The transformation of Painshill Park, with Paul Griffiths, Director of Painshill

In this Skip the Queue podcast episode I speak with Paul Griffiths, Director of Painshill Park Trust Ltd, a beautifully restored 18th Century landscape designed by Hon Charles Hamilton.

Paul has had an illustrious career in the attraction sector, having been Head of Operations for the Mary Rose Museum, Head of Visitor Operations for the London Historic Properties at English Heritage, and a guest lecturer at Southampton Solent University in Contemporary Tourism.

In July 2018 was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Business for services to Tourism, Heritage and Conservation.

“What was really emotional was the response from members who were coming back. One lady said she’d not been out of her house for nine weeks,         and this was the first time she’d come out. And that was like,           “Wow, you’ve put a lot of trust into us””

What will you learn from this podcast?

  • The transformation of Painshill
  • The emotional reopening
  • Team motivation
  • If pre-booking is here to stay
  • Some seriously dodgy fashion choices from both of us!

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.

The interview

Your host, Kelly Molson

Our guest, Paul Griffiths

Kelly Molson: Paul, welcome to Skip The Queue podcast.

Paul Griffiths: No, Kelly. Thanks for having me.

Kelly Molson: It’s really lovely to have you on. Paul and I have chatted a few times. We’ve been kind of Twitter buddies for a while, haven’t we? That’s how we first-

Paul Griffiths: Yeah.

Kelly Molson: … got introduced-

Paul Griffiths: It’s how you meet people these days, isn’t it, via Twitter?

Kelly Molson: Absolutely. And then, we’ve had a chat, and now Paul’s very kindly agreed to come on to the podcast, to share all about Painshill Park. But we start as ever with our ice-breaker questions, Paul. Are you ready?

Paul Griffiths: Yeah, nervous, but ready.

Kelly Molson: I’ve gone easy on you, don’t worry. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Paul Griffiths: Probably a professional footballer, but before that, an astronaut.

Kelly Molson: Oh, quite different. And so, football … I know this about you. You’re a big Charlton fan, aren’t you?

Paul Griffiths: Yeah, I’d have been playing up front in the valley, but no I wasn’t good enough to play for the park, because I don’t know I’d make a professional debut. But no, that was my dream for years, to be a professional footballer.

Kelly Molson: Oh, and then the astronaut, just didn’t happen?

Paul Griffiths: Didn’t happen, no. I never did make it to space. Space Mountain, is about as far as I’ve got. Yeah, but that’s-

Kelly Molson: Same. Okay, this is another retro one. What is the most embarrassing fashion trend, that you rocked?

Paul Griffiths: Ooh, that’s a good question. I tell you what I had, and I don’t know if any listeners will remember these. Jeans, with pictures of The Flintstones on.

Kelly Molson: Yes.

Paul Griffiths: And I’ll have been about 12, or something at the time. And you had Fred on one leg, and Barney on the other, or something like that. And they were really trendy, for one summer.

Kelly Molson: I think we’re probably around the same age, because genuinely, I had those, and I can remember. Yeah, I had those. Yeah, what was that about?

Paul Griffiths: No idea. I remember being really excited, on holiday. It was on a holiday camp somewhere, and there was a little market nearby. Finding them in the market, and buying them, and being really excited by this. Various other dreadful things… I remember wearing dungarees for a while, and thinking I was really trendy. But from a bloke, that’s obviously a bit of a strange one.

Kelly Molson: I still wear dungarees now, Paul, so-

Paul Griffiths: Yeah, that’s why I said-

Kelly Molson: [crosstalk 00:02:43] That’s okay.

Paul Griffiths: … but yeah, it’s …

Kelly Molson: I was thinking about this question, this morning, before I asked you, and thinking, “What would I answer to this?” And I thought, “Well, it would be the Bros era for me,” because I had the Grolsch tops on my shoes. And I had a denim jacket, that had a massive patch, of Bros, on the back of it, as well. What a loser.

Paul Griffiths: But you see, what I find really weird, is that people in my office haven’t heard of Bros. I brought them up, as a cultural reference point, at some point. And younger people haven’t heard of them. No one’s heard … I was trying to explain the whole Brosette thing, and people having watches on their shoes, and just everyone was looking at me like I was … I was DJing somewhere once … that’s a completely different story, but put on, When Will I Be Famous? And the floor cleared, no one knew it at all.

