Hannah Monteverde is the Top Banana (aka Park Manager) of the newly opened BeWILDerwood Cheshire site. A 70 acre WILD woodland home to the literary characters from owner and creator Tom Blofeld’s books, the park centres its offering on nostalgic, technology free play. With slides, treehouses, zip wires and rope bridges, alongside daily interactive storytelling and craft sessions it is a full family day out for families with children between the ages of 2-12. Leading the management team and ensuring that visitors have the best day, along with the commercial success and strategic development of the business are Hannah’s key focuses.
Starting out as a seasonal staff member at BeWILDerwood Norfolk in 2012, Hannah swiftly worked her way up through the organisation taking various operational roles with progressive levels of responsibility to see her become the Deputy General Manager of the BeWILDerwood Norfolk site in 2018. Shortly after this the opportunity arose for Hannah to become Top Banana, relocate to Cheshire and lead the operational setup and opening of the second BeWILDerwood site based in the North West. This has been Hannah’s primary focus for the past 18 months.
The site opened to national acclaim in April 2021 and continues to be a resounding success, with a sell out season likely ahead.
Hannah is passionate about demonstrating a positive working and parenting life balance to her three year old daughter and when not running WILD at BeWILDerwood enjoys spending time adventuring with her family outdoors, listening to live music, and devouring full books in just one sitting.
“One thing that I really believe in, and I was saying to them (the team) in the weeks before, “Remember when we open to take a step back and just watch and see what people do. And, to take a step back and think about everything that you have done, and just think about that impact that’s had on everyone else.””
What will you learn from this podcast?
- How the pandemic impacted the opening of BeWILDerwood Cheshire
- All of the learnings that have come from that happening
- Women in attractions
- Why B*Witched top trumped The Spice Girls
You can also read the full transcript below.
Your host, Kelly Molson
Our guest, Hannah Monteverde
Kelly Molson: Hannah, thank you for coming on the podcast today. I’m really excited to have you on.
Hannah Monteverde: Thank you. I am excited to be here.
Kelly Molson: Good. I know how busy you’ve been the last couple of weeks as well, which we’ll get to in a minute. I am really grateful for the time that you’ve been able to give us today.
As ever though, we are going to start the podcast with our icebreaker questions. So Hannah and I had a little chat a few weeks ago, a little pre-podcast interview chat just to see what we could talk about and how we got on. We discovered that we’re both big fans of rising up other women, and girl power and all that schiz. So I want to know, who is your favourite Spice Girl and why?
Hannah Monteverde: Oh, do you know what? I’m going to throw a curveball right at the beginning.
Kelly Molson: Is this going to be an unpopular opinion?
Hannah Monteverde: Well, it’s not my unpopular opinion but it may well be. I wasn’t a Spice Girls girl.
Kelly Molson: What?
Hannah Monteverde: It was all about Bewitched for me, I’m afraid.
Kelly Molson: Double denim.
Hannah Monteverde: Okay, let me think about the Spice Girls. I think, if I had to pick a favourite, it’s got to be Sporty Spice, I think.
Kelly Molson: Yeah, she rocks.
Hannah Monteverde: Yeah. Yeah.
Kelly Molson: She rocks. All right, okay.
Hannah Monteverde: Sorry about that.
Kelly Molson: No, that’s okay. But, I want to delve a little bit deeper into the whole Bewitched.
Hannah Monteverde: Oh, gosh.
Kelly Molson: What was it about Bewitched? Was it the outfits? Was it the Irish dancing?
Hannah Monteverde: I don’t know. I think it was a bit of both. I can’t remember the name of their first album, but it had that little orange cover. I must have probably been about, I don’t know, I was probably far too old to admit, probably about 11. You know, they were all jumping on the cover and looking like they’re having the best time. I wanted to be one of them.
Kelly Molson: If it came on the radio now though, I would definitely get up and dance, wouldn’t you?
Hannah Monteverde: Yeah. Yeah, and you know all the words. Of course.
Kelly Molson: For sure.
Hannah Monteverde: Yeah.
Kelly Molson: All right, I’ll let you off the Spice Girls just because of that little glorious nugget of information. What is the top of your bucket list?
Hannah Monteverde: Oh. I think a trip around Iceland in a camper van.
Kelly Molson: Oh yeah.
Hannah Monteverde: We always said we were going to go to Iceland on honeymoon, and we got married nearly five years ago now and somehow, we’ve still not managed to do that. I think yeah, that. Or, New Zealand I think. Really back to basics, nothing fancy. No fancy hotels or anything, just being able to drive where you want, and park up where you want and enjoy that, I think.
Kelly Molson: That whole idea of just opening your camper van doors and being in the middle of nowhere, sounds incredibly enticing right now, doesn’t it?
Hannah Monteverde: Absolutely. Yeah, right now.
Kelly Molson: Okay. Last one. What’s your favourite movie quote?
Hannah Monteverde: Oh no, this is one of the ones that we said if you ask me this question I will not have an answer. Because the only thing I can think of is, “I’ll be back,” from Terminator and I’ve never even seen that film.
Kelly Molson: I’ll take that as your favourite quote, despite you never watched it. That’s fine.
