‘nice’ approach doesn’t always help her.

“Over the years, I’ve learned that you have to be strong in yourself, and more assertive as you get older. You have to make decisions that are right for you and your family. I’d say my husband taught me that, coached me into not being too soft, a bit tougher.”

This new bravado, of approachable but assertive, has helped her pave the way in proactive projects. Understanding that looking after a business with 100 employees is no mean feat, she’s keen to develop the business’ support for health and wellbeing.

“Emma suggested setting up a day for all our employees, hopefully in October, where we can help support each other and learn new ways to improve mental & physical health and wellbeing. This is something I would really like to help build and take on when Emma leaves on maternity… Whatever is causing strain, we want to be able to support everyone in the business and encourage people to be mindful of one another, give a safe space to talk, and an ear to listen. You don’t know what they may be going through but being part of a small community means that we’re all naturally supportive, we just want to make sure people know that.”

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