State of the nation report with Steve Mills

In this Skip the Queue podcast episode, I speak with Steve Mills, Founder of Decision House.

“In June, 15% of people mentioned financial concern as a barrier to why they wouldn’t be visiting attractions, or would maybe think twice. This has now risen to 25%.”

Steve Mills set up Decision House in July 2017, having spent 15 years at leading insight agency BDRC where he was Board Director and Head of the Culture & Tourism team.

His work focusses on generating and sharing insight to further understanding of both how to deliver better experiences for existing visitors, members, customers or other stakeholders and how to effectively grow audiences and develop new markets.

During the pandemic, Steve provided regular insight to the sector through ALVA, producing regular reports and webinars on public sentiment towards returning to visitor attractions and reaction to the ‘new’ visit experience in a Covid world.

In more ‘normal’ recent times he has delivered insight for clients across the culture and leisure attraction sector including Historic Royal Palaces, Royal Collection, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, Royal Museums Greenwich and the National Trust, as well as developing Voice of the Visitor, a new template helping attractions to gather and benchmark visitor feedback.


What will you learn from this podcast?

  • What the cost of living crisis mean for attractions as we move into winter and beyond
  • Steve gives us a snapshot of how your potential visitors are feeling
  • What the next few months might hold for the sector

To listen to the full podcast, search Skip The Queue on iTunes, Google Podcasts and Spotify to subscribe. You can find links to every episode and more at www.rubbercheese.com/podcast.

You can also read the full transcript below.

Steve Mills Blog large

The interview

Your host, Kelly Molson

Our guest, Steve Mills



Kelly Molson: Steve, thank you so much for joining me on Skip the Queue podcast today. It’s really good to see you.

Steve Mills: Pleasure. Thanks for inviting me, Kelly.

Kelly Molson: I’ve got a few icebreaker questions for you, Steve.

Steve Mills: Go for it.

Kelly Molson: You can only save one of the Muppets. Which Muppet do you choose, and why?

Steve Mills: Oh my God. Well, I’ll tell you the one I’d like to be, I’d like to be the drummer, Animal. Aspiring to be fun and exciting and a bit off the wall, really, to be honest. But I would say very much it’s an aspiration rather than reality with me, to be honest. I’m probably more like Scooter, who is the more rational, down to earth, logical one.

Kelly Molson: I think that might come across in what we talk about today, Steve.

Steve Mills: Okay. Fair enough, fair enough. No, that’s definitely it for me.

Kelly Molson: All right. How would you describe your job to a two year old?

Steve Mills: I find out all the fun stuff that people like doing.

Kelly Molson: That’s a great answer. That is a great answer. You nailed that, Steve.

Steve Mills: Good.

Kelly Molson: Okay. Last show that you binge-watched on your television viewing platform of choice? I don’t know why I’ve done that. I’m not the BBC. No one cares what I say.

Steve Mills: No, no, it’s all right.

Kelly Molson: Netflix, Amazon, whatever. Disney+.

Steve Mills: I’m quite sporty, so Disney+, I’ve been watching this series called Welcome to Wrexham, which is all about Wrexham Football Club and the fact that Ryan Reynolds and the other guy whose name everybody always forgets … Jim, Joe, McElhenney or whatever it is, taking over the football club. And it’s a kind of fly on the wall documentary about how they’ve taken over the club, and trying to make a success of it.

But very interestingly, there’s lots of these fly on the wall, football type documentaries, and this one is made for an American audience. It has some quite subtle differences in there, so they have things like translations between English and American phrases for things like bloke means buddy and that kind of thing. It has got a little twist in it, which I quite enjoy.

Kelly Molson: That’s interesting. That’s on my list, to watch that one. But we’ve watched the Tottenham one that was on Amazon, because we’re big Tottenham fans. And we watched … What was the one … Was it Sunderland? Was there one about-

Steve Mills: Yeah.

Kelly Molson: Yeah, we watched that one as well, that was really good. Okay, we’ll watch that one, and there’s little, subtle differences because it’s for Americans.

Steve Mills: Yes.

