Primera is a regeneration consultancy providing a wide range of services to the public, private, voluntary, community and partnership sectors. Our senior leadership team are drawn from a wide variety of backgrounds and have experience, in the UK and internationally, in providing a high-level, solutions-based approach.
Ruth Duston OBE, OC
Ruth is Primera’s founder and Chief Executive, and has spent over 30 years influencing and implementing programmes of social and economic benefit, from neighborhood regeneration and community capacity building through to place based strategies and the creation and implementation of Business Improvement Districts (BIDs). Since she established Primera in 2004 the company has undertaken several commissions for some of the key landowners in central and outer London, which includes Argent, Land Sec and the Cadogan Estate.
Over the years Primera has built a significant reputation as place-based leaders and enablers of change. It has a specialism in driving value through partnership and this has positioned Ruth a key spokesperson and thought leader in London. In 2018 she was awarded an OBE for her contribution to the London Business community.
Ruth has over 25 years’ experience of managing Boards, working at both a policy/strategic level and operationally. In 2014 she was appointed as Chair of Governors for Westminster Kingsway College, one of London’s more successful colleges with a turnover of over £40m and student population of 14,000. In 2016, she led the Board of Governors and college through a merger with City and Islington College, creating Capital City College Group – making it the second-largest Further Education College in the country with over 25,000 students and a combined income of £85m.
Ruth has been a Board Director of the Guards Museum since 2013, and is currently Chair of the Management Committee, and was fundamental in raising over £100k for the Flanders Field Memorial Garden. In December 2017 she was awarded the Order of the Crown by the King of Belgium for her services to fundraising.
Using her policy experience, she has negotiated a number of projects and partnerships across London and the East of England, generating successful income generation to deliver transformational schemes, such as Strand/Aldwych.
Austin has a strong track record in the regeneration field having worked in the sector for over 20 years and co-founding Primera Corporation.
His key specialism is stakeholder engagement, developing deep and lasting relationships with public and private sector organisations in metropolitan areas across the UK and internationally, in particular helping to pioneer and develop the Business Improvement District (BID) model in the UK.
Over two decades Austin has built the portfolio of business partnerships that Primera oversees across Central London. His expertise lies in creating sustainable, agile business vehicles that can deliver an effective programme of activity addressing both business and community priorities.
More recently Austin has led the successful BID ballot campaigns in the City of London including the Eastern City BID, Fleet Street BID and the Culture Mile BID, where he currently serves as Interim CEO.
Austin places great importance on working in collegiate way to deliver effective partnerships. He has a proven ability to manage multi-disciplinary teams to deliver required outputs within tight budgets and timeframes.
Debbie Akehurst is the Chief Executive for Central District Alliance and Hatton Garden BIDs, working across the public, private and third sectors. Debbie has years of experience of working in property, regeneration and economic development.
Developing partnerships and bringing people and sectors together to deliver better outcomes is invaluable to the businesses and stakeholders of both BIDs. Creating social value and enhancing the communities she serves sits at the heart of Debbie’s approach and she specialises in working with businesses to help them develop strategies to support the communities in which they operate.
Debbie has previously sat on the Mayor of London’s Skills Board and MOPAC Board. She was awarded an Outstanding Achievement of the Year Award by the UK Social Mobility Commission Awards for her work on Social Value and Justice.
Lucy French OBE
Urbanism has always played a key part in Lucy’s career, as she has sought to shape the urban environment, in terms of placemaking and culture. Lucy works both on a hyper local level with community voices central to master planning, whilst also looking for national and international input for design and innovation.
Opening the first newly built theatre complex in Central London for 3 decades, Lucy worked with key stakeholders to bring the ambitious scheme to fruition, successfully setting it within the wider transformation of Victoria. She sat on the Victoria BID Board during this time, witnessing the innovation and change created by the BID team.
She founded the charity Never Such Innocence (NSI) in March 2014, and is currently its Chair. NSI is an educational charity that gives young people across the UK and internationally the opportunity to reflect on conflict and how conflict impacts their lives and the world around them through poetry, art, speechwriting and song. The charity nurtures the next generation of thinkers, leaders and peace keepers through the arts, cultural exchange, dialogue and debate, working with 9-18 year olds in 121 countries.
