6 months ago today I began working at Hardwick Hall, and what a fab 6 months it has been! I thought I would use this opportunity to write what I hope may be a helpful post to someone who is looking to get into the heritage industry, whether in conservation or one of the many other areas encompassed. I quite often get asked how I got my job; by visitors, friends or others looking to get a job in the Heritage Industry. The truth is; I’m very lucky, but I’ve also worked very hard.
I started wanting to work in this industry at a very young age. I can’t even remember deciding it but when I was a child I wanted to be an Archaeologist (well, mostly a Disney Princess but archaeology was a close second). Entirely Time Teams fault and thanks to my mother’s encouragement the passion grew. As a family we joined the National Trust and English Heritage, and spent many (wet) holidays camping and visiting every heritage property near-by. This means my childhood was full of running around ruins and wondering through beautiful buildings trying to picture life in days long gone.
I really enjoyed history at school, I was eager to learn about may different periods took it at GCSE. When I was 11 we joined our re-enactment group at Bolsover Castle (then called The Order of Fighting Knights, now the Swords of Mercia) and I LOVED it! And still love it today. This not only gave me great memories, but a real taste for having V.I.P access to different historic sites and heritage properties. I tried to get involved in as much as I could, taking a more and more involved role in our group, helping organisers set weekends up and learning as much as I could from all the different,very skilled, re-enactors I met.
Hobbies like scouting also built on the same skill-set as re-enactment; being active, resourceful, adaptable, teamwork and able to function in the cold and wet! When I moved on to college I didn’t choose the college with the best reputation, I chose the college I went to for the courses it offered; Medieval History and Classic Civilizations. Two different but immensely enjoyable history based courses that I found so interesting.
Somewhere along the line, I think due to my experience re-enacting (and realizing just how often it rained in Britain so did I really want to spend ALL my time outdoors?) I decided that while I still wanted to be in a similar area to archaeology but that was not exactly what I wanted to do. I started to think about working at a heritage property, somewhere like Bolsover Castle or Hardwick Hall, places that had been close to my heart for a long time and full of wonderful memories. I decided I would do a course in Archaeology and Heritage as this seemed most relevant to my career.
When it came to choosing universities I took a lot of time making list and tables and comparing each choice very carefully. I then ended up going with the university that just felt ‘right’. I chose to attend the University of Worcester; where although there were other courses that might have suited me better elsewhere the whole package was just what I wanted. I really enjoyed my three years at uni, we had some fantastic field trips, interesting modules and I made brilliant friends.
What helped me on my career path the most however is not what I studied at uni, but what I did with my extra-curricular time. In my first year I got a job as a Student Ambassador. This was a really good job despite there being no regular hours as I got to try my hand at so much, and most of the skills were transferable. I did prospectus packing, office work, meet and greets, open days and taking tours. As well as working as a SA I started volunteering with the Trust, after they visited our uni for a volunteering fair and I discovered there was a property right in the center of town, The Greyfriars House and Gardens.
I started volunteering at Greyfriars as a Room Guide and quickly got involved with the Conservation side of things. Greyfriars was a brilliant property to start my experience with the Trust in, as it is a very small property with only a handful of staff, so I got to help with a lot of different elements, and they were very encouraging and grateful for my help. I remember thinking before I started volunteering, after the fair,could I really be bothered to spend my spare time volunteering when I could be doing something else (probably just procrastinating from writing essays in reality) but I am so glad I did. I really enjoyed my time at the Greyfriars, it led to fantastic opportunities for someone so young, and everyone was so lovely it was a pleasure to spend time there. I think it has to be one of the best decisions I have made.
After volunteering at Greyfriars for several months the Conservation Assistant left and the post was offered to a couple of us who had been volunteering with her, to fill the spot temporarily. I got the position, due to the fact that I had more experience than the other candidates and ended up working as a Conservation Assistant with the National Trust for 8 months when I was only 19! It was a bit of a daunting experience suddenly being in charge and a steep learning curve, but with the help of my line manager there and the trusty NT Manual of Housekeeping I got on really well.
This experience showed me where I wanted to start my career, and also gave me the topic for my Dissertation (Conservation Vs Access). I came back as a volunteer in my third year and was given permission to do my own little project cataloging the store room, which took so much longer than I had anticipated but was a really interesting journey.
I felt by the end of my time at Greyfriars I knew the house and collection really well, and had a feel for the amazing personalities that shaped it’s history and future. This experience gave me much needed insight into the Trust, and experience to get me to my next step. It showed me where I wanted to be within the heritage industry, where before I had only a vague idea. I had also done some volunteering at The Infirmary, a local museum to boost my CV and get experience of a different side of the heritage industry.
In my final year at uni, right as I was in the very final stages of my dissertation I stumbled on a brilliant opportunity. It was a 12 month internship with the National Trust. The only problem was that it was unpaid, so I rang the oracle (my mum) for some advice. Luckily I had saved up most of my wages while at uni. Working it out I decided that as long as I continued living frugally I could afford to do the internship, and saw it as a good investment in myself. A lot of people thought I was mad, going to work for free for a year, but the experiences I had on my internship were priceless.
The internship was at the beautiful Powis Castle in Conservation, Interpretation, Events, Marketing, Visitor Services and many other things besides. That was when I set up this blog, as a record of all the different experiences I was getting and to add to my CV. Here I had any different opportunities and pretty much spent ten months living and breathing Powis Castle and the Trust; and I learnt so much! My internship covered so many areas in such a short time and it gave me confidence that I had the skills to get me where I wanted to go.
This brilliant time and all the experience I had while I was there stood me in wonderful stead for getting a real, paid, job with the Trust. Just when I was starting to think about applying for said real jobs then a job came up at Hardwick Hall, somewhere I had always said I would love to work. Not thinking I stood any real chance but knowing it was an opportunity too good to miss I applied. I got an interview and that went really well. I actually really enjoyed the interview, left feeling very positive and that evening got a phone-call to say I had got a 12 month job as a Conservation Assistant at Hardwick Hall! Not bad landing your dream job at 21!
The thing I was told that put me aside from the other candidates was my level of experience. I had grabbed every opportunity that presented itself with both hands and made the most out of my time as a student and as an intern. I love learning new skills and recording what I have done in my blog reminds me just how much I have learned and been a part of. I took a few risks and made decisions that others didn’t see the logic too, but that I knew where what I wanted. The internship allowed me access to things that I would have never been able to do otherwise and made my CV very full! I suppose it also didn’t hurt that I went into the interview feeling confident, my enthusiasm and passion were obvious and I had the knowledge to back it up.
So in conclusion the things that helped me get where I am today were volunteering, working hard, and grabbing any opportunity I was presented with. It has been hard work, but it has been totally worth it. I have no idea where I will be this time next year, but if the journey so far is anything to go by it will be somewhere amazing doing wonderful things. I have so much experience on my CV and my time with the Trust has shown me just how many different things I cold be doing, and how many I would love to have a go at, and the thing with working for the National Trust is you would be hard pressed to work somewhere awful. I’m looking forward to seeing what the future holds. The possibilities, as they say, are endless!