Kelly Molson: All right, Steve. What is your unpopular opinion?

Steve Mills: That’s an interesting first question because given my profession, which we’ll come on to, my job is really about conveying others’ opinions rather than having them of my own, to be honest with you. But my unpopular opinion is sticking with the sporting theme, really, is that I think that there’s no better sporting drama than a five day cricket test match.

Kelly Molson: Oh God.

Steve Mills: Which is definitely an unpopular opinion, to be honest. Or even a four day cricket county championship match that’s watched by three men and a dog on a wet Tuesday in April, to be honest. Because I know it’s difficult to believe that anyone could be interested in a sport where you could have a draw after five days’ worth of activity, but for me, it’s like reading a novel, but it’s being played out in front of your eyes, in many ways.

There’s time to get to know all the characters properly, and story kind of ebbs and flows, and you get these unexpected instances happening that change the plot. And you can see these individual battles gradually unfolding during five days that you’d never get in a couple of hours.

And what I like about it is it’s a kind of test of character and a test of patience for the players, not just the audience, as well as pure, sporting ability. Yeah, I’m sure it’s a very unpopular opinion, but I think it’s a kind of antidote to where we’re going as a society generally, so it’s the whole antidote to having low attention span, these quick rewards and these superficial pleasures.

You don’t want any of that, go and watch a five day test match. Which ironically, I don’t think I’ve ever done, to be honest with you. But it’s certainly something I’ve got in mind when I retire in a few years’ time.

Kelly Molson: Steve, it was a really beautiful analogy. I really enjoyed your analogy about it being like a novel, and playing out the roles and the characters and stuff, but you have not sold it to me.

Steve Mills: I wasn’t intending to.

Kelly Molson: But well done on the analogy. All right, listeners, let us know what you think about Steve’s cricket is a novel analogy, and we should all be in watching cricket for five days. I know that I’ve got a lot of different things that I could be spending my days on, but there you go. Thank you for sharing.

Steve Mills: That’s all right.

Kelly Molson: Right, Steve, I’ve asked you to come on today because we’re going to do a bit of a state of the nation chat. But tell us a little bit about you and what Decision House does, for our listeners that haven’t heard of you, which I will be surprised if they haven’t.

Steve Mills: Okay. No, thank you, yeah. I started Decision House back in 2017. I used to head up the Tourism and Culture team at BDRC, which is now called BVA BDRC. I headed those up for a good few years before that. Decision House really specialises in generating insights that help organisations in the culture and tourism sector specifically, and particularly attractions, really. Just helping them to make better decisions for their organisation, hence the Ronseal type name, Decision House.

And we mainly do that by conducting fresh, primary research, either with your current customers, so whether you call your current customers; visitors or bookers or members, and that helps with making sure that we deliver, or they can deliver, optimum experiences for their visitors. Or, we do research with prospective customers, so more market and audience research to understand how they can grow their customer bases, actually. We can do that.

We do both quantitative research, so the typical surveys, online surveys, face-to-face surveys et cetera, or we also do qualitative research as well, so things like focus groups, in-depth interviews, which really get under the skin of the issues that organisations have. Typically, quantitative surveys will measure visitor opinion, whereas qualitative gets to the root of why visitors have those particular opinions.

That’s really what we do, and during COVID, we did an awful lot of work to really track public sentiment. And that led us to setting up visitor benchmarking surveys to understand reactions the visitors had to COVID measures being put in place once attractions reopened back in 2020.

And that’s really, both of those surveys, public sentiment work for ALVA and the visitor benchmark and consumer views for the last couple of years and still going now, really, albeit they’ve evolved into pieces of work that aren’t COVID related anymore. They’re more general sentiment work now.

Kelly Molson: And they’ve been incredibly valuable, Steve. And I reference them continuously, and I do reference the BVA BDRC’s work as well. And they’ve been incredibly insightful. Now, we spoke a couple of weeks ago about coming on to talk about the state of the nation and where people at, because what had been happening is I had been contacted by a few attractions, saying, “What have you heard? Numbers are down a little bit. What have you heard? What’s the sentiment like?” And I always fire them your way, but I thought why not get the man in himself to talk us through where we’re at?