Hannah Monteverde: Oh no, it couldn’t have gone worse. My husband said in the car, he said, “Oh, do you know any quotes from Chalet Girl, because that’s your favourite film isn’t it?” If you’ve not seen Chalet Girl, then that’s a can of worms to open up. I can’t even remember any quotes from that.
Kelly Molson: Oh gosh. Sorry listeners, Hannah, she even tried to prep for the icebreaker questions. I just caught her out with a curveball there. All right, let’s park that then. What’s your unpopular opinion?
Hannah Monteverde: Okay, now this, if any of my colleagues ever listen to this podcast, which I’m undecided whether I’m going to tell them about or not, this is not going to go down very well with them. Houseplants are overrated.
Kelly Molson: Oh.
Hannah Monteverde: I just can’t get behind a houseplant.
Kelly Molson: Is it because you can’t keep them alive?
Hannah Monteverde: Partly, I think. I think if I tried, I could keep them alive. But, I think I much prefer if someone buys you flowers, they’re bright and they last for a few weeks if you’re lucky. And then, they’re done. As you say, a houseplant you’ve got to look after it.
Kelly Molson: A responsibility.
Hannah Monteverde: Yeah. Someone was telling me the other day, actually, I think. You know when you buy a nice peace lily or something, and it’s got lovely flowers? It only flowers because they put loads of hormones in it before you buy it. So you think, “Oh, that looks lovely.” And then, we’ve got a peace lily which sat at home, which we’ve had for years, which we can’t kill no matter how hard we try, but it’s never flowered again so it’s just leaves.
Kelly Molson: Oh. I didn’t know that. I don’t think I’ve ever had a peace lily. I 100% would have killed it because this mantelpiece was full of houseplants, which I then promptly killed every single one of. I’m kind of with you on that.
Hannah Monteverde: Yeah.
Kelly Molson: Faux houseplants, all the way.
Hannah Monteverde: Maybe that’s the way to go. Yeah, we recently moved and my sister, she was really kind and she sent us a houseplant from Norwich where she lives, it came in the post. That was really exciting because sending plants in the post. But I have to say, I can probably count on my hand the amount of times I’ve watered it since we’ve had it, so that’s not going to last very long. But yeah, houseplants are overrated. Sorry, everybody.
Kelly Molson: I like that. Good unpopular opinion. We’ve not had that one, either. It’s a fresh take on it. Right. Okay, let’s get into our questions. Hannah, how did you get to be the top banana, aka park manager, at BeWILDerwood in Cheshire? Tell us about your career.
Hannah Monteverde: Yeah. Well, I don’t tell this story that often to be honest, but I quite often tell this story as if it’s an unorthodox story and it’s unique. But actually, I think when I was thinking about this in prep, it’s probably fairly common within the industry.
My career within the attractions industry sits with BeWILDerwood and BeWILDerwood alone. When I graduated uni in 2011, I think, I started working at BeWILDerwood, just picking up seasonal work because I needed something to tide me over until I found a real, proper job. I did that for a couple of years, and then I went and I trained to become a teacher, that was going to be my proper, serious job. I was going to have a career, and I was going to be a teacher.
That lasted about six months before I unceremoniously dumped that. It didn’t work out well for my mental health, and there were some things I found more important. And, I knew that I enjoyed working at BeWILDerwood. So I think it was March 2014, I went grovelling back to the ops manager at the time. I was like, “This hasn’t worked out. Have you got any seasonal work going?” They had me back, thankfully, and I just came back and I started working seasonally again. I loved it and I didn’t really want to leave. I was at a bit of a point where I was like, “Well, I might as well do what makes me happy.”
I guess, the rest of it almost, in a sense, it’s a series of happy accidents and, I guess, being in the right place at the right time. I was working front of house, letting people into the park, making sure that everyone was having fun, having the best day ever. And then, I progressed from that into a site supervisor role, so that’s what we call our duty managers. So taking care of the site on a day-to-day basis, making sure that all our visitors are happy, dealing with any queries, any issues, all that kind of stuff. And then from there, I moved upwards into the operations manager position, I spent quite a few years doing that. And loving that actually, it’s where I first started managing staff and things. We’ve got quite a big team of seasonal staff. This was in Norfolk at the time, so it was managing up to about 100 people in a season, which was great fun and I really used to enjoy it.
I then, somehow, luckiest catch of all I think, I managed to land a promotion to the deputy general manager whilst I was on maternity leave. Not really sure how that happened.
Kelly Molson: Nice work.
Hannah Monteverde: Yeah. Go and have a baby, and then come back as a deputy general manager, which was great. It was then, that must have been about 2018, it was then when the talk of Cheshire first started to become a thing and started to become something that we could almost believe. It had been going around the houses for a little while, and there’d been rumours about Cheshire. We always knew that we wanted to open a second park, and by that point, it was at a point where it was becoming real, and things were getting put in the ground and we got planning permission. We could really believe that it was going to happen.
I remember I was having chats with Ben, our General Manager, around that time. He was saying, “You know if that’s where you want your career to go if that’s something you want to do, have a think about it. Maybe if you try this deputy general management position for a year, we’ll see how it goes. We’ll give you the opportunity to have a crack a running a park for a year,” which was fantastic. It was the most amazing opportunity. I had his support, literally right there, but he allowed me to do my own thing and run the park.
