On Monday 3 June I was one of fifteen volunteers who enjoyed a guided walk over the Stonehenge Landscape, led by Michael Robinson of the National Trust.
Starting at Tombs Road in Larkhill, the walk took in King Barrows Ridge and the King Barrows themselves, Stonehenge Avenue, the Cursus Barrows, and the Cursus. Despite having walked this landscape several times in the past, including the former WW1 airfields at Stonehenge and Larkhill – walks organised by ‘Wings Over Stonehenge’ – and taken the trouble to read the information boards en route, I still learned new things. Thus I learned that it was not until the Great Storm of 1990 felled some trees growing on the barrows did archaeologists discover that the mounds were made of turf and soil rather than the usual chalk. The importance of these monuments to the Bronze Age people can be appreciated when one realises that an area of 12 football pitches (valuable agricultural land!) would need to have been stripped of grass to create them. The King Barrows have never been excavated.
Leaving King Barrows we took the path that led us onto the
Avenue where we could savour the effect, experienced by our forbears, of Stonehenge gradually coming into view as we ascended the
final stretch. Two of our party walked the left hand bank whilst the main body
walked the right hand bank so that we could visualise the width of the Avenue.
Leaving Stonehenge we walked across the site of the former Visitor Centre and carpark and took the path to the Cursus Barrows. From here we could look across in the direction of Normanton Barrows and Bush Barrow, the latter being the site of Britain’s richest Bronze Age burial, the artefacts of which can be seen at Wiltshire Museum, Devizes.
Amongst these artefacts is a bronze dagger adorned with
140,000 minute gold rivets. This excavation was led by William Cunnington
(1754-1810) whose colleague, John Parker, of Heytesbury, is credited as being
the first person to use a trowel on an archaeological site. John Parker had scattered these “points of
gold” before Cunnington had had an opportunity to examine them.
Whilst at the Cursus Barrows we were all enthralled by the
sight of a small but spectacularly blue Adonis Blue butterfly, whose sole larval
food source is horseshoe vetch. This beautiful butterfly is one of the most
characteristic of unimproved southern chalk downland, but has undergone a major
decline through its entire range (-19% since the 1970s). However, it has
recently expanded in some regions, notably Dorset and Wiltshire.
At the end of the walk, many of us were extremely flattered
when we were asked to sign a ‘permission to use our images’ form from the
National Trust which referred to us as ‘models’.
My iphone ‘Health’ app informed me that we had covered about
7km during this walk.
This was a very enjoyable and worthwhile morning out.
Hannah Grigson, who many of you know (Reception), was recently at Clumber House, Nottinghamshire…
recently spent a week with the National Trust in North Nottinghamshire as part
of the British Museum’s Visitor Service Knowledge Circle, which is a programme
to support professional development for Visitor Service staff across eight
partner organisations. My placement gave me the opportunity to visit two very
different National Trust properties and to learn a lot about the work they do to
maximise their visitor experience.
of my week was spent at Clumber Park which was once the estate of the Dukes of
Newcastle and comprises more than 3,800 acres of parkland, heath and woods. The
stately home was demolished in 1938 but there remains a Gothic-style chapel,
often referred to as a ‘Cathedral in miniature’, beautiful pleasure grounds and
a stunning walled garden. Clumber Park is the most visited pay per head
National Trust property in England and Wales and welcomes over 650,000 visitors
other property in nearby Worksop, Mr Straw’s House, couldn’t be more different
and is described by the Trust as an ”ordinary
home and extraordinary house”. It is a suburban, semi-detached house which
is virtually unchanged since the 1930s and houses a unique collection of
artefacts. The size of the property necessitates booking in advance and
visitors are taken on timed tours with only four people per tour. My visit
offered an insight into the challenges of managing a visitor attraction that
welcomes 10,000 visitors a year but is designed for one family to live in.
placement gave me the opportunity to have many in depth discussions with the
visitor experience teams at both properties – ranging from learning and
outreach, supporter engagement, admissions and membership, volunteering and
community involvement, collections management, the visitor journey, public
programming, marketing and communications and the visitor experience outdoors
including a tour around the Clumber Park estate and a fascinating visit to the
walled garden. I also found out about ‘Clumber Park Revitalised’, which is a
10-year investment programme to improve conservation and the visitor
ended my first day by giving a presentation on the Salisbury Museum and the
work we do highlighting our temporary exhibitions and our ‘talking objects’ programme.