We’ve got a really weird situation at the moment in the UK. I mean, we’re recording this. It’s the fifth of October. We’re in the run-up to what is usually a busy half-term, and then the run up to Christmas which can be quite quiet for a number of attractions, depending on what you’re doing. But we’ve got the cost of living crisis, we’ve got the pound was at its lowest since the ’70s, which blows my mind.

We’ve had the death of our monarch, we have a new king, and a new prime minister, all happening at once. I mean, that’s quite a lot to be dealing with. But I guess, what does all of this mean for attractions as we move into that winter period and beyond? And I thought this is what we could talk about today, Steve. So, where are we at? It’s big question, but where are we at?

Steve Mills: A massive question. I’ll try my best to try and pick some of those issues apart, really. I think if we deal with the death of Her Majesty the Queen first of all, and what the ramifications of that might be … And this is, I guess, a personal opinion, first of all, really. I mean, I think domestically, it’s not going to have a huge impact, if I’m perfectly honest.

People will move on relatively quickly from that. I suspect attractions won’t see … Unless you are something that is specifically related to the monarchy, you probably won’t see a huge amount of difference. I mean, clearly somewhere like Windsor Castle is already seeing queues of people outside the gates, for example.

But I think outside of that niche, domestically, I doubt we’ll see a huge difference. But then, obviously, internationally, it has raised the profile. And actually, I think showcased all the positive associations that people abroad associate with the UK, and why they travel here. It has emphasised our heritage, it has emphasised our amazing ability in terms of the pomp and ceremony, et cetera.

And it has been a great showcase for London sites, to be honest. I think internationally, it should have a significant impact going into next year, allied of course with the low value of the pound. Now, it’s not all good, obviously, but obviously, in exchange rates terms, it’s a good thing for next year, particularly [inaudible 00:10:48]. I guess that’s where I’d see the death of the monarch situation.

Kelly Molson: It’s interesting, what you said about the pomp. I mean, as we watched the funeral here, a very emotional day, actually. And I was transfixed to the ceremony for the entire day. It was quite mesmerising. But in my head, I just kept thinking, people outside of the UK that watched this, it’s strange, isn’t it? It’s quite strange, and it’s very grand, and it’s a real sense of what the UK is about, that kind of level of ceremony, and people coming together. It was quite phenomenal.

And it did make me think ultimately, it’s a really sad day, but it’s such a big thing for the UK to be able to do. I wonder if that does represent a surge in international tourism because of that, and people wanted to come and be a small part in that kind of thing.

Steve Mills: Yeah. I think increasingly, whether it’s people from the UK or people coming into the UK, people want to do things now that is different. And they want to be seen to be doing things that you can only do in one particular location.

And I think the UK, I don’t think there is anywhere quite like it in terms of ability to deliver on things like the pomp and ceremony. And that’s what really sets us apart from many other countries around the world. And I think we shouldn’t forget that, and not be afraid to promote it.

Kelly Molson: Yeah, absolutely. And then that brings us to the new king. There will be a coronation at some point.

Steve Mills: Yeah, it’s similar, similar.

Kelly Molson: So, similar kind of reaction to that, probably, and something very positive to celebrate as well.

Steve Mills: Yeah. But then yeah, the other side of it is I think you mentioned cost of living.

Kelly Molson: Small, little issue that we’re all struggling with.

Steve Mills: Probably yeah, less positive. I think with that one, as a lot of listeners will know, we have been commissioned by ALVA throughout COVID, and also a couple of waves this year, just to gauge public sentiment into how people are feeling about visitor attractions. We did a wave back in June this year, which first highlighted some financial concerns for the attraction-visiting public.

And it also said at that point that COVID actually was still a noticeable barrier, particularly for the older generation and those who are more vulnerable. We’re just literally hot off the press at the end of September, so we did another wave the 22nd and 27th of September, just to update that and try to understand how people are feeling about visiting attractions in the autumn and the winter, up until about February next year. So, how attractions are going to cope.