And then, moving on from there, that in essence, as I said, my trial run for a year. Obviously, didn’t do too bad a job because they asked if we wanted to come up to Cheshire and run the park here. Which of course, I would have been mad to say no. We moved up here in December 2019. Yeah, December 2019. Obviously, I’m sure we’ll talk in a bit about the curve balls that last year and things have thrown at us. But, the plan was to move up here, December 2019, and work with Ben to set up the park operationally, and then moving forward, run the park as top banana/park manager.
Hannah Monteverde: Yeah, that’s me. We often say that I’m the poster girl for that, within BeWILDerwood. That I’m the one that started out as part of the Twiggle Team, as part of our seasonal staff, and then have worked my way up through the company. Which is lovely, and it’s everyone. No, I don’t think everybody would want to be a poster girl. But, what I think is even lovelier with BeWILDerwood, and with the company, is that that’s not unique, it’s not just me as said poster girl who done that.
So whilst there aren’t lots of people running BeWILDerwoods around the country because we’ve only got two, there are lots of people especially in Norfolk, in management positions who have started out as part of the Twiggle Team and then have made their way up through the company. So our marketing manager, she was part of the Twiggle Team. Our operations manager in Norfolk now, and the assistant operations manager, they’ve all come from working within the Twiggle Team. Which is something that I think is so important, and it’s really important, I think for me as well, setting up Cheshire, and setting up the ops team and things here, is that we champion that, giving people the opportunities to grow and to develop.
And I know, speaking about me and from my experience, it probably would have been far easier for them to appoint an experienced general manager who had all these whistles and bows, and feathers in his hat to come and run the park. But actually, being able to send someone from Norfolk who got the knowledge and the understanding of what BeWILDerwood is, both as a brand and as a business, I think especially given everything that’s happened this year, it’s been so beneficial, that we can be able to bring that brand to a brand new audience. And yeah, it’s been massively challenging and it’s been an amazing learning curve for me. I’ve done so many things that I probably wouldn’t have been able to do anywhere else. Yeah, that’s what makes it fun, isn’t it? All those challenges and things.
Kelly Molson: Yeah, absolutely.
Hannah Monteverde: That’s where I’m at.
Kelly Molson: That’s where I want to pick up the story. I’m going to come back to this in a minute, because there’s a couple of questions I want to speak to you about, around that topic of being the poster girl, like you said. I think the more attractions that I speak to, the more I see that the organisations themselves are really keen to bring people on, almost like from a grassroots level. They’re really keen to have people that progress and move their careers on through that organisation. They’ve had real hands-on experience of every kind of level of engaging with the guests, like you say, being a Twiggle from that level there. And then moving up through marketing, and management, and et cetera. I think that’s a really fantastic thing for attractions to be able to do.
But, you mentioned poster girl. One of the things that I’ve been looking at recently is trying to keep the diversity of the guests that come onto the show quite even. I find that quite difficult because it seems to me, there’s still a bit of a dis-balance around men and women in the sector. I wanted to ask you, do you think that there’s a little bit of a lack of women at that senior level in attractions? Is there anything that can be done about that? It seems like BeWILDerwood is doing really great things, in terms of moving people through their organisation, from promoting inside. But, are there any things that you’ve been involved in that you could see as a real positive benefit to women in the industry?
Hannah Monteverde: That’s a really interesting question. I don’t know if we break the mould in that, actually, within BeWILDerwood, we are predominantly female managed and run. At the board level, which perhaps maybe is a different subject and a different conversation probably for a different day. At the board level it’s different and I don’t know that’s reflected elsewhere, and whether that’s unique or not. But, I would say and from my, obviously as I said, BeWILDerwood is my attractions life, so my very limited experience, I think either we break the mould or no, actually we don’t. I don’t see a lack of women in senior leadership roles.
I think, obviously, it’s a really big conversation at the moment, and it’s a conversation that I need to educate myself further in. Because I don’t think I understand enough, or know enough, about women and diversity within leadership. I think it’s really important as well to remember that, I guess, in a sense, that the glass ceiling isn’t just women. I guess, in a way, it’s anyone who’s not straight, male or white, probably. It’s encouraging the … As you said, I think the diversity that we have within our society should be reflected within our workplaces, and within leadership and at every level. But yeah, it’s something that I think I need to go away and do some more work on, and more understanding and more research to be able to speak about it eloquently. But yeah, it’s definitely something.
I think it’s a conversation that is being had, which is great. We need more of that, we need more of the gender pay gap reporting, and the championing flexible working and all of that kind of thing. But, I think it’s important that it’s not just women, it is anybody. It’s making sure that diversity is represented and society is represented.
Kelly Molson: Absolutely.
Hannah Monteverde: If that makes sense?
Kelly Molson: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, it absolutely does. I’ve been thinking about actually running a panel session on this, and bringing that to the forefront of some of the things that we talk about as well.
Hannah Monteverde: Yeah. I think, for me actually, one thing because I don’t know, from my limited experience, it doesn’t seem to me that way. But actually, if that’s not the case then for me, it would be really interesting to speak to other people and find out whether what we’re like is reflective of other places and things.
Kelly Molson: Absolutely. Well, let’s carry this conversation on further.
Hannah Monteverde: Lets.
Kelly Molson: But for now, I would like to go back to December 2019. You’ve left your life in Norwich, you’ve moved to Cheshire, it’s Christmas time, you’ve got a young family at home. And, you’re just about to start possibly the most exciting part of your career so far. And then, we get whacked with the Coronavirus.