Kelly Molson: Oh, no.

Paul Griffiths: Note to self, don’t play Bros at a disco.

Kelly Molson: Except, if I’m there, and I’d have been, I’ll be right in the middle. Okay, one more of these and then your unpopular opinion. If you could have an unlimited supply of one thing, for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Paul Griffiths: Ooh, that’s a good question. Probably McDonald’s breakfasts.

Kelly Molson: Oh, Paul, they are the [crosstalk 00:04:06] ultimate hangover cure.

Paul Griffiths: You can’t go wrong with a McMuffin.

Kelly Molson: Yeah, I’m with you. Double sausage and egg?

Paul Griffiths: With bacon, for me.

Kelly Molson: That could be an unpopular opinion in itself, Paul.

Paul Griffiths: Well, couldn’t it just. Yeah, what do you have as McDonald’s breakfast?

Kelly Molson: On that note then, I want to know what your unpopular opinion is.

Paul Griffiths: I’m going to say, that I just don’t get the point of Instagram. You’ve got Twitter, you’ve got Facebook, why do you need something else? I just don’t get why you need another channel. Surely two, Twitter for work, and professional stuff. Facebook great for your fun stuff. Why do you need Instagram? I don’t get it, at all.

Kelly Molson: Oh, no. I feel like this is going to throw up some debate, Paul. I do not agree with you on this one, so this is-

Paul Griffiths: Fair enough.

Kelly Molson: … definitely an unpopular opinion. I find Facebook a bit negative, whereas on Instagram, I’m just in my little, happy world of posting up all my lovely things. It just feels a bit happier, a happier place, to me. It’s less ranty-

Paul Griffiths: Yes, I could do it again, yeah. I just tried it for a while. I was talked into it by a good friend, and former colleague. He was saying, “Oh, you really want to do this.” And after a week, I thought, “How am I going to run three different things, trying to put three different things on?” So for me, it’s easier to separate my life. So I’ve got friends and old colleagues and things, on Facebook, and then everyone else on Twitter.

Kelly Molson: So everyone, when you get promoted to Facebook, you know that you’re Paul’s real friends.

Paul Griffiths: Yeah.

Kelly Molson: Brilliant. Thank you for sharing that, Paul. I really appreciate it. Gosh, I’ve got so much to talk to you about today. I’ve been looking at your background-

Paul Griffiths: Oh, that’s scary.

Kelly Molson: … in the attractions and heritage world, and gosh, it’s very impressive, isn’t it? So you’re currently Director of Painshill Park, and director of, is it … Sorry?

Paul Griffiths: Well, a Director, one of the board.

Kelly Molson: One of the board?

Paul Griffiths: Yeah. [crosstalk 00:06:02] chair, and about seven or eight board members, who do an amazing job.

Kelly Molson: Fantastic. You’ve been Head of Ops, at the Mary Rose Museum, Head of Visitor Operations, at London Historic Properties, at the English Heritage. You Guest Lecture, at Southampton Uni, in Contemporary Tourism, and in 2018, you were awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Business, for services to Tourism, Heritage, and Conservation. It’s not a bad list, is it, Paul?

Paul Griffiths: Sounds good when you say it like that.

Kelly Molson: Wasn’t it?

Paul Griffiths: I wonder who you were describing-

Kelly Molson: It’s you. So I want to know, where this love of the sector has come from, because you’ve got such an impressive background in it.

Paul Griffiths: Do you know? It’s a really easy answer. I went off to Uni, to study Leisure Management. And at that point, I was thinking of going more into sports, and so leisure world. So maybe running … after we talked about earlier on about, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” Well, I knew I wasn’t going to make it as a professional footballer, but well, could I work in football? Could I work in the offices? Could I become a commercial manager in a football club? Could you do that stuff? So I went off to study leisure management, and at the end of year one, we had to do a month’s work placement. One of those head out for a month and I couldn’t really think what to do. And in the end, approached a few tourism attractions, because I sort of got a bit more into the tourism side, in that first year. Because it was a modular degree, so we were doing four different subjects, every term. And it was very much like school, there were three terms, and we’d do from four different subjects.