And one of the key questions we asked is just a completely open question. People can respond in any way they like to this question. But we just ask, “At the moment, how are you feeling about visiting attractions over the next few months?” As I said, they could say absolutely anything there. We’ve not prompted them with anything.

And I think the issues that are coming up here, first of all on the positive side, is that COVID is being mentioned by less and less people. I think the assumption is that it’s completely not an issue anymore, but I wouldn’t say it has done that. But back in June, we still had 15% of people at that point saying something to do with COVID was putting me off going to visitor attractions, which was partially explaining why we hadn’t seen that bounce back to pre pandemic levels.

Steve Mills: That has now, in the September wave, come down to 9%, so it’s disappearing. That said, you’ve still got one in 10 people who have still got some sort of concerns around COVID. As I say, it’s particularly older people and vulnerable people that are still saying that. But that’s quite positive.

But then on the other side, the financial concerns have gone up considerably. Again, back in June, we had about 15% of people mentioning some sort of financial concern as a barrier to why they wouldn’t be visiting attractions, or would maybe think twice. But that has now gone up to 24, 25%, something like that. So, quite a significant increase.

And again, it’s as you would expect, it’s especially among those with lower incomes, but also families are increasingly expressing financial concerns. And this time around, we asked a specific question as well about whether there was any positive benefit of all the government support around energy bills. And actually, we’re finding that it’s probably not because any sort of positive benefit of government support is being negated by just the still absolute rises in energy costs.

It’s a difficult situation at the moment, and we’ve now got around about half the country really feeling that they feel worse off than they did at the same point last year. Clearly, that’s going to have an impact.

Kelly Molson: Yeah. I wonder, I mean, I can give you an example. I went to an attraction on Monday. I took my daughter, I met up with some friends, and went to Paradise Wildlife Park for the day. And I definitely thought more about what I was going to spend when I got there than I usually would. And I thought well, I’m quite lucky.

My daughter is a big eater. She’s not fussy. She eats anything. But I went, do you know what? I’m going to just pack her a packed lunch, so she has got sandwiches, fruit, whatever, and I’ll buy myself my lunch when I’m there, and that just saves just a tiny, little bit of money. And it sounds silly. It’s insignificant, but it was enough to make me, in my head, go, “I feel a bit better about that.”

And I probably spent longer at the attraction as well, because in my head I was like, well, “I’ve paid, I want to get my money’s worth. We’ll go here and we’ll go in the Tumble Tots place and we’ll do the soft play.” And I just really extended the time that I was at the attraction as well, for the money that I paid for it. And it wasn’t unreasonable at all. We had a great day, it’s a brilliant, brilliant day out. But it did make me think about just small changes I wouldn’t have thought about six months ago.

Steve Mills: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I think you’ve picked up on secondary spend there. I think that is one thing that’s going to be a challenge. And also, memberships as well. We were, a bit earlier in the year, seeing people saying things like, “Well, I’ll squeeze as much as I possibly can out of my existing memberships,” which is a good thing. Makes you more likely to renew.

But I think now we’ve reached the stage where people are starting to do that a bit less, because they’ve actually scared of any visit occasion because there is secondary spends associated with even a visit occasion that is associated with a membership, because you’ve got to travel to get there.

And then you’ve got to potentially have something to eat there, or buy something in the shop. And I think the situation is now with some people that they’re, even when they have a membership of some organisation, they’re actually more reluctant to use it now, more than trying to squeeze as much as possible out of it.

Steve Mills: I think it’s going to be a tough time for memberships over the next few months, definitely. We’ve got, again, evidence from that piece of work that is saying people are less likely to renew and less likely to acquire new memberships over the next few months, because of their personal financial situation. And it’s all within that 50% of people who are feeling worse off, obviously.

Which I guess on the positive side, what we’re seeing is that I guess if there was going to be a prediction, it’s that at the high end, limited supply-type products, there’s virtually going to be no change there. If you’ve got limited supply of something that’s priced at a high level, I think there is still going to be plenty of demands for that sort of thing. And you see it all the time, really.