Hannah Monteverde: The Rona.
Kelly Molson: The Rona comes and smacks us on the ass. Tell us about what’s happened, because I think the attraction was due to originally open last … Was it May time, March time last year?
Hannah Monteverde: May 23rd, 2020, was the big date. As Tom’s been saying, Tom Blofeld, the guy that owns BeWILDerwood, has been saying recently in lots of his interviews and things, what I’ve heard him saying, “We couldn’t have possibly picked a worse date,” and he’s so true. May 23rd, 2020, was when it was going to be. We, as you rightfully said, we moved up to Cheshire in December 2019. That was lovely. There I was bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, ready to build the team. We’re going to open BeWILDerwood Cheshire, it’s going to be wonderful.
And it was great, it was great for the first few months. We started building the team, we got the managers in, we got our maintenance guys in. Everything started progressing and ticking along, we were making all those big, long lists about what we still needed to do, working with the contractor and things, all going for this May 23rd date. We just announced to the public and to all our wonderful visitors that we were going to open on the 23rd May 2020. We had all the graphics and things designed, we put the leaflets out to print.
I will always remember, it must have been the middle of March. Obviously, we were all starting to talk about Coronavirus by this point, and I noticed … I’m a member of the Visitor Experience Forum on LinkedIn, so I noticed they were doing, I think it was a [inaudible 00:17:48] they called around COVID-19. I thought, “Oh yeah, this will be a nice trip out of the office. I’ll get the train down to London, and I’ll go and meet some other people and we’ll talk about this Coronavirus thing. And maybe, we’ll talk about how we might have to close our attractions for a week or two, and that will be a shame. But, it’ll be a nice rest for us all.”
There I go, down on the train, really excited, a nice trip out. I remember sitting in this room, and I think it was Bernard Donoghue was just … I just felt like a balloon being slowly deflated across the course of the morning. I remember sitting on the train on the way back, typing up my notes, and messaging people like, “Oh, Lordy.”
Kelly Molson: Oh my gosh.
Hannah Monteverde: “This is a big deal.” Yeah. Obviously, there were elements. I was probably over naïve and over-excited about what we were doing. Yeah, quickly after that, I guess it was probably the week or so after that, everyone was told to work from home. We sent our minimal, I think there was probably about five or six of us in the office by that point, so we sent them home. We kept our maintenance guys on. But then, within a week or two of that, it became very apparent very quickly that actually, we wouldn’t be opening in May.
Initially, what we did, we initially decided to delay it until July. And then, I think as lockdown progressed and proceeded, and there was no end to it, again very quickly, we didn’t have to take long to make the decisions which was quite a nice thing, in a sense. We made decisions quickly, we made the right decisions, and we made sure that we kept the guys informed. But yeah, very quickly it became apparent that July actually wouldn’t be achievable, because, by the time we came back out of lockdown, we’d have to get people back into the office. We’d have to start out from where we left off.
Yeah, July 2020, then, very quickly became spring 2021. But, we have opened, so we are now open which is brilliant. Yeah, it was all together a rather strange few months for me, especially I think.
Kelly Molson: I can imagine how life-changing that was as well because you’ve done a big step in moving to a different area and having to establish yourself there in a personal sense. And then, you’re establishing yourself in a new role in a new place, and you’re building a new team around you as well. That must have been pretty horrendous, right? You would have had to have recruited, ready for the opening. And then what happens?
Hannah Monteverde: Yeah. I just feel like, almost in a sense, like the whole of my last 18 months have felt like a recruitment Groundhog Day. It’s awful to say that because it felt like it was never-ending. And the poor people who are on the other ends of the sticks, it was far worse for them, they had the worse end of the stick.
But yeah, much of last year for me, and also remembering that I was coming into this with a huge amount to learn anyway … So much of last year was, in a nutshell, it was just a masterclass in management skills, and techniques that you really wish that you don’t ever have to use. So really, unfortunately for us, while I had the horrible task of having to let go all those people that we had recruited because unfortunately, the way that the furlough scheme cut off, we just got people in within weeks. So that within weeks of that deadline, so we couldn’t furlough anyone. It was a case of we need to save this business, there were really worrying points last year.
Yeah, in about May I think, we had to let the team go. We did keep them on for as long as we could, keep supporting them and things, but we did have to let them go. And then, from May to January last year, it was me and a couple of Boggle Builders, our maintenance team that we kept on to caretake the site. Thankfully, I wasn’t completely on my own. We did keep coming into the office, they obviously had work that they needed to do around the site and things. Yeah, it’s a 70-acre site so it did feel a bit strange with just the three of us rattling around. I did learn some skills in how to use a jigsaw and stuff.
Kelly Molson: Good life skills to have.
Hannah Monteverde: Exactly, something to add to my CV. But yeah, and for myself, I was really lucky, in a sense, that once lockdown eased, because we are BeWILDerwood, we are one company, I was able to go back down to Norfolk and help support the guys in Norfolk with their reopening. And then, I actually ended up helping them put together their COVID secure Lantern Parade that they put on for October half-term, so that was really nice. For me personally, it was really lovely to actually be able to go back somewhere and feel like I was part of a team, not three people rattling around somewhere. Yeah, I think I probably would have lost my mind a bit if I didn’t manage to do that.
