Fresh from tackling the aftermath of terrorism, Toni McConville is
far from nervous about her next challenge - taking up one of the most
prestigious jobs in local government PR.
McConville, who takes up her latest role as Brent director of
communications and consultant in the autumn, has only been in her
current post, Ealing council head of publications and deputy head of
communications, since January.
It was a newly created team at Ealing and she was thrilled by the
prospect of carrying through new initiatives. There was also no shortage
of big news to keep McConville busy. Last month the borough's Broadway
shopping centre was targeted by a Real IRA car bomb.
But as Brent council is regarded by many in the sector, including the
Local Government Association and McConville herself, as the home of one
of Britian's leading council communications teams, it was too good an
opportunity to miss. 'Brent is the plum job. I just thought "that's my
job, I want it",' says McConville.
Her experience in the aftermath of the Ealing bomb shows she is more
than suitable for the Brent role. The day after the blast, in the
absence of head of communications Clive Caseley who was away on leave,
she headed media relations.
As one of her key tasks was to deliver the council's e-government
agenda, the incident provided a chance to offer residents a rolling
online news service following the attack. The council itself also became
part of the story, when staff were evacuated from offices under orders
from water board officials who needed to redirect supplies.
McConville says: 'Everyone pulled together and our emergency plan worked
really well. I was particularly pleased at the amount of information we
were able to get directly to residents.'
Aside from her immediate council role, the bomb attack was more personal
for McConville, who has lived in Northern Ireland and whose father is
from the province. She first lived in Ulster as a toddler when her
family relocated from London, but by the time she was five they returned
to England, citing the violence as a factor. She returned to Portadown
for a year, just before she started a design course and her first career
as a graphic designer.
'The violence was all around. Soldiers would dive into doorways around
you as part of their manoeuvres and a nearby bank was blown up,' she
'Because of living in Northern Ireland I do have a different
perspective. But I'm sure my attitude is a common one - these people are
just evil. What happened in Ealing could have been another Omagh,' she
Her move from second in charge at Ealing to the bigger role at Brent,
overseeing 22 PR staff, is a familiar trait through her career.
Initially a graphic designer, she became communications manager for
Brunel University students union. Enjoying the PR element, she moved to
the lower-ranked post of PR assistant at Hillingdon council. Within a
week, she was elevated to PR officer due to a staff departure.
A similar story applied to her next job at Harrow council. Within three
months she was promoted from PR manager to acting communications head
due to the departure of former PR chief Kevin Wilson to Barnet
Another big story that she has handled was in her first week at Harrow.
She dealt with a barrage of media attention over the death of
13-year-old Aliyah Ismail, who died as a drug-addicted prostitute near
King's Cross despite having been placed in the care of Harrow social
McConville is pleasant company, good-natured and her conversation is
littered with laughs and smiles. But there's a tough edge and her life
outside of work reflects this.
She has spent ten years as a fitness instructor, shouting aerobic advice
to often more than 80 people at once, and five years ago she discovered
the thrill of skiing. She has since been 17 times in the past five
Hillingdon PR manager Roy Mills was in the same job when McConville was
at the council. He says: 'She is good-natured and has great courage of
her convictions. I suppose tough would be a word to describe her.'
Local Government Chronicle news editor Emma Parsons says of McConville's
work at Harrow: 'It was a bit of a mess before she got there. She turned
it around, we started to get responses quicker. She knows what she's
doing and is no shrinking violet.'
At Brent the council is entering a new phase in its PR campaign to get
the Wembley Stadium project back on track. The council has secured
£110m for the surrounding area, but this is conditional on the
redevelopment of the stadium going ahead.
A fear for those in Brent is that Wembley may never reopen as it is now
facing stiff competition from Birmingham, which is vying to become the
home of national football.
Like the bomb blast at Ealing, it seems the challenges are set to
continue for McConville at Brent.
1990: Comms manager, Brunel Uni SU
1995: PRO, Hillingdon council
1999: PR manager, Harrow council
2001: Director of comms and consultation, Brent council