And I wrote to Hever Castle, and they accepted to take me down there for a month. I was down there, with a chap called Piers, who was the business services manager, or business operations manager, at the time. Just had an amazing job. So I spent this month, shadowing Piers, who I still occasionally now. He works for the Tate. Well, he did … last time I saw him, he worked for the Tate, so I hope he still does. Otherwise, this could be a really difficult episode, if he doesn’t anymore-

Kelly Molson: Awkward.

Paul Griffiths: … Yeah. I still often bump into him, at ALVA events, and stuff, which was absolutely fabulous. But no, I spent this month with Piers. It was just brilliant. We put on flower shows, in the castle. I can remember driving this funny, little van. I’d never driven a van before in my life, and I was thrown the keys, and told to go and pick up this lovely old lady, with all her flowers, because it was like the local WI, doing a flower display. You know how fabulous events can be, in our industry, and it was just brilliant. The weather was fabulous. Piers’ job involved wandering around … I don’t mean wandering around, but going from the tea room, to shop, to ob missions, making sure everything was working right. And I just thought, “This is just brilliant. This is what I want to do, is in a fabulous, historic setting, talking to people, dealing with loads of different heads of departments.”

And everyone was really lovely, in the same way, that most people in our industry are really lovely. So everyone-

Kelly Molson: Very true.

Paul Griffiths: … everyone you bumped into round Hever, was just utterly fabulous. So I went back to uni, and at this point, we had to choose our … Sorry, this is quite a long answer, Kelly. Apologies. But we then had to choose a pathway, of which we’d specialize in. So you then had leisure management as half your course, and then your pathway as the second half. And you could have done rural tourism, straight leisure management, there was a more legal side. And I chose to do heritage management, so that sort of swayed my degree.

So my degree was in Leisure and Heritage Management, a fabulous thing to have. And then, after leaving, I just wanted to get a job in the sector. And was quite lucky, just got a job in English Heritage. My first job was making the tea for the quantity surveyors, and booking their travel, and just working in the office, as basically the dogsbody, is the only way I can describe it. But it was a route in. And EH’s rules then, was that they would try and recruit most jobs internally first. So you’d get a weekly jobs file come round, and I’d open it eagerly, every week, to see what was available.

And then, got this job at Down House, home of Charles Darwin, which hadn’t opened to the public. It had just been taken on by EH. We had this amazing two months, getting ready for opening, and then throwing the doors open to the public. And all the fun and games that went on then, it was just … So from there, I just stayed with English Heritage for, gosh, 15, 16 years, something like that. Thankfully, just moving into different, progressive roles, which was fabulous. And ended up, as Area Manager for London. So I had the entirety of London, with 12 sites around London. Really spread out, as well. So you had Kenwood House up on Hampstead, which was where my office was. Chiswick House, and Marble Hill in West London. As far afield as Tilbury Fort in Essex, and sort of towards the east, the Jewel Tower, which was the oldest surviving part of the Palace of Westminster.

It’s the bit that you always see, behind … when MP’s are being interviewed on the news, the Jewels House always just merrily behind it. So we managed to move … when I was there, some signs, to be just behind where the interview was. It was a perfect product placement for us. But yeah, it was an amazing job. I spent most of the time-traveling, from around. I was rubbish at diary management, so I’d find myself agreeing to be in Kenwood, in the morning, and then Down House, or Elton Palace in the afternoon. So forever turning up late to those.

Yeah, but great. I loved it. As I say, I was there for, well, gosh 15 … so from ’97, to 2012, so what’s that, 15 years, isn’t it?

Kelly Molson: That sounds incredible, and what a place for an office, as well. A spectacular place for an office. I’m just going to pick up Essex, as well, because Essex girl. So Tilbury massive, well done.

Paul Griffiths: It’s the thought that counts.

Kelly Molson: So now, you’re at your new role, this role. Tell us a little bit about the park, and how you’ve come to be there, and what you’re doing there.