Yeah. I guess, in a sense, thinking about the positives, there are positives that have come out of it. I managed to spend time on, in a sense, the more paperwork-y side of stuff. So managing to get all the health and safety things all ticked off and out of the way whilst it was quiet in the summer, and you didn’t have loads of stuff running around and happening. But yeah, as I said, it felt like Groundhog Day of recruitment. Yeah, 18 months of recruiting people and then letting people go, and then re-recruiting people.
What was lovely actually, though, is that we had … I was going to try and work out the percentage, but I ran out of time. We had a huge percentage of the people that we let go in May came back.
Kelly Molson: Oh, that’s fabulous.
Hannah Monteverde: Obviously, we kept them in the loop and things. I quite enjoyed going around taking pictures and being able to send people updates of what was going on around the site. It was so nice. Yeah, we’d obviously recruited a bunch of people who shared the passion for what we were doing. And after everything, for them to say, “I want to come back, I still want to work with you,” that was lovely. It was really nice.
Kelly Molson: That’s testament to how you obviously managed that process, in terms of keeping in touch with them, and the empathy that you showed them with the situation that you were in.
Hannah Monteverde: Yeah, I hope so. It was tough. It was really tough. But yeah, as you say, it was so nice that they’d come back. And actually, now that we have finally opened, that they have all got to be involved in it. I imagine last May, everyone that thoughts of, “Is this place ever going to open?,” And to now be sat here, having actually opened it. I think if someone had said to me last July, “Do you reckon you’ll be sat there next April with a park that has opened to resounding success?,” I would have confidently been able to say yes, so that’s nice.
Kelly Molson: Wow. Yeah, that is really nice. What’s it been like? What’s the response been like from the general public?
Hannah Monteverde: Do you know what, it’s been absolutely phenomenal. It’s been so amazing to open. For one, the weather was absolutely perfect for the whole week. Obviously, as you can imagine, we are an outdoor attraction so we are quite a weather dependant. There’s so much fun to be had in the rain, but people don’t often understand that. But yeah, to have a week of amazing sunshine and really warmish weather was perfect, that’s absolutely perfect for us. And then, just to see people in the park, it was the cherry on top of the cake that everybody loved it, because everybody did love it, which was amazing.
But, to see people running around the park that you’ve spent so long working on. The weirdest thing was it was seeing people using the park, and I turned and said to someone on day one, I was like, “This feels so normal.” But yet, yesterday I was running around like a headless chicken with a screwdriver, putting signs on things. For the past three years, this is what we’ve been working towards. And all of a sudden, you fill it with people and it just felt normal.
Kelly Molson: Yeah.
Hannah Monteverde: I mean, don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of things that we need to work on. I always say to the team, for us, it wasn’t going to be perfect when we opened it. If we did feel like it was perfect, then we’d probably done something wrong. We’ve got lists and list of things that we want to improve and things that we want to change. But, to see visitors playing in the park, and enjoying the park, and seeing the feedback that we got from the visitors, it was just the best thing, to be honest.
Kelly Molson: Ah, that’s incredible.
Hannah Monteverde: Yeah. Yeah, it was. I think we were mindful, and I was always a bit mindful, that we’ve moved to a new area, it’s quite a niche concept. It’s really hard to explain without being able to see what BeWILDerwood is. But, to have visitor reviews that are saying things like how amazing the staff are, to sit there and read that, and things saying how brilliant the facilities are, and how much fun they’ve had. Yeah, I can’t lie, it was brilliant. It was such a relief and just so lovely to … Yeah, it was great.
Kelly Molson: What a massive morale boost for the team as well. To have gone through so much in that year, especially for those poor people that have been made redundant, and then they’ve come back, and now they’re in the thick of it, that must be just music to their ears right now.
Hannah Monteverde: Yeah, absolutely. The past couple of weeks before we opened, I think they must think I’m completely mad, we ended up doing these stupid Monday motivational meetings. Where we’d all get together at nine o’clock on a Monday morning and I’d say something stupid and irritate them all, probably, with some silly little motivational saying or something. But, one thing that I really believe in, and I have to tell myself to do it as well sometimes, but I was saying to them in the weeks before, “Remember when we open to take a step back and just watch and see what people do. And, to take a step back and think about everything that you have done, and just think about that impact that’s had on everyone else.”
It’s so easy to get lost in what you’re doing in the day-to-day, and the grind, and how many hours you’re putting in, and how much hard work you’re putting in. Because everyone has worked phenomenally hard, and it’s not just the guys in Cheshire as well, it’s the guys in Norfolk, too. As I said before, we are BeWILDerwood, one team, and that’s true. The guys in Norfolk, they also reopened on the 12th. But, the effort that they also put into helping us get open in Cheshire, even though, in a sense, when we had our team up here start, we couldn’t travel down to Norfolk and get them to see the site.
That was initially the plan. In a sense, I would induct them into the company, and we’d do our Cheshire induction up here. And then, the first thing that they would all do would be to go down to Norfolk, and to meet their counterparts in Norfolk, and see the sight in Norfolk, and understand what BeWILDerwood is and how it works. When you’re in lockdown, you can’t do that. Yeah. We had fun trying to think up ways we could get people talking to each other remotely and to get people to understand the brand and things.