I mean, I think things like the Christmas lights displays, for example, at attractions, I have a feeling they’re still going to be okay and do well. I mean, I tried to go to, there’s one reasonably local to me at Walterstone. And I don’t know if it’s completely sold out yet, but I know the slots that we wanted to try and book, we booked three or four weeks ago for it. I think those sorts of events and the higher price point end with limited supply should be okay, in my view.

Kelly Molson: Yeah. And I would agree with that, again from personal experience of trying to book the Audley End miniature railway Christmas experience. All of the weekends are gone. I did manage to get a Friday, thankfully. More for me, to be perfectly honest. I can’t wait to go on it. But yeah, those peak Saturdays and weekend slots sold out within hours, and they’re all gone completely. Yeah, I definitely agree with you on that.

Do you think that that then leads attractions to they’re just going to have to try harder in terms of the experience that they’re putting on? Should they be looking at trying to offer things that are a bit more unique, at a higher price point?

Steve Mills: Yeah, I think yes, definitely. I think as well, it’s important to point out that this isn’t going to be across the board. Again, there’s a lot of evidence for … Again, I guess this is all very intuitive, but there’s going to be a much higher negative impact on paid attractions than free attractions, so again, there’s very strong evidence that people will be switching out from paid attractions to free attractions.

But then even within that, within paid attractions, it’s perhaps starting to emphasise that this is all going to be about value message. And what else can you do to add value to whatever ticket price is, really?

Yeah, and again, a third of people said they will visit paid attractions less than normal, and only 13% said more. Whereas on the free attractions side, you’ve got a third saying they will visit free attractions more than usual, and only 8% said less. And again, that’s all driven by those that feel worse off. Yeah, I think it’s all completely about that value message over the winter. Need that reassuring communications around it.

Steve Mills: And I think as well, what has also come out of this is there’s this assumption that the cost of visiting attractions will be rising at the same rate as everything else in the economy. There were quite a few people saying things like, “just assuming that the cost of visiting attractions was going to be going up”. I think there is a really important communications message to put in there, some thought actions to come across, is that we are maybe holding our prices at ’22 levels, or whatever it is. Or only increasing it by a small amount, or adding this extra value item in or whatever it is.

I think something that is related to value and price has to be the message this year, just to reassure people that actually, we’re not going up at the same price as energy and wheat and sunflower oil and all the rest of it. Actually, it’s going to be fairly marginal, if anything, for visitor attractions, which I thought was one of the quite interesting things that came out of it.

Kelly Molson: That’s really interesting, isn’t it? Yeah, I hadn’t considered that. I mean, look, it’s unfair to say that attractions won’t be putting up their prices, because their energy bills are going up just as ours are. Actually, their energy bills are going up more dramatically than ours, because there’s currently no cap on businesses.

There isn’t a reassurance piece to be done, but I think that has to be done quite tactically by the attraction because they can’t come out and say, “Look, we’re not putting our prices up. We’re not doing this,” because they might have to because of the cost of living. Okay, but that’s something that I wasn’t expecting, that they just assumed that it would rise that rapidly.

Steve Mills: Yeah. And coincidentally, I read something somewhere recently in the trade press as well of just someone had done some research across other sectors as well, and was seeing a very similar sort of scenario as well. Actually, when you think about it, average Joe Public, if inflation is at 10%, your immediate thought is well, everything is going up 10%. Why wouldn’t it be? Most members of the public wouldn’t think about the nuances of what’s going up and what isn’t going up.

I think it’s just something to bear in mind. Although again, what I would say is that I’m of the view that attractions should try and hold their nerve in terms of pricing. And I suspect there won’t be much merit in reducing prices or holding prices as they are just for the sake of it, because I don’t think we’re talking here about those people who are financially squeezed.

The odd pound or two lower admission price at a visitor attraction I don’t think is going to make a huge amount of difference to whether they visit or not, to be honest. All you’ll be doing is rewarding the people who would visit anyway. Why would you do that? I think it’s holding your nerve and being confident that you offer a good value, worthwhile experience.

Kelly Molson: Yeah. Good advice, Steve. And that also backs up the last interview that we had with Simon Addison about being confident in what you’re delivering, and the price that you’re charging for it. Yeah, really, really good advice. Okay, what else have you discovered?

