Current employer: National Trust
Current job title: Visitor Experience Manager
Current location: Ham House and Garden, Richmond, Surrey
“Working for the Trust opens you up to a lot of behind the scenes opportunities: scaffold tour of Castle Drogo, cleaning an 18th century mirror, driving a tractor around Capability Brown landscapes, scaring people on ghost tours, walking along the edge of Ham House’s roof in a harness!”
Tell us about your career path since graduation.
I didn’t know what I wanted to do after leaving university. I concentrated on earning money so that I could travel for a couple of months. When I returned I started applying for jobs at local museums, organisations in London, English Heritage, and then my Mum suggested the National Trust. There was a job at my local property, and this turned out to be my foot in the door at an organisation I really believed in. I’ve worked with the Trust ever since, first in retail and catering and now I’m in visitor experience.
Has your career path changed since graduation?
When I started at Chedworth Roman Villa it was in retail and catering. I was in that role for a few years and I knew it wasn’t right for me. Whilst working for the Trust I learnt about the role of curators and liked the sound of that. I did some work shadowing with a couple of curators and decided I would do a masters in Country Houses at the University of Leicester to help further my knowledge and strengthen my CV. Whilst I was doing the course I got involved with visitor experience and ended up getting the role of Visitor Services Officer. I quickly realised this was the area I wanted to stay in and, after doing that role for a season, I then became the Assistant Visitor Experience Manager at Stowe Gardens, Buckinghamshire. I’ve stayed in visitor experience ever since and love it.
What is the most difficult thing which you have faced in your career?
When I was working at Stowe I was in my mid-twenties and had to line manage two people who were about double my age. That was difficult because they had so much life and career experience of their own and were having to be managed by some young upstart! Life experience is so invaluable and it’s important to respect that and I learnt a lot from them and managed to build a rapport with them. My time at Stowe was a steep learning curve but one that has held me in good stead ever since.
What is the best, most exciting or fun thing that you have done in your career?
There have been a few! Working for the Trust opens you up to a lot of behind the scenes opportunities: scaffold tour of Castle Drogo, cleaning an 18th century mirror, driving a tractor around Capability Brown landscapes, scaring people on ghost tours, walking along the edge of Ham House’s roof in a harness! One of the best parts of my job is getting to go through the doors that say ‘staff only’ and discovering new things every day.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get in to the same line of work?
Working for the National Trust or any heritage organisation is competitive so I would advise getting work experience through volunteering and part-time work. When I look at applications, I interview people who can express a real commitment to the organisation and have volunteered or worked in the sector, even at entry level. If you’re like me and aren’t sure what you want to do, volunteer at a range of places and roles you are interested in, and also the ones in which you’re not that interested. My preferred period of history is early modern yet my first proper job was at a Romano-British villa from the 4th century AD. Don’t always expect to walk into your dream role, you might need to think outside the box and work sideways until you get there. I have always preferred country houses but I’ve worked at a ruin, landscape garden, and countryside property before I got to Ham House.
How did studying at Plymouth help you?
I have to pitch for a range of things – more staffing, new facilities, different visitor offers – and I need to write business cases for all of them. I take the same approach as when I was studying history: I make sure that I have sufficient evidence to back up my argument. I need to state the current situation, why something needs to change, the expected benefits and what will happen if nothing is done. I look at data and research and analyse what’s going on. This analytical approach to my work was developed whilst studying history. History isn’t always about dates, facts and figures, it’s the process of interpretation, coming to a conclusion and making a decision.
Is there anything else which you would like to share with our current students?
Not sure if I should say this or not but I got to Plymouth through clearing. I thought the world had ended and was so upset. But, with the benefit of hindsight, it all worked out for the best. I had a fantastic time, made some great friends, earnt a 2:1 degree. I’m a believer in fate and that what will be will be. The only regrets I have are around things I didn’t do. Make the most of every opportunity and if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. It will be difficult at times but worth it in the end.