Kelly Molson: How did you do that? That would be interesting. Because that’s great isn’t it, just the fact that you’d been able to send people and shadow them. “This is your role in this park, this is what you’ll be doing.” But, how did you do that virtually?
Hannah Monteverde: Everyone came into the office, and we put loads of stuff in place to make it COVID secure and things. In a sense, up here, we did our induction like that. Again, I played some really silly motivational games, which I’m sure they probably all hated. We had Two Truths and a Lie, and I got them all to send them in in advance and found out really interesting things about people, which is quite funny.
Kelly Molson: We should disclose some of those on the podcast. That’d be better than the unpopular opinion.
Hannah Monteverde: Yeah. And then, I guess in a sense, it was working remotely so used quite a lot of Microsoft Teams and things, and making sure that we’re checking in and chatting to people. And doing it like we’re doing now, so face-to-face over a video call. I, a year ago, would never have imagined that I would be on a webcam with headsets talking to be people because it was my worst nightmare. Getting people to embrace that. And then, I think we even did silly things as full teams. I remember we did a show-and-tell activity or something, we got everyone to bring in something that was personal to them, and then we all stood in front of a camera and talked to each other for half an hour.
I think this year has proven that there is so much that can be done remotely. But, I also think it has also proven that there is so much that can’t be done remotely. There are bits and pieces that we want to pick up now that we can travel, and now that we are open and things. It’s really important, before May half-term and the summer, that we get our guys down to Norfolk so they can understand where BeWILDerwood comes from and exactly what it is because that’s going to be so much more beneficial to them than a load of waffle and a load of words from me, trying to explain it because it’s really hard to explain.
Kelly Molson: I still want to pronounce it BeWILDerwood as well.
Hannah Monteverde: Yeah.
Kelly Molson: I want to shout the wild bit. I know I pronounced it wrong earlier in the podcast.
Hannah Monteverde: We get people asking. My dad asked this weekend. I’ve worked at BeWILDerwood for nine years, so if my dad can’t pick it up in nine years then …
Kelly Molson: I’m all right, let me off.
Hannah Monteverde: I’ll let you off just this once.
Kelly Molson: Okay. It’s a phenomenal story. I can’t even begin to imagine how tough the last year must have been for you, with everything that you’ve got going on. Not just the effects of the Coronavirus and having to not open the attraction, but having moved to a new area as well. And suddenly, being in lockdown with a young family. That must have been so overwhelming for you. I think it’s so lovely to hear such an incredibly positive story come from something like that.
I wonder if you could share with us … You started off this podcast by saying I’m going into this new role, and there was a load of things that were still new and learning for me. You’ve really had-
Hannah Monteverde: I’ve had no choice.
Kelly Molson: You’ve really been dropped into the deep end, haven’t you? If you can cope with last year, you’ve peaked. You can cope with anything now.
Hannah Monteverde: I hope I’ve not peaked. I hope I just keep going that way.
Kelly Molson: There’s more to come. Okay.
Hannah Monteverde: I hope so.
Kelly Molson: What do you think that’s been your biggest professional and personal learning from last year?
Hannah Monteverde: I think personally is easier to understand. Obviously, I’ve had a chance to think about these. At one point, I have learned personally that I am certainly not a hobbyist. I’m not a person for hobbies. I love the idea of a hobby, and I go all in and I buy everything I need to start it. So I buy the knitting needles, and I buy the wool, and I buy a pattern and I’m going to knit something really lovely. And I get two days in and I’m like, “God, this is boring.”
Kelly Molson: Can you tell us what you’ve tried? Have you tried knitting? List the things.
Hannah Monteverde: I’ve got a half-knitted cardigan.
Kelly Molson: Excellent.
Hannah Monteverde: Now to be honest, with knitting I did manage to knit Lyra, my daughter, a jumper. She’s three, so I’ve knitted a three-year-old’s jumper. But then I was like, “Right, now’s the chance to do something for me. I’m going to knit myself a cardigan.” I’ve knitted half of aside, so I’ve done that. We had a sourdough starter for a while.
Kelly Molson: Excellent. That’s a standard Coronavirus necessity, I’ll be. Yeah.
Hannah Monteverde: Then, that went moldy. Actually, I’d probably say I’ve got two true hobbies, which are probably reading and running. But reading, this year, the reading hobby has turned into a buying books hobby. I don’t read any, they just sit. I’ve got a really nice pile of books.
Kelly Molson: They look beautiful.
Hannah Monteverde: Yeah. I am trying really hard though, actually, to read more because that’s good for me. What else have I tried? Oh. I can’t think of anything else off the top of my head. I’ve definitely tried a fair few. Podcasting, I’ve tried to listen to podcasts. I listen to a few, and then six weeks later I’ll say, “Oh yeah, I was listening to that podcast.”
Kelly Molson: But you’ve been listening to this one.
Hannah Monteverde: Of course. Yeah.
Kelly Molson: Now that you’re a guest on it. Oh God, that’s all good.
Hannah Monteverde: No, I had to do my research on this one. Of course, I listened to this. What else have I done? I can’t think. Lots of things, I’m definitely a really faddy person. Oh, I probably buy a diary every year, and I get as far as writing my address in it. That’s about as far as it goes.