Steve Mills: I think they were probably the main points, really. Yeah, I mean I think as I said, it’s going to be pretty tough for membership, so existing members, we’re now seeing they’re less likely to renew than they were back in June, and they’re less likely to acquire new memberships as well. And yeah, just more reticent about using and squeezing as much value out of their existing membership as well.

Kelly Molson: Yeah. It’s interesting, the membership one, because my National Trust membership is up for renewal in January time. We were very kindly gifted it for a wedding present last year. And I’m absolutely going to renew, because for me, it’s such incredible value for money. And we were literally talking about it last night. We were like, “Well, that’s fine. We’ll renew our membership.

We’ll make sure that we are not only using the brilliant National Trust parks that are around us, like Wimpole and Anglesey Abbey, et cetera, Ickworth, but go further afield as well. Actually, if we’re going to use that membership, then we don’t mind traveling a little bit further, even though that’s going to cost us a bit more in petrol, to go to that attraction because you’re then not paying the attraction fee on top of the travel costs as well. Yeah, it’s funny. I’d never even considered not renewing it.

Steve Mills: Yeah. And I’m exactly the same. And I guess, let’s be clear, here. I said 50% of the population are feeling worse off than they did at this point last year, but then 50% are feeling okay, the same or better. And I think it was something like 15% or so were actually feeling better off than last year, which I think says something about where we’re going as a society. You’ve got people dividing even further, to be honest with you. There are still significant proportions of people that are feeling fine about things, and will renew their memberships, or see them as a charitable donation.

Kelly Molson: Steve, I want to ask you a little bit about pre booking, because I mean we’ve talked about this for years now, pre booking. Obviously, it was kind of forced upon attractions during the pandemic, when they were allowed to open.

I still don’t know why anyone wouldn’t pre book in advance, but then I am an organised planner. I need to know that I’ve got my ticket and I’m going to get in. I’m not going to have a wasted journey. And obviously, from an operational side, aspect from attractions, it’s a brilliant thing to be able to do.

What’s the kind of sentiment now from general public? Are they still happy with it? Are they starting to want to go back to the old days, where things were just a little bit more flexible and bit more spontaneous?

Steve Mills: Yeah. Well, I think almost, it’s switching that around a little bit. I mean, I think obviously COVID was this fantastic opportunity to almost change the culture of the public to one where, as you said, it’s why wouldn’t you pre book an attraction in the same way that you would pre book lots of other things in society, like going to the theatre or going to a restaurant or whatever?

Certainly, paid attractions. There was a really good opportunity to change the culture. And so I think the main point for me is that attractions need to be proactive in encouraging that behaviour.

It’s not something that will naturally come to the public, and public sentiment won’t change unless attractions are proactive in changing it. Why would it, really? I think it’s incumbent upon attractions to really create that appetite for pre booking. And I think to an extent, we’re beginning to get there.

But I think there’s a lot more to be done in terms of what nudges can we put to the public to encourage to pre book? I think things like online discounts that are notable, or switching it around premiums to walk-ups, depending on which way you want to look at it, should be used more than they probably are at the moment.

Steve Mills: And things like dynamic pricing for advanced booking, for example. Again, I know you talked to Simon Addison about dynamic pricing last week. But the more that that can be used, in particular for things like advanced booking, I think just will encourage pre booking. And then gradually over a period of time, it then gets ingrained into the people’s psyche, “I’m going to an attraction, therefore I will pre book.”

I think it’s just one of those that I think the industry as a whole almost needs to come together and say, “Right, we’re going to push pre booking as much as we possibly can because we need to change the way that society thinks about booking attractions.” Easy for me to sit here and say that, and much more difficult to do. But I think that’s what needs to be done because yeah, as we’ve seen, there’s huge benefits in terms of creating that relationship with anybody as soon as you grab their email address.

And that investment or the discounts you offer may well pay dividends in years to come because you’ve managed to keep that relationship going, which means you get more repeat visits, you get more top of mind so you get more recommendation being spread around, et cetera. I think it’s a worthwhile investment.