There followed a discussion on exhibition programming and the need sometimes to
be brave and plan exhibitions which attract new audiences. The team were
interested to hear about the success of our Terry Pratchett: His World
exhibition. One of the elements the Trust gather information on is the
emotional impact of their visitors’ experience. I am certain sure our Terry
Pratchett exhibition would have scored highly in terms of ‘emotional impact’
and this is one of the reasons why it was such a success.
discussions about ‘emotional impact’ took place at Mr Straw’s House the
following day. Their score for ‘emotional impact’ in the visitor feedback was
directly affected by the theme of the temporary exhibition. During my visit the
exhibition was focused on the experience of the Straw family’s sons in World
War 1 and this had increased their score from the previous year. One of the
things I found fascinating about the property was the focus on the four individuals,
Mr and Mrs Straw and their two sons, who had lived at the property from 1920 to
when it was taken on by the Trust in 1990. Their story is one that is
manageable in scale and one that many people can relate to – it was both
personal and moving.
an emotional connection through story telling is one of the themes highlighted
in the National Trust’s ‘Inspire to Engage’ programme. The Trust endeavours to
make their visitor experience ‘easy, personal and memorable’ and the aim is
that a visit to one of their properties should be both ‘emotionally rewarding
and intellectually stimulating’. Stories can be used to engage, influence,
teach and inspire – we are 22 times more likely to remember and be emotionally
connected to a story than we are to straight facts. The process is two way – so
visitors should be able to respond to what they have experienced and share
their own stories. Throughout our Terry Pratchett exhibition, I was stuck by how
much our visitors wanted to talk to us about what Sir Terry and his books meant
to them and to share how this had impacted on their own personal stories and
important factor in the ‘Inspire to Engage’ programme is the ‘Peak End Rule’.
The Nobel prize-winning psychologist, Daniel Kahneman, pointed out that people
could only remember two things from an experience – how we feel at the peak
(regardless of whether the experience proves to be ultimately good or bad) and
how we feel at the end. The peak end feelings summarise our whole experience and
plays a determining factor in what we feel about our visit and whether we will
want to engage with it again. It is therefore extremely important that visitors
end their experience on a high, so they feel connected and wish to return.
discussions with the staff repeatedly demonstrated the importance of emotional
connections in the Trust’s outlook. They are constantly seeking to make
connections and to build relationships with their visitors, volunteers, with
schools and education groups and with the wider community. A feeling of
connectivity is paramount – the aim is to reach out to their visitors and to
the local community and to encourage loyalty, not just to the place but to the
organisation as a whole. This encourages repeat visits and membership which are
vital to the sustainability of the Trust.
talked with the Trust staff about how community engagement had played an
important part in turning a recent negative experience into something positive.
Earlier this year Clumber Park’s Grade II listed ornamental bridge was badly
damaged in an act of vandalism when someone deliberately drove a car into the
250-year old structure. This caused outrage in the local community and many
wanted to get involved to help support the restoration of the bridge. The staff
at Clumber have taken this an opportunity to reach out to the community through
a number of initiatives
and to involve people in recording their memories of the bridge and the part it
has played in their lives – many shared wedding photos taken on the bridge or told
stories of how their child had taken their first steps there.
couldn’t help drawing a parallel with Salisbury’s own recent difficulties
following the tragic ‘novichok’ incident in March 2018 and the devastating impact
this has had on visitor numbers. It
highlights the necessity of forming positive connections with our local
community so that we have a solid base of support – through our membership
scheme but also through community initiatives – to help carry us through difficult times and to make
us financially sustainable and resilient to change.
way this can be achieved is by working with partner organisations. Clumber Park
is situated in an area known as the Dukeries, a reference to the fact that it
was one of five ducal estates in a small area. The Park now works with tour
companies to offer a combined visit to a number of these estates so rather than
seeing the neighbouring attractions as competition, they have found that
working together they are stronger and can give an enhanced offer. This got me
thinking about ways we can form good working partnerships with the other nearby
attractions in the Close to make a stronger offer to our visitors.
my final morning I had the opportunity to find out about Clumber Park’s
marketing and communications and some of their successes. Last summer parch
marks caused by the hot, dry weather revealed the outline of the walls of the
demolished mansion. This really caught the imagination of the visitors and
created a buzz on social media. The BBC’s ‘The One Show’ picked up on the story
and came to film at Clumber which boosted visitor numbers hugely. The Trust
positioned furniture and created a door on the mansion site to bring the
experience alive for their visitors and this proved extremely popular. They
also arranged for an archaeological dig on the site which resulted in the
discovery of a number of interesting finds.
on a good story and bringing it alive for visitors can really capture both the
public and media interest and is a way of reaching out to new audiences. The
placing of furniture and a door on the old mansion site showed me how the Trust
are not afraid of thinking outside the box to engage visitors in innovative
ways. They are in fact actively seeking ways to bring places to life for their
supporters. They are committed to improve what they are doing, and they do this
by identifying what they should stop doing and by doing more of what they do
well. The message I took from my placement was to be bold and brave, and to put
people and their stories at the forefront of what you do as a means of bringing
artefacts and places alive, and by doing so creating memorable experiences and
I came home literally buzzing with ideas and inspiration which I am looking forward to sharing. The collective passion and enthusiasm of the staff and volunteers at the National Trust shone out both at Clumber Park and at Mr Straw’s House. It was fascinating to get an insight into the workings of two such contrasting properties. This comparison coupled with my own experiences at the Salisbury Museum showed me that however different the organisation, the size of the attraction, or whether the primary focus is indoors or out – we all face similar challenges and share a communality of passion and commitment in ensuring our visitors get the best possible experience, whilst securing our heritage for future generations.