Not all castles are the same... in the heart of Devon sits one that has been an historic family home for over six centuries with a growing reputation as a hub of community engagement. The glorious Powderham Castle welcomes over 40,000 visitors in a normal year with an emphasis on working in partnership with local groups and educational charities. Heritage Open Days has become one of their open access programmes, giving visitors the chance to 'test drive' a day trip and the team an opportunity to connect with competitors.
Derry Tydeman, Heritage Manager, Powderham Castle, Devon
Why we take part
We take part so that we can make sure Powderham is as accessible to all as possible. For many the entrance fee can be off-putting. For families especially they often worry that their children might not get enough out of the day to warrant coming as opposed to a different paid for activity.
We see Heritage Open Days as an amazing marketing tool to generate interest for next season. It’s like a test drive of a day out! Not only this but it also allows us to connect with others, people we may think of as our competitors become our partners and that often allows us to learn more and connect.
What we do for HODs
Powderham is a charged for site, so we usually open for one day of activities, on the day where we’d normally be closed (Saturday).
Adapting for 2020
This year, we weren’t going to be open normally so we decided to run for the duration of HODs. We offered special tours that were written by our guides, and free-flow visits to the house supported by audio guides. We put on a small exhibition of local artists as well as some displays from partner organisations (such as the Devon Family History Society, the cathedral, and projects from local universities). The jewel in the crown however was a lecture series from local organisations and other heritage attractions in the area.
Although we had to reduce the number of participants on our tours, we were able to increase the number we were offering and made them shorter so that we could let more people in. Our talks were given in our large barn so that we could socially distance an audience of 50.
AMAZING! Given the turbulence of this year, we weren’t expecting anywhere near the success that we experienced. It wasn’t only a great success for the business, but it was a massive morale boost to all of those involved.
The difference it makes
- Whilst we were open our catering outlets were always busy and so commercially, we did actually turn a profit, which is very helpful after a challenging year.
- We also were able to work with people such as Exeter Cathedral, RAMM, The University of Plymouth, Plymouth Pride, The Beckford Tower, Devon Family History Society and others. These collaborations are not only great for visitor experience but also our own research.
- We got an incredible boost to our volunteering register as well with over 30 new sign ups – our best ever result for a single volunteer drive.
- It also showed us what our guides can deliver off-script and that will certainly be something we take forward. As well as the lecture series which will soon be online and able to continue generating interest.
It’s too hard to pick one, during the opening it was all happening so fast. However, since then we’ve had a huge outpouring of gratitude from those that came. It’s always wonderful to get positive feedback, but the feedback we received this week was immense. It wasn’t just people leaving a nice comment on social media, we were sent handwritten cards of thanks for the week. People taking the time out to send us something that personal doesn’t happen often!
Derry's Top Tips!
- Use the time to test out ideas, those things you’ve been considering but uncertain if they will be viable commercially. Take this opportunity to run them regardless. We’ve done this every year, and every time we’ve been surprised by the level of interest and we’ve fostered those activities into our general opening.
- Make sure you get out and meet the visitors too. They are more engaged than normal, and happy to share feedback.
- Finally, stock up on ice cream, snacks and make sure you have enough cake! We always see a huge uplift in secondary spend. People enjoying something for free are often more willing to spend a little more once they’ve arrived!
Inspired? Find out more...
- Welcome to Powderham Castle
- Read more about Powderham's work in wellbeing - you'll find their case study on p.40 of The Heritage Alliance's new 'Heritage, Health, & Wellbeing' report
- Explore more Historic Houses - Powderham is a member of the UK's largest collection of independently owned historic houses and gardens
- More case studies - meet other local organisers
- Taking part in Heritage Open Days