Over the years Lucy has campaigned and fundraised for theatre, the arts and the voices of children. She sits on the Advisory Board for ‘Getting on with it: the micro-dynamics of post-accord intergroup social relations’ at Bristol University, is a committee member for the 2024 Lord Mayors Big Curry Lunch and an Honorary Vice-President of The Western Front Association. She was awarded an OBE in the 2019 New Year’s Honours List for Services to Young People and the Arts.
Kate cut her teeth in the dynamic world of Government communications, working on everything from the Elected Regional Assemblies campaign with John Prescott to working in the press office ‘bunker’ in the aftermath of the 7/7 bombings, before working on some of the UK’s most iconic Destination Marketing and placemaking schemes. Now a communications and placemaking specialist with more than 20 years’ experience, Kate has been part of Primera since 2019.
Prior to joining Primera, Kate ran her own communications consultancy working on housing, regeneration and placemaking projects and worked for some of the UK’s leading PR agencies including London Communications Agency and Fishburn Hedges. She had a lead role in the marketing and communications for the transformed St Pancras International, an account which she lead for a number of years following the re-opening in 2007. The objective was to create the UK first Destination Station, supporting the luxury retail and hospitality offer in the station, attract new customers and change peoples’ perceptions of what a station experience can offer. During her years working on this account the team won many accolades including Station of the Year, PR team of the year, numerous Guinness World Records and the station’s LEGO Christmas Tree was voted the best Christmas Tree in the world!
Her career started at the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), advising the Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, Nick Raynsford and latterly, the former Housing Minister Yvette Cooper on communication issues. She also did several secondments in Number 10 Downing Street’s press office.
Kate graduated from the University of Sheffield in 2001 with an MA in Political Communication and before that studied for my BA at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. She is currently the CEO of the EC BID and is a member of Primera’s Senior Leadership team, leading on a range of communication issues and external affairs.
Paul is a dynamic executive with a multi-faceted background spanning two decades working with a range of businesses crossing both public and private sectors. Expert in strategy development and implementation, business set-up and operations, property investment, asset management and FM, Paul has a hands-on track record of successfully running groups of companies, transitioning major projects, managing complex contracts, and large mixed-use property portfolios.
Results driven with strong Board experience, Paul is highly skilled in corporate governance, risk management and sustainability, accomplished in senior stakeholder engagement, change management, customer service and talent development. Paul, who originally trained as an engineer, has worked for leading organisations, including 12 years with Land Securities Group plc where he held various senior positions across all property related disciplines.
Before joining Primera in 2023, Paul was an Executive Director for Qualis, a group of local authority trading companies that focused on property investment, development and management. Prior to Qualis, Paul was Director of Asset and Property Management and Head of UK for Chinese conglomerate LKKHPG. Paul has a Masters in real estate from Kingston University, is a Member of the Institute of Directors and a Certified Member of the Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management. Paul has recently been appointed as Independent Non-executive Director for Elstree Film Studios, which is wholly owned by Hertsmere Council. Paul is Primera’s Chief Operating Officer.
James leads Primera’s corporate marketing and communications team, providing public affairs support across the portfolio of Business Improvement Districts and developing Primera’s new Insights Team.
Immediately prior to this role, James spent 14 months as Interim Chief Executive of a leading London private members’ club. Before that he worked as Group Director of Marketing and Development for CT Group, reporting directly to the founder and CEO, Sir Lynton Crosby.
James joined CT from Santander UK where he was International Engagement Director. From 2007 – 2017 James worked in the City of London as Swordbearer and Senior Programme Manager to the Rt. Hon The Lord Mayor. In this capacity he was responsible for protocol and the Lord Mayor’s ceremonial activity in the City, and also their extensive overseas business visits, working with the Foreign Office to plan and deliver visits to over 25 countries each year. James graduated with an MA in International Relations and Modern History from the University of St Andrews.
Nicki has worked in BIDs since 2009, joining the Victoria BID as it embarked on its first ballot. She has worked on numerous ballots with Primera across a variety of BID areas including establishing the Victoria Westminster BID, gaining knowledge and experience across all aspects of BIDs. She took over the Harley Street Area Partnership in April 2020 and led the BID to a successful ballot outcome in December 2021.
Nicki’s experience has helped her understand the importance of building strong relationships with levy payers and key stakeholders, understanding the commitment required to establish those partnerships. She brings a varied skillset which supports her in managing the team and BID. She is highly organised, efficient and attention to detail is paramount to her. Managing a budget of £1m, Nicki understands the importance of accountability as she ensures that the BID at Harley Street delivers tangible outputs and is successful in its first term and many beyond.