Westquay boss Laura Read is set to pursue a "lifelong passion" after deciding to swap shops for animals.

Laura, destination director at the shopping complex, has been appointed chief executive of Marwell Wildlife, the charity that owns and operates Marwell Zoo.

She has 20 years of experience in leadership roles within the destination management, retail, hospitality, and events sectors.

As well as her Westquay role she is chair of Southampton Forward, the city’s cultural trust, which aims to enhance the region through cultural activities, festivals, and tourism.

Daily Echo: Laura Read is leaving Westquay shopping centre after four 'wonderful' yeareLaura Read is leaving Westquay shopping centre after four 'wonderful' yeare (Image: Newsquest.)

Laura joins Marwell next month and is looking forward to returning to her conservation roots, having graduated with a BSc in biological sciences from the University of Warwick. 

She said: "Marwell is somewhere I’ve been going to since I was a child and somewhere I have brought my own children, so it's a special place for me. 

“When I graduated, I wanted to work in the field of conservation, but for many reasons life took me in a different direction.

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"Now, having the opportunity to combine a lifelong passion with my years of commercial experience in an organisation as regionally, nationally, and internationally renowned as Marwell Wildlife is a dream come true.

Daily Echo: Lauta Read is joining Marwell Zoo in March 2024Lauta Read is joining Marwell Zoo in March 2024 (Image: Paul Webber, Marwell Zoo)

"I am very much looking forward to applying my skills to grow and develop Marwell, both as a fantastic zoo experience for our visitors but also as a globally leading force in the preservation of biodiversity.

"I am so proud to be working for an organisation that has done so much to protect some of the planet’s most vulnerable species."

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Posting on social media she added: "After four wonderful years at Westquay working alongside some incredible people, it is time to embark on a very exciting new adventure!

"I am absolutely delighted to be joining Marwell Wildlife as their new chief executive. The team have been wonderful so far and very welcoming. I'm very much looking forward to getting started."

In her spare time, Laura loves travelling with her young family and witnessing conservation efforts across the globe. Recent trips have included Panama, Guatemala, and India. 

Frank McCaffrey is chairman of the board of trustees at Marwell.

He said: "We are truly fortunate to be able to appoint someone of Laura’s calibre, vision, and passion to lead us in our continuing aim of developing the modern, pioneering, and progressive zoo for today’s changing planet.”