From car parks to curtains...

Archaeology in process at Sutton Hoo

Alli Girling is the Operations Manager for Sutton Hoo. She tells us about life in her role - and getting stuck in to some archaeology.

How did you find yourself at Sutton Hoo?

I’ve spent many years supporting venues with their operations management. I’ve lived and worked in cities including London and Edinburgh, but I grew up in Suffolk and in 2017 I found myself keen to return to the county.

I’ve been a National Trust member for many years, and over the years have volunteered at Ham House in Richmond, and built dry stone walls for the Trust in Cumbria. 

My arrival at Sutton Hoo feels a bit like fate really. When I returned to Suffolk I imagined that I’d have to commute into London every day but, instead, here I am with a 10 minute walk to work down country lanes, accompanied by my dog Archie!

What does your work as Property Operations Manager at Sutton Hoo involve?

I represent the property as a whole and am always thinking about what is best for its buildings, grounds, staff, volunteers, finances and visitors, to name a few. It’s my job to step back during decision making with colleagues and partners to see it from all these different perspectives. 

It’s a very varied role - from one day to the next I can be thinking about anything from car parks to curtains! And whilst it can be really hard work, and stressful at times, it’s also fascinating, exciting and an absolute privilege. I am so lucky to be involved in a project like this. 

Sutton Hoo's Alli Girling
Alli Girling
Sutton Hoo's Alli Girling

How have you been preparing for the site’s re-opening?

It’s been my job to manage all of the teams on site to ensure we deliver the property improvement works on time and to budget, in parallel with all the other developments happening across the site. It’s been a time of sharing and really working together which has been lovely. 

It’s also been important not to forget the team members we haven’t seen whilst we’ve been closed, including our incredible team of 350 volunteers. I’ve arranged regular update events in local halls and articles in our internal newsletter, to make sure that they feel part of all the exciting developments.

Which of the site’s new features are you most excited about sharing with visitors?

I’m really excited about the ship sculpture, it feels like the missing link. Until now, our visitors haven’t had the opportunity to fully comprehend just how big the Anglo-Saxon ship buried here was and what an incredible achievement it was to drag it up the valley from the River Deben to its final resting place.

The sculpture will blow them away, it’s huge - and because it is the first thing visitors will see as they arrive, that first impression will stay with them throughout their visit, and beyond! 

What most captivates you about the Sutton Hoo story?

I’m really touched by the relationship that built between Edith Pretty, who owned Tranmer House, and Basil Brown, the amateur archaeologist she commissioned to lead the dig in 1939. Edith Pretty was a highly educated, well travelled and wealthy woman, and Basil a local amateur archaeologist. They had completely different backgrounds, but despite this, they developed a great respect for each other. They had a lovely friendship and, ultimately, made history together.   

Could you share a personal highlight during your time at Sutton Hoo?

When we were making plans to build the new 17 ft viewing tower, we were required to carry out an excavation of the ground where the base of the new tower would sit. In May 2018 Sutton Hoo staff and volunteers were given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help in an archaeological dig here, at one of the UK’s most iconic Anglo-Saxon sites.

Over two weeks, we helped to dig alongside professionals, with the real possibility of finding something incredible - there was a huge sense of anticipation.  The BBC, ITV and Radio 4 all came along to the dig, and despite the fact that all we found in the end was a bread packet from the 1980s it was so exciting to be part of it!