Paul Griffiths: Yeah, so after English Heritage, I spent five or six years, down at Mary Rose, as you mentioned earlier. Then, came here in November 2018. I must confess, I’d sort of heard of Painshill, but I didn’t really know it. And I think that sums up what its problem was, so much that even local people didn’t know it was here. I came in November, as I say. It wouldn’t be fair to go into details, but there had been a lot of changes at Painshill, and a lot of the team had moved on. And so, I was left with a smallish team, and then we were able to recruit some, actually fabulous new staff, as well.

So myself and the head of finance started on exactly the same day. We both arrived in our cars, parked up, getting our little boxes out, with our mugs in, and everything else, that you do on day one. And set about trying to make changes. Painshill itself is an 18th-century landscape garden. It’s 158 acres, we have the most amazing views. It was designed by the Right Honorable Charles Hamilton, obviously in the 18th century, who’d done some grand tours around Europe, and then came back and set about building, and creating this quite sensational landscape garden, which includes a number of garden buildings, or follies, as a lot of people would call them, towers, crystal grottoes, hermitages, temples … two different temples in fact, a ruined abbey, so built as a ruin. And guests, in the 18th century would walk the route.

And it was designed that people could get their easel out, at any point and paint, because every view would be picture perfect. This is a very quick, potted history. I could talk for hours on end, but I won’t. The gardens were sadly lost, after the second world war, whereafter they’d been used for training and development of troops, sold off piecemeal. And it wasn’t until the ’70s, and ’80s … well, the ’70s really, that there was a campaign to save Painshill. It was really recognized by particularly local garden history experts, that what had been one of the first, and most finest landscape gardens, was lost. It really was a completely overgrown mess, is the only way I can describe it.

And very, fortunately, and quite farsighted, for the time, the local council purchased 158 acres of the land, through negotiation, compulsory purchase, et cetera. And The Trust was then formed because the council realized they wouldn’t be able to fundraise, because who gives money to local councils? So The Trust was formed, and we were given the park, on a 100-year lease with ethical rent, and basically told to restore it back to how it was in the 1700s. Which is what The Trust has been doing ever since. The Trust will be 40 years old next year.

Paul Griffiths: So that’s a very potted area of where we are. And today, whilst I don’t think the restoration work will ever be completed, because the second you turn your back on it, a tree will grow behind you, or something, work we didn’t do. I don’t want to sound like I’m being rude about people who were before. And I’m not, I promise, but the site may have been coming into the insular, hence people didn’t really know of it. It wasn’t really managing to push itself enough. It wasn’t really connected to a lot of the local, or national tourism industry things, that we all know work so well. And in this last nine … or in the six months, or whatever we’ve now been through in the whole COVID situation, how much we’ve all worked together. And Painshill wasn’t really connected in with any of those networks.

One of the things that I wanted to do, was obviously make it more well-known and get the name out there a lot more. So, Chrissie, who’s my Head of Marketing, has been doing an amazing job of pushing the story out there, and getting it into so many different places, and we’ve been getting so much amazing coverage. In the last part of the summer, we’ve got on BBC News, we’ve been on ITV News. Really great coverage for the park. One of the first things we did, when I arrived, was to do quite a major piece of rebranding, because what we didn’t have, was a brand. Painshill didn’t have a strapline.

If you Googled it then, you’d come up with about 12 different names. Most of them we’d given ourselves, at some point. Whether it was Painshill Landscape Gardens, was it Painshill The Hamilton Landscape? But of course, no one’s heard of Hamilton, because he didn’t really do much else. Unless you’re a real garden history fanatic, you wouldn’t know who he was. It didn’t really work, so we utilized a consultant chap, called Scott Shards, who did an absolutely sensational job, of pulling together trustees, and volunteers. We got local industry people, the head of tourism in Guildford along, and all this stuff, and did a few workshops.

And Scott then used his years of experience and skills, and came up with this phrase, “Painshill, where the walk is a work of art,” and it just worked so well. And we’ve been able to use that in all our promotion and marketing, and it’s just given us something to always hook ourselves onto, is that we are where the walk is a work of art. Because you have to walk, everyone in the 18th century had to walk round it. It’s the way you get around Painshill. And as Hamilton described it as where you can get your easel out and paint, you can now get your iPhone out, and get your Instagram picture. You see-

Kelly Molson: See?

Paul Griffiths: … I found a use for it.

