Five minutes with...Joanna O'Neill
Joanna O'Neill, a Membership and Visitor Welcome Assistant at Carrick-a-Rede has worked at this special place for over two years and shares with us why places like Carrick-a-Rede matter.
Tell us a bit about you and your role?
My name is Joanna, I am a Membership and Visitor Welcome Assistant at Carrick-a-Rede. I am responsible for welcoming visitors to the site, answering any questions they have and making sure they have all the information they need to make the most of their visit.
I have worked here as permanent staff for two years now but I was previously employed part-time in seasonal positions at Carrick-a-Rede. I live locally so I have always had a connection to the area, and I enjoy some gorgeous scenery on my daily commute.
What does a typical day as a Membership and Visitor Welcome Assistant entail?
We have a 9am briefing every morning. This is our opportunity to find out about any events happening at the site that day, or special visitors or groups arriving. Since the introduction of online booking at Carrick-a-Rede it is easier for us to prepare in advance for particularly busy days. We are also briefed on any hazards such as rock falls, that we need to be aware of in order to ensure visitors’ safety. After that I will then make my way to reception to get everything set up for visitors arriving and make sure signage is in place.
Throughout the day I will answer questions from visitors, handle email enquiries and generally point people in the right direction. We have 240 tickets available every hour for visitors who want to cross the bridge, but there are also walkers and people who simply want to enjoy the scenery. Part of my role is to make sure that those who aren’t crossing the bridge know where the best walking trails or most idyllic picnic spots can be found. There is something for everyone here, not just the thrill chasers who want to take on the bridge.
Our hours depend on the season but we welcome approximately 2,500 visitors to the site every day. It’s amazing having the opportunity to meet so many people from all over the world but when it is very busy I look forward to some me-time at the end of the day.
Are you working on any exciting projects at the minute?
All the staff at Carrick-a-Rede have recently been invited to share their ideas, hopes and aspirations about the progression of the site. As footfall increases and we are welcoming increasing numbers of visitors to Carrick-a-Rede everyday we are responsible for finding new and innovative ways of practicing sustainable tourism while also meeting the needs of our visitors.
As a Membership and Visitor Welcome Assistant I am always chatting to visitors and have the opportunity to gain an understanding of how we can make their experience at the property the best it can be.
What’s your favourite memory of your time working for the National Trust?
I love when kids arrive and they are nervous and apprehensive about crossing the bridge - I like helping them overcome their fear and watch them experience that amazing sense of achievement when they get to the island. I remember one little boy telling me he was scared that he would fall in and basking sharks would eat him. I told him that our sharks are vegetarian, and he quite happily then stepped on and crossed without fear!
Why do places like Carrick-a-Rede matter?
The National Trust properties are places in history. They are places to learn. You can of course read books about them but there is nothing as valuable as experiencing these places and properties in real life. There is something amazing about experiencing the history of Carrick-a-Rede first hand - getting the chance to feel the history around you... touch it and smell it. I think it is especially important for children.
What does the National Trust mean to you?
I think the most important part of the work the National Trust does is conservation. It preserves places so they can be enjoyed forever by everyone.
If there wasn’t an organisation looking after these properties they would no longer be here. The National Trust makes a commitment to refurbish these places that matter and bring to life again.
Favourite time of the year?
The weather is so variable in this part of the world so that is a hard question to answer! But every season has something beautiful about it and the contrasts are unique and interesting. The unpredictability is part of what is special about the Causeway Coast, and it certainly keeps us on our toes. The site looks different everyday so we can never say we get bored of the scenery.
If you could have any other job what would it be?
I have a degree in drama, so a career in TV or theatre is the dream. I would love a job that allows me to sing everyday, but I do that here anyway. The team is always being treated to a performance, whether they like it or not, and I tell them, “You should enjoy it while you can because in a year or two you could be paying for this privilege!”
Tell us why we should visit a National Trust property?
The staff - everyone from the Visitor Experience team to the Rangers who look after the land and wildlife - are really friendly and incredibly knowledgeable about the sites they look after. People come for the places and properties they see online but they get the added bonus of meeting staff who are passionate about making sure they enjoy their experience and feel invigorated and inspired when they leave.
We even try to greet visitors in their own languages. I speak a little French and many of the team here are multi-lingual, then there is Lawrence, one of the Duty Managers who actually speaks five languages! I have made translation sheets for the office and we try to learn how to say ‘hello’ and ‘thank-you’ in as many languages as possible. Those little things make a difference and I think our international visitors really appreciate it - it makes them feel very welcome.