Releasing the Story of Sutton Hoo

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Sutton Hoo © David Gill

The National Trust has been awarded £1.8 million by the Heritage Lottery Fund to enhance the visitor experience at Sutton Hoo. One of the projects will be to create a 17 m high viewing tower to give some visitors views of the burial ground. Tranmer House, overlooking the cemetery, will be the home for a new interpretative exhibition.

National Trust Membership Size

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Waddesdon Manor © David Gill

The membership of the National Trust has now exceeded the five million mark (“National Trust memberships hit new high of five million“, BBC News 23 September 2017). This marks a leap from the numbers for 2016 (see here).

The release also includes the top 10 National Trust sites (for the year up to April 2017): two in Northern Ireland, eight in England, and none from Wales.

Raptor at Oxburgh Hall

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Oxburgh Hall © David Gill

Managing unwanted birds can be be a problem at heritage sites. The team at the National Trust’s Oxburgh Hall in Norfolk has installed a kite raptor on one of the gatehouse towers to deter nesting birds.

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Oxburgh Hall © David Gill

This does not seem to have made much of an impact on two pigeons nesting on the top of the adjacent chimney stack.

Thomas Bewick celebrations at NT Cherryburn

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Cherryburn © David Gill

This weekend marks the anniversary of the birth of the wood-engraver Thomas Bewick at Cherryburn in Northumberland on 10 or 12 August 1753 (see ODNB). The property is now owned by the National Trust.

Further information is available from the Thomas Bewick Society and the Natural History Society of Northumbria.

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Cherryburn © David Gill

From experience to transformation – enterprising heritage sites

The business of running a heritage site has got ever more complex as new ideas, drivers from the wider tourism industry, changing visitor expectations, and commercial pressures on conservation organisations have increased. The range of ‘touchpoints’ between visitors and heritage sites often combine aspects of intellectual, commercial or experiential interaction, and have the potential to move the site from having a passive to an active relationship between the managing organisation for the site and its users.  This is particularly useful for heritage organisations which want to develop customers into stakeholders and supporters of a conservation cause.

The growth in the range of income streams for an individual site lead to complexity for leadership of both the site and wider organisation, which means a site needs to be considered as a particular form of enterprise.  A recent publication by Bruce Dearstyne, Leading the Historical Enterprise (Altamira 2014) considers usefully considers this.

The different contexts and relationships are neatly illustrated at Anglesey Abbey, near Cambridge, run by the National Trust. Illustrated is one of a number of similar information boards at various key visitor gathering points around the site. The information frame is headed by a strapline variant of ‘One Time..’ which is used across the site to bring together the interpretative theme based around Lord Fairhaven’s creation of the estate and landscape gardens. An explanation is provided of the new live interpretation which is being deployed at the site by costumed volunteers (called ‘engagers’), designed to provide an ‘immersive experience’, as if the house owners were still in residence. Further notices suggest that the visitor could ‘Start a fresh story here’, by visiting the second-hand book shop, purchase tickets for the Winter Lights evening opening, or purchase a raffle ticket which will support the restoration of the Rose Garden.  Visitors are also encouraged to ask questions about the plants in the garden by taking a card from a small wooden box and writing their queries on them for passing to garden staff, who will then feed back information.

The various notices therefore bring together aspects of brand creation; diversity in income streams; innovation in interpretation through immersive experience of the site; after-hours special events which stretch the hours of site utilisation and which have developed a level of exclusivity given popularity (tickets being sold in July for November, almost 6 months in advance); knowledge development through being able to quiz the gardeners about plants; and sating of competitive tendencies via a raffle with prizes with the added bonus of doing something good for the site.  In a single location we can therefore see a sophisticated range of visitor engagement, and consider this against the context of Pine and Gilmore’s ideas on the Experience Economy and developed notions of the Transformative Economy, whereby a heritage visit can now affect a person visiting in a number of ways.

Ringlet at Cherryburn

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Ringlet at Cherryburn, 2017 © David Gill

Today, 14 July 2017, marks the start of the Big Butterfly Count. Keep an eye out for butterflies when you are visiting heritage sites.

This ringlet was in the meadow behind NT Cherryburn in Northumberland, the birthplace of Thomas Bewick.

Summer Solstice at Sutton Hoo

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Sutton Hoo © David Gill

There are preparations underway at Sutton Hoo for the ‘Summer Solstice’ weekend. One of the displays includes (reconstructed) material from Switzerland that was contemporary with the Sutton Hoo burial.