Kelly Molson: There’s always a link, as well. I love this, there’s always a link to my weird questions somewhere, in these interviews. Gosh, Paul, can I just ask how long have you been in the role, currently?

Paul Griffiths: Nearly two years. So November I started, November 2018.

Kelly Molson: Okay, and so I’m getting that a global pandemic wasn’t something that you were ever expecting to have to deal with, in your second year of employment there.

Paul Griffiths: Right.

Kelly Molson: I want to talk a little bit about lockdown, what it was like, what you’ve needed to implement, since you’ve been reopened. And again, let’s talk about what demand has been like, because the message has been very, very clear, the whole way through, “Outside is safe.” So my assumption, and I know we’ve chatted, is you’ve probably been quite busy, since you’ve been back open?

Paul Griffiths: Yeah, it’s been a very interesting time, hasn’t it? For everybody, and none of us saw this … Maybe some people did. I didn’t have it on our risk register, I didn’t have it on any of our planning. We’d often talked about high winds, and storms, and floods, and fires. But global pandemic, I don’t think was up there, or any virus, was it? And that point being, global I think is the most remarkable thing.

I’ve got a really good friend, who’s the development director, at the San Diego Museum of Us. And he and I, would sit, regularly chatting, during the lockdown on Zoom, and you’ve just got the same problems. It was so bizarre really. You have exactly the same … “What you closing? And what are you doing? How are you re-opening?” It was just bizarre, to be sitting, chatting to someone on the other side of the world, literally, having the same problems. We went into lockdown in … it was a worrying time, as it was for all of us. So myself, and my head of finance, we sat and we played around with business plans, and figures and stuff. At one point … this is before … and when you look back, it really did come quick, didn’t it?

You look back on that … and I looked in my diary recently, for something completely different, and thought, “It was only two weeks earlier, we were out for someones … one of our team was leaving to go on maternity leave, and we all went to the local pub and had a nice meal.” And we were all sat down on the table, and that was like three weeks before we were closed, or two weeks before we closed. Blimey, that was … I was at a football stadium. I was at The Valley, the week before football was canceled, 20 odd thousand people sat around me, without really feeling anything concerning. There were a lot of people washing their hands a lot more. In fact, it was the first time at football, I’d ever queued to wash my hands. I’m not saying men normally do, at football.

But yeah, it was a really … so we had all these business plans, and there was a genuine, genuine fear the charity Painshill wouldn’t survive, because we’re an independent charity. We received no government funding. We’re not part of The Trust, or anyone else. We are our own, little, independent charity. And there was a genuine, “Look, okay so if we close for three months, four months … ” whatever it might have been.

You were hearing all the rumors, “We won’t survive. We’ll have cleared all our reserves, and would be owing the bank lots of cash, and we’d be trying to close the place down.” And we was … “Well, we can’t do that.” Luckily, before we had to close, the job retention scheme had been released, so we were fortunate to go into closure, knowing that was there. And that was savior number one, I think, because we were able to make 80% of our team on furlough. And isn’t it funny, I’d never even heard the word furlough 12 months ago.

Kelly Molson: I know.

Paul Griffiths: I can remember just having a discussion in the office, trying to work out how to pronounce it. “Are you furloud, fullood, fullowed? What is this word, that now suddenly everyone’s writing about?” So we were able to do that, and that really did set us up to say, “Right okay, so we’ll use a lot of our reserves, but we can get through a potential three, four-month closure, and still be alive.” We then launched a save Painshill campaign, and that was a really fabulous thing that we did.

And that was our head of fundraising, Karen, and Chrissie, into the head of marketing, really pushing those messages out. So we released a lot of footage, that hadn’t gone out before, with a real clear message, with voiceovers. I did a few recorded voice messages from home, and they were either put over videos, or I was just talking to the camera, like I am now, saying why we needed help. And we raised about 30 grand in the end, for that campaign. It was brilliant.

10 grand of that, was a foundation picked up … We hadn’t applied to them. They picked up our campaign, and said, “We really want to support Painshill, it’s so important.” So, that was a brilliant start. And all these little things … Steve, my head of visitor and commercial services, came up with this idea of selling our own wines from our vineyard. So we always sell wine, and we make our own gin, which is made from botanicals, from the kitchen garden. So all of the botanicals come from the kitchen garden, and the little gin kitchen in Dorkingshire. The little startup business turns it into the product, and it comes back in these lovely jars. We did a delivery service, around the local area. A number of our volunteers, who were happy to come and help … because we rely very on our volunteers. Although we’ve shut the [inaudible 00:22:14] all our volunteers down, anyone happy in their car, to nip round the local area, delivering.

