Visitor Experience Manager
Polly Ingham-Watts has been the Visitor Experience Manager at Cliveden for two years. Now she’s following her aspirations to become General Manager of Anglesey Abbey. Here’s what Polly believes makes this role so unique and a great position to be able to grow your career further.
I knew very quickly after I started at the National Trust that becoming a General Manager was my goal. I’ve loved every step of this journey and for me being a Visitor Experience manager at Cliveden has been the best experience. With 30 staff and150 volunteers in the VE department looking after 500,000 visitors a year, it’s the breadth and scale of the role which make this opportunity so unique. It provides the kind of challenges you just wouldn’t see in some of our smaller properties, like demonstrating your leadership skills and managing lots of different projects simultaneously.
Learning to lead
Being Visitor Experience Manager at Cliveden comes with great responsibility. It’s up to you to lead your people through a wet, soggy day in August and to inspire them to keep going when we have 6,500 visitors step through our doors on the May Bank Holiday. It’s all about bringing your best self to work every day, because that’s what inspires people the most to be creative, innovative and support one another.
One of the most important parts of this role is around growing support with our visitors. We need to take our supporters on a journey, from engagement through to membership, volunteering and donations. However, there’s an operational side to the role too, along with interpretation and programming, communication and education. That’s another reason this role stands out. Some visitor experience manager roles don’t include operations, programming or the volunteering aspects. That’s what’s makes it so challenging, because it’s offers you the chance to develop a wider skillset.
Inspired and supported to grow
Of course, I couldn’t have done any of this without the support from others. Whether it’s the inspirational leadership I saw from my line manager, Isabella Peck, or the way that Mark Bradshaw, the General Manager at Cliveden, has supported me to take on new opportunities around the property and championed my growth. Having that kind of support, coaching and mentoring around me has pushed me to constantly learn and develop.
It’s not just about the people either, there are a lot of ways to develop yourself within the Trust. I’ve been on the Leading for Membership Success program and the Future, Engage, Deliver (FED) program. FED really helped me to understand what’s important to me, what drives me and how I take people with me, and in turn that’s built my confidence.
I’ve also been lucky enough to be selected for the Emerging Leaders program. There are only 26 spots each year, but it’s for anyone who wants to be a Grade Four leader, in roles right across the Trust. The program takes about nine months to complete and then afterwards you take on a secondment and look at the next steps for your career. I’ve been on the program for three months and now I’m moving to the general management role. It’s been a great experience for me, giving me the chance to build a wonderful network of colleagues as well as to develop.
For me, what I love the most about the Trust is that it’s a place where people across the nation can make memories. It may sound cheesy, but it’s why I get out of bed every day. We provide experiences that move, teach and inspire, and we create memories for individuals and for families. I love that as an organisation we can connect across generations. After all, there’s absolutely no point in being there ‘for ever’ without being ‘for everyone’. And it’s this kind of passion, above all, that I think is so important in a role like this.