Visitor Experience Officer, Clandon Park
Hannah is the Visitor Experience Officer at Clandon Park, responsible for looking after our visitors, giving them a warm, engaging welcome and making sure they have everything they need to enjoy their day. It’s an important role across the National Trust because welcoming people is a big part of what we do as an organisation.
At Clandon, it’s a slightly unusual version of the Visitor Experience role because, post fire, we’re essentially a building site. I manage a team, the vast majority of which are volunteers. A big part of my role is recruiting volunteers and then supporting them so they’re able to learn about this special place and then present Clandon Park to our visitors in an engaging way.
You don’t go into Visitor Experience if you want every day to be the same, because people just aren’t the same. I love working with so many different people and I find that variety really appealing, whether that’s the project team behind the restoration, other colleagues, visitors or volunteers. You don’t know who’s going to come through the door; from Building Surveyors and academics to young families just looking for a fun and interesting day out, you get to have all kinds of different conversations.
I started at Clandon in June of 2018 but before that I worked at the Weald and Downland Living Museum in Sussex. It’s a different scale but the role, in some ways, is quite similar. The Weald and Downland look after over 45 historic, predominantly timber-framed, buildings that have all been rescued from across the region and re-erected on site. The building is then furnished or equipped according to its use. Whilst Clandon Park is a higher status building, we’re still rebuilding and preserving something special, teasing out the themes and questions that our visitors want to know about.
There are a surprising number of parallels between a modest timber framed barn and a huge Georgian mansion. We can all relate to buildings on some level because we all use them, we all need places to live and work, so the questions people ask and the broad themes that they’re interested in are often similar.
The National Trust is at the forefront of the heritage sector and so I’m delighted to be part of a big organisation that has so many resources in terms of people, knowledge, skills and ideas. The project itself is incredible, the uniqueness of the circumstances and the scale of it is quite something. I think that the approach the National Trust is taking is ground breaking and so exciting. Not trying to recreate exactly what was there before but instead choosing to reinterpret those areas that can't be restored, which shows real vision.
" The project itself is incredible, the uniqueness of the circumstances and the scale of it is quite something. I think that the approach the National Trust is taking is ground breaking..."
My year is split into two distinct sections. The spring, summer and autumn when the house is open and then the winter months when it’s closed.
Through the winter I work with the team who oversee the Clandon Park project, to make sure we’re ready and able to deliver the experience that we want to present to our visitors. That will change every year over the next few years as the rebuild progresses, so it’s essential that we’re all open-minded and adaptable.
In 2019 we hope to have the whole team responsible for rebuilding and restoring the house and gardens, including our internal project team, our team of National Trust gardeners and the external design team, on site more regularly talking to our visitors. We trialled this in 2018 and, particularly over Heritage Open Day weekend, it was a huge success. There’s no group of people better placed to explain to visitors what’s happening, what the plans are for the future are and how they expect Clandon Park to look over the next few years.
The ongoing conversation between the National Trust and our visitors is a two way street. An important feature of our exhibition is the facility for visitors to leave comments which are all read and recorded. It’s central to the ethos of the project that we listen to and understand what people want from a remade Clandon.
I can’t wait to be back working with the Clandon Park volunteer team starting in the spring. They’re a varied and interesting group of people, all with their own skills and experiences and all at different stages in their lives which makes for some fascinating conversations. People volunteer for all kinds of different reasons but what they all have in common is that they really want to be there. They’re giving up their free time to provide us with vital support so you get a very dedicated and enthusiastic bunch of people.
I’m full of admiration for them and am always keen to recruit new volunteers. Our team is now a diverse mix of those who volunteered here prior to the fire and those who joined afterwards who have no knowledge of the house as it was. Discussing future plans is as much a part of the onsite conversation as reminiscing about the pre-fire Clandon Park.
I’m looking forward to welcoming many more visitors to experience the unique nature of Clandon and join the journey. It’s particularly exciting to see young children coming in who you know are going to come back in 10 years’ time having seen the building grow up alongside them.
It was inspiring to see so many people enjoying their visit last year, and hear their responses to Clandon as it currently stands. Whether they found the experience thought provoking, challenging, moving or interesting, visitors invariably had an emotional reaction and I look forward to taking part in more of those conversations in the year ahead.