Volunteer profile: Amy Millward, interpretation intern

Volunteering in conservation

There are many different ways you can volunteer within the National Trust. Each internship centres around an individual project, and is a great chance to gain valuable skills and experience in a supportive and friendly atmosphere (and in some of the most beautiful parts of the country). Here Amy talks about her time as Heddon Valley's Interpretation intern...

‘So what do you actually do?’ This is a question that I have become very familiar with over the course of the last five months, which I have spent as the interpretation intern for the National Trust in North Devon. 

Interpretation is a tricky job to describe, as it encompasses virtually everything that a visitor sees and interacts with when they come to visit a National Trust place. From the signs that direct you to the property, to the benches that you have your picnic on, everything contributes to how a place comes across. To use the proper phrase, everything ‘speaks’ to a visitor, and it is the interpreter's job to decide which stories those voices will tell.

My internship has been based on improving the interpretation in the Heddon Valley, a beautiful wooded river valley on the edge of West Exmoor that starts at the National Trust owned Hunter’s Inn and runs all the way down to the sea. 

Interpreting Heddon for visitors has presented a challenge, as any new installations run the risk of detracting from the natural beauty of the valley instead of enhancing it. The traditional interpretation method of throwing in some information panels simply wouldn’t cut it.

So how do you communicate the hidden stories of a place, such as the rare butterfly species you may spot, or the history of the old lime kiln trade, without plonking masses of text everywhere? This is where interpretation gets creative, and is what I have enjoyed the most about my internship. 

Over the past five months I have got to know Heddon Valley’s ‘spirit of place’; I have walked the footpaths to the beach and along the coast, I have researched the history of the valley and the Inn, and I have talked to visitors about what they enjoy and find special about the area. 

Heddon is a place of tranquillity, a haven for wildlife, and a wonderful spot to start or end a walk, especially with the added draw of a pint from the fabulous Hunter’s Inn.

For my approach to interpretation, I have combined the spirit of Heddon with activities that many visitors partake in, so that the interpretation may speak to visitors subtly, blending in with the environment and allowing the natural beauty of the Valley to take centre stage and speak for itself. 

Examples of new interpretation pieces that I have worked on include an engraved bench for visitors to change into their walking boots on, a ‘pints to projects’ token voting box in the Inn to allow visitors to see where the money they spend on their pints goes in the valley, and poetry about the landscape carved into a wooden footbridge over the river. 

Being an intern with the National Trust has been a wonderful experience, and not only has it equipped me with invaluable skills and experience that I hope to take forward in my career, but it has also allowed me to work with such lovely and enthusiastic people, from the visitor experience team, to the rangers, and all of my fellow volunteers. 

I hope to continue to work with the trust after my internship ends, and although I may not stay in North Devon, I will have plenty of fond memories to take with me.