We just couldn’t sell enough. We sold so much of this gin and wine, and delivered it. It was brilliant, and I think for people it was a way of supporting us, and also getting a great product at the same time, everyone’s a winner. So, that was great. So we got about 10 grand in the end, from sales from gin and wine. So all these little things, kept edging away at it. Whilst at the time, we were obviously planning reopening, we’ve been one of the last places to close. We literally were open on Monday the 23rd of March, and it was only that night, when Boris said at eight o’clock, or whatever it was he said it. He always did these messages really late, didn’t he?

Kelly Molson: Yeah.

Paul Griffiths: That you’d have to change your plans, overnight. So the announcement there was like, “We’ve got to close.” And I remember sitting there, and funnily enough, I was putting my son, Barney to bed. And I was sat with the iPad, just writing, as he was dropping off, saying, “We’re going to have to close. We can’t pull this off any longer.” But what we had done is, we’d had a little practice with social distancing, because that weekend before, and going into that week, when it was things like cafés could only be takeaways, so we reconfigured our tea room, to be a takeaway only service. You needed to have social distancing, and one way systems, so we’d started to introduce it.

So we had a little practice, which was great, and it meant that we knew how we could reopen. So we were very lucky, in the sense that when, therefore, we started planning our reopening, we’d had a bit of a go, and we knew what would work. So we probably had a little advantage on some of our friends, at other sites, who maybe hadn’t had that trial to see what happened. We had to still amend it a bit further. We closed the shop and brought people out of the shop. And then there was all that, “Could you open the shop? Can you open the shop?” And we ended up reopening on the 28th of May, with four days for members. And the first few days we opened, was really emotional. I felt really emotional, having people back in. My team did.

I actually remember, during lockdown … because although we were all working from home, we’d all pop in occasionally, to check phones, and just do little bits and pieces, and also just to make sure everything was all right, and just check on everything. And I came up with my dog, and I walked the dog round the grounds, with not a soul in there. And there was a part of me that thought, “Wow, this is quite special. I’m walking round Painshill, and there’s not a soul here.” But then the main part of me, was like, “This is really sad. I feel a bit weird, there should be people here. I want public, and people, and stopping, chatting to members and visitors.”

But what was really emotional was the response we were getting from members who were coming back. There was two particular different incidents. One lady said she’d not been out of her house for nine weeks, and this was the first time she’d come out.

Kelly Molson: Wow, yeah.

Paul Griffiths: And that was like, “Wow, you’ve put a lot of trust into us then, because you’re coming here, on your first time out.” And the second woman … this was really quite emotional, said … The stuff we’d sent out, like videos, pictures … because we were doing lots of blogs, because obviously, you weren’t seeing the seasons, and people love … they’d seen a bit of the daffodils from this blog, and the bluebells, and [inaudible 00:25:20]. All this had just gone without anyone seeing it, this year. And then we had all the chicks, and all the wildlife, giving birth to all their little ones, pottering round the lake. And we were able to put lots, and lots of pictures out. And this woman’s come up and said, “All the stuff you’ve put out, is the one thing that’s kept me going.”

Kelly Molson: Oh, gosh.

Paul Griffiths: And you’re just like, “We’re a tourist attraction, and that’s not normally how you … ” I’d never been thanked so much, for basically just doing my job, because we’d got the doors open. And people just kept stopping, saying, “Oh, thank you for getting it open.” And just carried on. We opened to the public on the 1st of June, and the numbers have just been phenomenal. I think because we’ve been very public on how we’d done the social distancing side of it, so people knew before they came. We did a little video, very basically filmed, but it worked really well. Just showing how you were going to come in, which was your route, where the toilets were because we’d closed our main toilets. You’ll remember, Kelly, but that was the subject on everyone’s lips, wasn’t it?

Kelly Molson: Toilets.

Paul Griffiths: “How do you do toilets?”

