All roads lead to Rome (or a Roman Villa at Chedworth)

Published : Tue 29th May Author : National Trust

This blog is by Samuel, one of the Visitor Experience trainees on the Passport to Your Future programme

Week One

My first week began on Saturday the 4th of February with a volunteer day at Chedworth. This was a chance to allow those living locally to visit the Chedworth site and have an introduction to the area, with a view to joining later as a volunteer. I arrived and was ushered through to the museum where we were based for a short history of the site. We were told of the fist discovery, in 1864, by some men who were out hunting (probably poaching). They were using dogs to run down the rabbit holes and scare the inhabitants out into the waiting nets. One dog got trapped underground, so the men dug down to rescue it. In so doing they found some pieces of mosaic, which they took to the owner of the estate, who, realising what they were, got the men to dig out more of the area and uncover the villa to a great extent.

My first day properly in the office was on Tuesday the 7th February. I met up with my line manager, Katie Smith, who introduced me to the office layout, computer systems and other members of staff. She told me that I had several training sessions already booked, firstly tomorrow, then the 14th/15th in Heelis and latterly Calke Abbey in March.

Only my third day of work and I was off to another site for a training session! I travelled over to the Sherbourne office, as opposed to the Chedworth site. Twelve people including staff and volunteers had come to do Customer Care Training with Helen Turner (South West customer services rep) and Kaye Trigg (Chedworth Visitor reception). We were introduced to the new Exceeding Expectations training plan, which is one of the many new schemes based on the National Trust service promise of “Exceptional Service, Every time, for Everyone”. This is broken down into the four ideals of: Think Long Term, Love Places, Inspire People, and Share Our Common Purpose. Each of these ideals is then broken down into salient facts of how to act and think when representing The National Trust.

We split into four groups and each took a section to focus on in respect to working at our own properties, as the thinking needs to be applicable both nationally and locally. Some key thoughts that came to light were the decision to use disposable cups and plates in the café, and the general maintenance and upkeep of the stonework. With respect to the former point, visitors have said how nice it is to get a lovely pot of tea at a property; but regrettably at Chedworth there is not the water supply to accommodate an industrial dishwasher, so recycled plates and cups are the best alternative. Regarding the upkeep of the site, it has been said that the stonework is quickly damaged by frost in the winter, and the weeds in the cracks have been left for too long to grow. There will be a conservator put in charge of this task at the first possible moment.

In the afternoon I had my introductory meeting with my mentor, Area Manager Janet Gough. She has quite a large remit, encompassing most of the properties in Gloucestershire. We talked about what role she might take in my development over the year. At this early stage, I said that I didn’t have much of a gauge of the breadth of possible pressures, so decided it would be a good idea to agree to meet for a weekly update at least for the first month.

Janet also told me about my main project. As part of the Passport to employment, each trainee has to complete a major project which will aid the National Trust in some fashion. We discussed how my previous experience as a carer (for a disabled young man) could help me to study the accessibility of Chedworth Roman Villa and how it can be further adapted for those with disabilities. As part of this I shall also travel to other tourist attractions, including other NT properties, to study their adaptations. I also hope to be able to talk to some disabled prospective visitors to see how we can help them, and indeed if they want to go trekking through the mud in a wheelchair!

As I had time to spare I logged on to one of the Hot Desks at Sherbourne office to continue with my On Track training. The “On Your First Day” took much longer than the 15 minutes that it said it should take! There were several 5 minute long videos telling me about the NT principles and values, and how they are reaching a wider audience, for example taking a “relaxation tent” to the Glastonbury festival. I also took time to find someone at Calke Abbey (where I would be going for training) who would be in a similar role to mine, and hope that if I got in contact with them before my visit I would be able to get a guided tour and have a chat about the disabled access at their property. I emailed Imogen Wood, whose job title is “Visitor Experience & Marketing Intern”.

Thursday was a day out on the site around the Villa with Max Dancer, the ranger. This was a lot more relaxed than the previous days! We started off with tea and biscuits, then grabbed our tools and out to the bank beside the learning building. Here, we were systematically chopping down brambles, hazel and other small shrubs that covered the area. Clearing up the chopped vegetation was made a little difficult by all the logs and branches which had been left by someone who had done some clearing a few years ago but got lazy before finishing. Our work was also exacerbated by the snow and ice which was covering some of the bank – either you slipped on it or you couldn’t prize the cut branches from the ground. For most of the time I let Max do the chopping while I cleared up the debris. The brambles were raked up into one pile, while the branches and logs were put in a stack which should help to nurture the wild life. By putting the branches all the same way around in a stack this gives good places for insects to thrive and then birds can perch on the twigs to eat them. I also learnt a new tree; the field maple, which has leaves like a maple and bark that looks like an elder.