Kelly Molson: Brilliant, yeah. Good advice. I agree with every, single word you have said, Steve. Thanks for backing up everything that I put online about it as well.

Steve Mills: It’s all right. And to be honest, it helped me as well on my visitor surveys. I now try and make sure that they are online, post visit surveys, which tend to help the more pre bookers people have got. It makes that research a lot more cost effective, shall we say, as well.

Kelly Molson: Helping us all round, Steve. That’s what I like. Sector collaboration and all that. Right, Steve, thank you for sharing your insights today. It’s really appreciated, and I know that this will help a lot of people that are feeling a little bit anxious about what’s going on and just not really sure how to approach things. Thank you very much.

I always ask our guests to recommend a book that they love or something that has helped shape their career in some way. What have you got for us today?

Steve Mills: Okay. I’ve read this book called Silt Road, silt road rather than silk road, by a guy called Charles Rangeley-Wilson or Rangeley-Wilson. Not quite sure, to be honest. And he’s quite niche based, so be prepared. It tells the social history of High Wycombe, which is where I live, through the lens of the River Wye, which sort of runs through it, although most of it has been culverted and put under a shopping centre and a flyover, these days.

Yeah, it tells that story through the lens of a river. It tells a story about things like the mills on the river, the history of Wycombe as a furniture and chair making town, which led to me actually being … I’m now Chair of the Wycombe Chair Museum, which is rather ironic.

Kelly Molson: That’s niche as well, isn’t it? I love it.

Steve Mills: It is. It’s incredibly niche. It’s incredibly niche. And it also tells the story of things like how trout became … Trout are a thing in New Zealand, apparently, and they are a thing in New Zealand because they were taken from the River Wye and transported over thousands of miles to New Zealand many years ago.

But the reason why I mention it is because I’m not originally from Wycombe. I’ve lived here for about 15 years. But it really helped me form this identity with the town, because Wycombe is a few miles outside London. It’s very commuter-able, which means that actually, there’s not many people live in Wycombe who are originally from Wycombe. I’m a big believer in getting pride in your local area so you look after it better and make you want to contribute to the community.

Books like this help with that because it has really helped me to understand Wycombe in more detail, understand the social history, and feel more proud of the place I live.

Kelly Molson: Steve, I love that.

Steve Mills: It’s not really a recommendation to read that specific book. It’s more of a kind of a plea to go and find out a bit more about your local area, read about the social history, so that you feel more proud about the places you live in.

Kelly Molson: And more connected to it as well.

Steve Mills: Completely, yeah, yeah, yeah. Pride and connection.

Kelly Molson: Steve, I think that’s lovely. It’s amazing, the stuff that you can learn on this podcast. Who knew? Who knew? Who knew that Wycombe … I had no idea that it was a big chair and furniture manufacturing place, and that you had got a Chair Museum as well.

Steve Mills: We do, yes. It’s mentioned in Gavin and Stacey as well.

Kelly Molson: Is it?

Steve Mills: Yeah, there you go.

Kelly Molson: Well, I mean I’m an Essex girl, so that fits for me too.

Steve Mills: Well, James Corden is from High Wycombe, so that’s why it’s mentioned in there.

Kelly Molson: Got you. Right, okay. Well, look, listeners, if you want to win Steve’s book, and why wouldn’t you? If you go over to our Twitter account and you retweet this episode announcement with the word, “I Want Steve’s Book”, then we’ll get you a copy of that book. We’ll get you a copy of it, and you could be in with a chance of winning it, and then you can find out about High Wycombe as well. Thank you, Steve. It has been an education.

Steve Mills: Absolute pleasure.


Do you know someone we should be talking to?

Do you know someone fascinating we should be talking to?

If so, email us at hello@rubbercheese.com – we’ll get back to you shortly.

Paul Wright.
Kelly Molson Managing Director

Host of the popular Skip the Queue Podcast, for people working in or working with visitor attractions, she regularly delivers workshops and presentations on the sector at various national conferences and universities including The Visitor Attractions Conference, ASVA and Anglia Ruskin University.

Read more about me

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