Kelly Molson: Big issue, yeah.

Paul Griffiths: Biggest issue. And we were very lucky, of course, because we’re outside. So we closed the main toilets, and put some posh Portaloos in. And people liked them, because there was one cubicle. You opened the door, went in and did your business, came out, and off you went. Bit of a quick hand sanitizer, and off you went, sort of thing. And it worked really well. And yeah, the numbers carried on. August was great, September was good, October has been good. It’s just for us, it’s this whole, when will the bubble burst? In terms of numbers, which I hope it won’t. But it’s been very difficult planning, as I know it is for all our colleagues and friends that we chat to.

You can’t, really, realistically, start planning events and things for next year, because you just don’t know what you can do. How many people are going to come to a wedding? How many people are going to be able to come to an event? And things like that.

Kelly Molson: I’ve got so many questions, Paul. Thank you for sharing all of that. That little story, about that lady has really just … it’s just made my heart just pump a little bit. I can completely understand why you were so emotional about that. It’s so heartwarming, isn’t it?

Paul Griffiths: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kelly Molson: You forget how much places mean to people, what it means to them.

Paul Griffiths: I’ve never been in a job … I’ve been in this industry … I’ve never done anything else, as you talked about earlier. I’ve always worked in attractions. And I’ve never been on first name terms with people before, in an attraction. Or people will stop me, to ask how I … I used to do a quite a bit of running. I haven’t run properly for a while. Literally, we’re talking 5K park runs here. I’m not saying marathons or anything. I had a bit of a knee injury, and this chap, regularly now, stops me to ask how my knee … It’s just really nice, because people see us as being part of the … it’s where they come. We do have people who come every single day.

They come and walk the dog, they stop, and they have coffees, but part of their experience, is chatting to the staff, as well. It’s-

Kelly Molson: Is that something new, since lockdown then, or did that happen before, as well?

Paul Griffiths: It definitely happened before. I think since lockdown, I’ve certainly found I’ve got chatting to a lot more people. I don’t know if that’s maybe I’ve changed. I don’t know, it just feels that maybe I’m just getting to know people, after I’ve been here for two years. And I think because I’m … I’m not meaning this … trumpet playing, but because I, as director, fronted up a lot of our campaigns, to appeals, and was filming videos of me, talking saying, “We really need support, please … ” and we had a number of ways that people could support us. One of which was, “If you’re a member, please stay being a member. Please don’t leave us and go. Please renew.” We made the decision very early on, that we would add some time onto membership, and went out there. Maybe because we’ve got a lot smaller membership base, we were able to get our messages out very quickly to people, and tell them what we were doing.

And I think, because we are a small, independent charity, with only one attraction, we were only making decisions for one place. Which, I think was harder for some of our friends, and colleagues, where they’ve got hundreds of sites, or whatever. They were having to consider all sorts of different scenarios, weren’t they? When we were only … consider one.

Kelly Molson: I want to ask about membership, actually. Membership and locality, were two really key topics, at the Visitor Attractions Conferences. What we were hearing is that, in a lot of attractions, people purchased memberships, while those venues were locked down. And we were seeing something like a 23 to 25% increase in memberships, across some attractions. Did you find that happened at Painshill? And has your audience changed, as well? So do you have more people coming back, that are locally based now, as well?

Paul Griffiths: I’ll answer the first part of the question straight away. Yes, we managed to retain our members, and even saw some growth during lockdown, because it was one of the big things we were pushing, saying, “Look, when we reopen, you’ll be able to come out and see Painshill, will be able to enjoy the landscape.” And I think we certainly have seen a lot of people joining, since we reopened. Because of our small visitor numbers, and because we’re only one site, we made a call very early on, as well, that members wouldn’t have to book in advance. And that really helped us, because I think we gained a lot of members, because they quite like that flexibility. So if you’re a day visitor, if you like, you want to buy a day ticket, you needed to book a slot. That’s been great, and there’s a number of things we’ve talked about on that.

But for members, I think not having to book meant that they could just have that flexibility to come when they liked, and stuff. And I think that’s really helped us push those members. The challenge of course, is we need to keep those members, because my trustee board won’t expect to see a dramatic drop in visitor numbers. And they’ll be asking me, quite rightly, questions of what we’ve done. One of the things we’re trying to plot now, is what can we do to really impress those members, that if when we get to 12 months from now, you’re not having to pre-book anywhere else anymore. Although I’m starting feel like this is going to be on a lot longer than, I think, any of us did think.

