My name is Lydia and I’m the Visitor Services Trainee for the friendly and positive Front of House team at Gressenhall. A ‘Visitor Services Traineeship’ is pretty much what it says in the name. My duty is to be there for between 200-3000 visitors all day, answering whatever questions they throw my way, responding to whatever surprising situations arise and helping to keep the museum as clean as possible for visitors. This also means clearing up after them, but as long as they’ve enjoyed their day and will be coming back for more fun at Gressenhall then that’s all that matters! I’ll also be learning a great deal about museum operations and how our dedicated duty managers Phil and Gina undertake the day-to-day running of Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse.
It’s our job to make everything accessible for visitors so before anyone arrives at the museum, we share the tasks of opening up the museum inside and outside, along with cleaning wherever necessary. This includes ensuring that the toilets are squeaky clean before any visitors use them and undertaking the vital task of keeping them topped up with toilet roll and soap. Making sure that visitors have a nice experience using our toilets can actually be a rewarding task! No one wants to use a grubby toilet when they go out for the day and it is our job is to give them a pleasant experience at Gressenhall.
I’ve enjoyed spending many busy days in the museum shop, including a Day With A Difference on Mother’s Day on which we had 800 visitors wanting tickets from the shop as the day went on. My job was to issue all sorts of different tickets and answer the many varied questions the visitors asked me. I enjoy the buzzing atmosphere of the shop on a busy day and interacting with visitors who are having a great time is always rewarding. Front of House recently launched a new ticketing system, and on the day of the Spring Fair I was on standby all day in the shop, involving issuing tickets and museum passes but also holding the fort when the new computer system doesn’t always do what we expect it to. This usually happens when there’s a long queue of visitors desperate to get in to the museum and enjoy the fair, and as a member of Front of House staff I find the key is to smile – apologise and to explain that we are getting to grips with the new IT system. Together the Front of House team are conquering the new system and its proving to be an efficient way of doing things.
Manning the Front of House Desk in the main museum involves being the first point of call for questions ranging from ‘where’s the toilet?!’ to ‘I’ve lost my child’s pink jacket – do you know where it is?’ as well as questions about the museum, it’s collections and our event days. I am responsible for doing the security checks around the museum and to make sure everything’s tidy and to empty the bins which are mostly filled with the remains of lunches. As long as visitors have enjoyed their lunch at Gressenhall on a picnic bench in the sun and got the most out of their visit then that’s all that matters and I have contributed to that!
Something I’ve enjoyed doing over the Easter holidays is Object Handling with visitors in the Treasures Room. Visitors have to memorise a picture of how a Victorian table has been dressed and then remember how to dress the table with the plates and cutlery we’ve provided them with. I’m always impressed by how much people remember once they’ve looked at the picture. I’ve particularly enjoyed watching the younger children complete the task as they don’t usually look at the picture but instead use their own imagination to lay the table, which can be surprising and amusing.
I have been down on the farm helping out if needed including queue management with horse and cart rides. This involves letting visitors know when and where horse and cart rides are happening and counting out a group of about fourteen to have the next ride. I also had the fundamental task of firmly telling overly excited children to stand back from the horse cart and helping to prevent anyone from getting injured!
The farms Norfolk Black pig, Margaret, gave birth to five piglets recently and me and Graham, another core member of the Front of House team, were on standby for her. It was a long birth which took all day and there were three hours between the first and second piglet. I’ve never worked with animals before so this was my first time watching an animal give birth and it was an amazing experience. I was at the door to the pig pen talking to excited visitors and letting them know what was happening, and holding out newborn piglets for them to look at. Whilst I had the easier task, Graham was inside the pig pen with Margaret, being there for the piglets as they shot out ‘like torpedo’s!’, he said. As Social Media Champion for the Front of House team, it was my job to take as many photos as possible. Some were nice which made it to the Gressenhall facebook page and some weren’t so nice which didn’t make it!
So it’s been an exciting and varied first couple of months at Gressenhall. I am really enjoying working with the Front of House team who are incredibly dedicated to their role. I’m developing a variety of skills relating to making the visitor experience at Gressenhall as enjoyable and efficient as possible.
Visitor Services Trainee