Kelly Molson: But, it’s good. I think that’s a good thing to learn about yourself. Hobbyist, no, but there are other things that you can focus your time on.
Hannah Monteverde: No. And then, I think more seriously, in a post-COVID, had quite a fair amount of time to reflect, and think about myself and things. I think one thing from this year, personally, that’s resonated with me quite a lot is in a sense that not comparing your feelings to others, I think. And, not trying to rationalize or justify your feelings with others.
We’ve been enormously lucky this year, as a family, and my friends. We’ve not suffered enormous emotional or financial suffering. But at the same time, we’ve all had our struggles. I think this years’ been difficult for everyone and difficult for everyone for all sorts of different reasons. I think it’s really easy, and I found it really easy this past year, to try and diminish your own feelings by looking at someone else and saying, “Well, you’re not struggling as much as them, so it’s not okay for you to struggle.”
I think for myself, personally, I’ve tried really hard, especially in the past few months, to not compare myself to others. If you’re feeling those feelings, you’re feeling those feelings. Just because person X has got more going on, or maybe feels different about the same thing, that doesn’t diminish your feelings or make your feelings any less feeling-y.
Kelly Molson: Yeah.
Hannah Monteverde: Do you know what I mean?
Kelly Molson: It’s that validity, isn’t it?
Hannah Monteverde: Yeah.
Kelly Molson: If someone is having a really, really difficult time, and you can see they’re clearly going through it, it doesn’t make your feelings of, “Well, I feel really challenged by the things that I’m going through,” and they’re minuscule in comparison but they’re still valid.
Hannah Monteverde: Yeah.
Kelly Molson: You can feel okay to feel like that.
Hannah Monteverde: Yeah. I think for me, that’s the biggest thing for me personally. I think that’s something that I think will continue to work on, in a sense.
I think professionally, as you said, if I was to try and stop and think about what I’ve learned this year, I don’t think I could even scratch the surface. I have learned so much, and it has been unique and exciting, and it’s been an amazing opportunity. There are so many ways I can turn everything into a positive, all the things I’ve had the chance to learn, the chance to do, the chance to jump feet-first in and give it a go. And, the things that I’ve been thrown in the deep end and have just had to get on with. The amount of learning I’ve got out of those challenges, I will forever be grateful for, I think.
It’s been a massive rollercoaster. There have been some really, really high, high points. But at the same time, there have also been some really worrying low points, at the same time. I think the two things I came back with when I was thinking about it, is it’s learning to adapt, which is something I’ve never been great at. I’ve always been a lists person, and I’ve always been a planner.
When I was in the ops role in Norfolk, we always used to jest at me when we got to. We shut over winter, so we shut from November to February. Everyone used to have a laugh at me. In the first couple weeks of the winter, I would literally print out 10 weeks of weekly planners, and I would plan my winter. It didn’t always go to plan, but just by doing that exercise, I would sit there. I’d be like, “Right, okay. On this day, I’m going to look at the staffing. And we’re going to do this, this, and this.” That’s just how my brain works.
But, I’ve had to learn this year that, when things change, and they change again, and they change again, you just have to be able to adapt. You have to be able to think fast on your feet, and you have to be able to make decisions. Sometimes, they have to be quick decisions. But if you can justify them, and make everyone aware of why those decisions are being made even if they’re tricky ones, I think people appreciate that. Yeah, being able to adapt was one.
And then, I think the other thing that I’ve learned about myself is that there is nothing I love more than a challenge. And, that despite everything that’s gone on, there is nothing that beats the feeling of having to work to a hard deadline, and getting there, and achieving it. I know we quite often joke, every day’s a school day and there are new challenges every day, but for me, I think that’s really important. I thrive off being able to learn and being to grow and develop, and I think I’ve probably done a certain amount of that this year and I really enjoyed it.
Kelly Molson: Good. I think that’s a huge positive to take from it and I completely agree with you. I think there would be a lot of our listeners, and myself included, that would say that that’s probably the biggest thing that they’ve learned about themselves this year as well.
What’s next, then? What’s next for BeWILDerwood Cheshire? And, what’s the next big challenge that you’ve got? What exciting things have you got coming up this summer?
Hannah Monteverde: I think what’s next for BeWILDerwood Cheshire, there’s a lot of work to do between now and summer, to make BeWILDerwood feel like BeWILDerwood to BeWILDerwood. It’s fantastic that the new audience and our new visitors and things love us and get us. As I said before, that was one thing I was mindful of. But, I think internally, there is so much more that we can do to make BeWILDerwood BeWILDerwood, so that’s going to be, I think, one of our focuses.
There is a big focus on our Lantern Parade at the end of the year, which I think will probably be the next big challenge. I know I’m having a wander around with our ops people at some point this week, to discuss October, which is great.
Kelly Molson: That sounds really far away at the moment as well.
Hannah Monteverde: I know.
Kelly Molson: October, gosh.
Hannah Monteverde: Who knows what could happen by then? Let’s hope things have settled down a bit more. Obviously, there’s thinking forward to the post-COVID world. What happens when we don’t have to limit our numbers? How do we deal with that? Do the facilities cope, does our infrastructure cope? What can we cope with? And, if we don’t think we can cope with what we’re going to get, how can we develop? How can we grow? How can we make it work? What exciting things can we put in next? Where are we going next?
