From Belgrade to the Herbert – duty manager Slavica celebrates 25 years with the organisation

25 years is a long time to stay with one organisation.

In a modern age where people change careers much more often, staying in the same job for decades is becoming rarer and rarer.

But for Slavica Stojsavljevic, duty manager at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, a quarter of a century working for Culture Coventry, and later CV Life, has flown by. She puts her longevity down to her passion for the job, the variety on offer, and the people she has worked with through the years.

Slavica grew up in Belgrade, the city which would lend its name to her adopted home’s theatre, while it was still Yugoslavia.

After university she came to the UK in the early 1990s, initially working as a teaching assistant at her child’s school, before making the move to the Coventry Transport Museum in the late 1990s.

Working for Culture Coventry she found her home, and she’d hold numerous positions at both the Transport Museum and the Herbert before settling into her DM role.

Working on the frontline of Coventry’s culture scene means she has grown to love the city’s ways and its people.

But the initial years in this country were difficult. War broke out in her home city and her early years were spent full of dread that she could hear bad news from her homeland.

Slavica said: “I met my husband in Belgrade and he came to Coventry. I had studied Tourism at university, and was planning on being a travel agent.

“But in the meantime I came to Coventry to be with my husband in 1990. My plan was to stay for a little bit and then go home, but then war started. Belgrade was the first place to be attacked where all my family were. It was horrible, I couldn’t go and see them and didn’t know if they were safe.

“Lots of people I knew and loved suffered so much. I heard so many sad stories from my homeland – I felt helpless being so far away and not being able to do anything. It was awful.

“However, seeing the Belgrade Theatre named after my home city was really nice and that has become my ‘go to place’.”

With a young family, Slavica soon started working at the local primary school as a bilingual assistant on a casual basis. Her talents for languages, she speaks several, meant she was perfect for the role particularly as the war in her homeland meant Coventry welcomed refugees that were Bosnian, Serbian and Croat, all languages or dialects Slavica was familiar with.

In the late 1990s she started as a casual at Coventry Transport Museum, then applied for receptionist and shop assistant.

With the museum joining forces with the Herbert Art Gallery this allowed Slavica to broaden her horizons, moving across to work at the gift shop, picking up more responsibility as a buyer – a role she later combined with that of duty manager in 2014.

With Covid, Slavica’s retail position became redundant but as she was working a dual role she was able to continue being a DM at the Herbert. She now focuses solely on the latter, running a tight ship at the venue Saturday through until Monday.

Speaking about her career, Slavica said: “I’ve always loved the variety on offer working here – I’ve been able to do many different roles so it’s never got boring. It’s nice.

“Everyone has always been very welcoming to me, I’ve never been made to feel different in any way despite my accent.

“But I really like the people I’ve worked with, but also the visitors. My parents owned a cake shop growing up so I’ve always loved interacting with people.”

There has been some challenges. Slavica recalls feeling “awful” when a child who had come to Coventry from a warzone went through the Blitz Experience at CTM and emerged screaming in terror.

Slavica was also on the frontline when Just Stop Oil tried vandalising Dippy.

“It was like being a film,” Slavica said. “I was in the shop and suddenly someone shouted ‘there’s a protester’ and I ran in. I was asking them to leave, and they wouldn’t.

“It wasn’t scary at the time but after you think about it and it does hit you that it was quite traumatic. I felt awful for the families there with young kids, some of them were petrified – a little girl hiding behind her parents. That wasn’t a nice experience.”

However, Slavica’s grace under pressure was noticed by the public, and she and her team received lots of positive feedback on how they handled the incident.

So what has kept Slavica here for 25 years, and what does she say to someone at the beginning of their career in the organisation?

“I’ve made it to 25 years by always building relationships with colleagues,” She revealed. “And I like the nature of the job – travel and tourism is what my interest always was so to have spent my career doing this has made me really happy. It’s also been perfect for balancing family life due to the flexibility of the roles I’ve had.

“For someone starting here I would recommend having a passion for what we do, and a bit of knowledge. But passion is the main thing, if you have that you will learn the rest.”

Well done on your milestone Slavica, we’re so proud to have you as such an important part of the team!