My last day of my first week was cut short even before I left the house. I got a call from David, the House and Monuments steward who lives on site at Chedworth, who told me the driving conditions were too treacherous so I should stay at home. I was trusted with the task of reading through my Passport, Portfolio and site history documents.

Blog images > chedworth1.jpg

Week Two

Monday began with catering training. We congregated in the new reception, café and shop building. In fact this building has been here for a while, but is only just in the process of being converted for these purposes. As you enter this building there is a reception desk straight ahead, a gift shop to the right and a café to your left. We took our seats around the large tables which were being stored in the café. There will be smaller ones eventually, the large tables are intended for the learning building but that isn’t quite finished yet.

We had a discussion about good food hygiene practice; of course the risk of raw meat contamination is avoided by not actually preparing any fresh meat on site, but there are worries of nuts

 We also tried to imagine the problems that customers might present us with.

Unfortunately for a time of food training we couldn’t complete the coffee machine training as that hasn’t arrived yet, ergo we will be travelling to Snowshill Manor on Monday the 20th to complete that part.

Tuesday and Wednesday I had been really looking forward to from the first moment I knew about them – two day training at Heelis in Swindon with the other people on the Passport Programme. I had checked the map and google maps beforehand, hoping to make sure I took the optimum route, but as I left I got lazy, switched on the SatNav and simply followed it. Firstly I was annoyed that it took me down the motorway to the A419, it would’ve been much better to go up Leckhampton Hill (coincidentally, the route it brought me back from Swindon) and then I was annoyed as I got close to Swindon and it didn’t have the Swindon by-pass on it, so it was telling me to turn off roundabouts which had long since vanished!

I arrived in Heelis car park pretty much bang on 0930, which was lucky but I would’ve preferred to have been there earlier. I reached the reception desk, where the receptionist gave me a visitor card for Heelis and explained how to use the entry machines. Regrettably, I wasn’t quite with it when they explained turning it round and putting the black strip this way or that so each time I tried to enter or exit I had a bit of trouble – you also had to have it a different way up for going in to going out! There was tea clearly visible inside so I perambulated towards one of the boiling water taps and got a relaxing cup of tea.

I found the other Passport trainees assembled around a table, but since I was last to arrive as I pulled up a chair they left to relocate to the meeting room where we would be sited for the two days. As I entered the room I saw it had pictures of a stone circle, I guessed Avebury, and I saw the name of the room was indeed Avebury. I must note though that at that point I did not connect the dots to realise the photographs were of the Avebury stone circle. I felt a bit stupid the next day when I did realise this though!

Claire Poulton talked to us about the make up of the Passport,

It was interesting to hear from Sam Hunt, who was a representative from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The HLF is the main source of funds for the Heritage Skills Passport. He gave us a brief insight into the vast breadth of schemes which the HLF also gives grants to.

On day two of our training I did try to be as quick as I could packing up my belongings and putting them in my car, but I was slightly waylaid by the fact I couldn’t quite recall the route from the hotel to Heelis. Luckily I did manage to get to Avebury, our meeting room, just as our first speaker was setting up to tell us about Customer Service. This section was very similar to my Customer Care Training at Sherbourne on Wednesday 8th of February. Jonathan Noall, the trainer, said he had been working closely with Helen Turner who had conducted the training at Sherbourne, and he said that the “Exceeding Expectations” training I received was their new scheme which will soon be rolled out nationwide.

I’m sure a tea break lead into the next section of Health and Safety, which was delivered by Helen Jones. This was as could be expected, some shots of “spot the hazard” and “how not to work”. I’m sure it could get a little tiresome for those delivering these H&S lectures, but in this modern world of popular “No win, no fee” court cases and people not using good common sense, these H&S briefings are becoming more and more important. I was very interested to learn about the different laws and legislations which govern this area of litigation. I was interested to learn, but hardly surprised that the vast majority of these laws and statutes are derived from the European policy.

Our third speaker of the day was Graham Heard, who is the area manager for Lacock Abbey. He gave us a good overview of Property Management. It was very interesting to learn from him about the scope that the National Trust has for developing business. In his presentation he told us about how the NT in Lacock has brought the village together for a common purpose of attracting custom. As a group the NT with local businesses has produced a glossy flyer which has a map and short description of the multitude of shops and museums to frequent in the village. From cafés and pubs (eg. the Red Lion), to museums and craft shops (eg. Quintessentially English, a soap shop) a whole plethora of visitor opportunities is represented.

Republished by kind permission from the NT Passport To Your Future blog (