Yeah. There’s loads of question at the moment. I think short term, we get through the next few weeks and then we really can start developing and growing, and thinking about what comes next.
Kelly Molson: Maybe you can come back on in a year from now, and share the next instalment of Hannah’s career progression and crazy life that’s going on up in Cheshire. That’d be awesome.
Hannah Monteverde: What is Hannah doing now? Oh, dear.
Kelly Molson: Okay, well we’re at the end of the interview. But, there is one last question that I always ask all of our guests. And, it is a book, a book that you love, hopefully, that you’ve read and isn’t sitting in that lovely stack that’s next to your bed right now. But, would you have a book that you’d recommend to our audience?
Hannah Monteverde: I’ve been greedy and I’ve got two, I hope that’s okay.
Kelly Molson: You know what, people do this all the time. It blows my marketing budget consistently.
Hannah Monteverde: I’m so sorry.
Kelly Molson: But, you go for it.
Hannah Monteverde: You’ll probably be able to pick at least one of them up fairly cheaply. I think the first one you might not even need to buy because it’s a really popular one, and most of your listeners will probably be familiar with it. But, for me this year it’s been a really important one, I think. The first one is The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Macksey.
Kelly Molson: It’s a great book.
Hannah Monteverde: It’s not a leadership book, it’s not anything fancy like that. It’s not going to tell you how to get a million visitors to your visitor attraction. But, I found it so useful this year for putting things into perspective. This will get a bit personal anyway, but the few days I did work from home this year, my husband would pick out the book and set it out on a page on my desk, each morning. I’d be like, “Yeah, I can do this.”
Kelly Molson: That’s lovely.
Hannah Monteverde: “I can do this.” Something different to read. I did want to mention, there’s a really lovely audio version of it that I think they put on Radio Four over Christmas, which I really enjoyed. That’s a really nice another way to listen to it. And then, the other one, this one I hope you’ll laugh at this, otherwise you’ll just think I’m really weird.
Kelly Molson: Is it the Spice Girls annual?
Hannah Monteverde: No, I’m afraid not. It’s not Bewitched, either. This is one that I panic bought when you asked me to come onto this podcast because I was like, “Oh, God.”
Kelly Molson: Oh, the pressure.
Hannah Monteverde: “I’m on a podcast with all these attractions professionals, and there I am, hello I’m Hannah, and I work at BeWILDerwood.” I was like, “What book can I recommend?” Oh my goodness, nothing was highbrow enough or anything.
So I did some research, and I bought an anthology of speeches called She Speaks. It’s put together by Yvette Cooper. It’s basically … I’ve got it sitting next to me, so I can remember what it says. Its tagline is, “Women’s speeches that changed the world.” It’s an anthology of famous women’s speeches. But, I read it at breakfast when I feel like I need a kick up the ass for that day. I pick a page at random. What’s really nice is that there’s no agenda behind it. You’ve got people from completely different walks of life, but just copies of their powerful speeches. Yeah, I’ve found it hugely inspirational. I think at times it’s quite moving, and I think it demonstrates, really succinctly, the power of words. So, that one.
Kelly Molson: What a fantastic book. I’ve never heard of that book, either. I think that’s one that I’m going to have to grab a copy of. Read it in the morning, that’s a really self-motivating thing to set you up for the day as well, isn’t it?
Hannah Monteverde: Yeah. Yeah, I read that and I think, “Look at what all those amazing women have achieved.” And then think, “I could do that.”
Kelly Molson: I am heading to BeWILDerwood and I’m going to do the same.
Hannah Monteverde: Exactly. I did threaten to my guys on one Motivational Monday that I’d come in and read one, but thankfully for them, I haven’t subjected them to it yet.
Kelly Molson: Well to be fair, when we were talking about hobbies earlier, I did actually make my team learn how to do crochet.
Hannah Monteverde: Actually, that is another one I’ve tried. I got stuck on Insta, talking about magic circles or something. Is that right?
Kelly Molson: It’s really hard, a magic circle. That is a really difficult skill.
Hannah Monteverde: I tried to crochet a cactus, and it didn’t work out too well.
Kelly Molson: Okay. See, all of my team were male at that point as well, so it was an interesting day of me trying to … Well, it was a lunchtime of me trying to teach them how to do that.
Hannah Monteverde: One thing I did, I did some macrame. I made a macrame wall hanging, but I’ve only made one wall hanging and that’s it. I’ve ticked that off now, don’t need to do it anymore.
Kelly Molson: Oh, but it’s on the wall. There’s the achievement, you don’t need to do anymore. Look what you did. I love that, thank you.
Hannah, it’s been so lovely to have you on. I’ve really, really enjoyed this interview. I genuinely do extend that offer, it would be really great for you to come back maybe a year from now, and let us know what the next stage is of what’s happened up there and how it’s all gone. It would be really good to hear from you.
Hannah Monteverde: Thank you. I’d love to come back.
Kelly Molson: Awesome, thank you very much. Well, if you as ever, listeners, if you want to win Hannah’s books that she’s mentioned today, if you head over to our Twitter account and you retweet this episode announcement with the comment, “I want Hannah’s books,” then you’ll be in a chance of winning them both.
Awesome, Hannah. Come back soon, and good luck with the rest of the season.
Hannah Monteverde: Thank you.
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