I just had another [inaudible 00:31:27] there. Why I’m saying that is, because when we reopened in May, I was making decisions based around a summer attraction. And I now have [inaudible 00:31:36] year-round. And we’re now having to think, “Well, actually we need to give some thought to heating, and keeping people warm.” So our volunteers, and front of house team, we took out … In the pre-COVID days, at Painshill, you came into the shop, which also doubled up as a visitor center, like so many sites do. And you’d buy a ticket at the desk, and then you’d go and have a lovely time. Whereas, we decided to not make people go in through the shops. They didn’t have to go inside, so we bought a couple of little pods, and put them outside, and there’s a screen and stuff. And people would turn up with their membership card, or their tickets, and show them, and off they’d go. And I’ve [inaudible 00:32:15] people.

But now, I’m having to think, “We’re getting deep into autumn, actually we can’t stick two volunteers outside, however many hats and gloves they’ve got, because it’s going to get wet and cold.” I hadn’t thought of that, in May, because I didn’t think we’d still be doing this. Here we are, in autumn, and I think a lot of people were probably in the same boat, but those who opened early, particularly. Actually, we weren’t thinking that far down the line.

The second part of your question, Kelly, about different audiences. We don’t have a great deal of data in the park. Painshill went a bit GDPR bonkers and got rid of everything. 

Kelly Molson: Right.

Paul Griffiths: When Chrissie came onboard, we had about 500 on our database. It’s now up to about 10,000. So we’re actually building a bank of supporters now, who … it is brilliant. We’ve certainly, and totally seen different audiences this summer. We saw a lot more younger people, during the height of summer, particularly if lots of places were still locked down. Lots of people sunbathing, and sitting round, bringing little chairs, and reading books for the day.

Paul Griffiths: Traditionally, our [inaudible 00:33:25] time, was an hour to an hour and a half, but people are now spending half a day, if not a whole day.

Kelly Molson: That’s great.

Paul Griffiths: You’d see families turning up, with full-blown picnics. Tables, tablecloths, all sorts of … and they’re putting themself in a spot, then kids were going off and having a lovely time. It’s nice, lovely to see it. The only problem with that, is our car park really struggled of course, without having the turnover. And we had a few complaints from members … and I totally get where they were coming from, but there’s not much we could do about it, where they were turning up in the afternoon, for their three o’clock dog walk, to find the car park full. So one of those things we just have to keep managing, and working on.

Kelly Molson: Thank you. I want to go back a little bit, actually, because you’ve mentioned pre-booking, a few times. And it’s definitely a topic that … well, it’s a very key topic, mixed opinions on it, I think. I, personally, think that pre-booking is a brilliant thing, and I want to know how you feel about it. Has it worked for you, do you think, and would you like to keep it?

Paul Griffiths: Yeah, it’s definitely worked, and yes, I’d love to keep it. It’s been great, and it’s been particularly great during these times because we’re managing numbers. So a weekend in October, where we had 1500 people in because we were sold out. Painshill sold out, I never thought when I joined, we’d see the sign saying, “Painshill have sold out,” which is lovely in itself, but it has been able to manage the numbers. It’s mainly just to make sure that members aren’t having a poor experience. Also, people are turning up, and one of our biggest problems is, we are very weather dependent here, and if it’s wet, we tend to have a much quieter day.

So what we’re finding is, if it’s raining now, people are still turning up, but they’re just putting on their waterproofs. Maybe under their breath, cursing their bad luck, but actually walking around with an umbrella, and getting on with it, and having a nice, romantic walk in the rain, or under an umbrella, cuddled up, whatever. But yes, I’d love to keep it, because it has meant that numbers are coming in. It’s brilliant, I remember in your podcast with Carly. I think Carly used the example of Warner Brothers, owning Watford. And I was in that same boat, because when they opened … and I can remember being in a seminar, where people were talking about it, saying it was pre-booked only. I was like, “No one’s ever going to come.” And of course, as we know, since it’s opened, you’ve not been able to get a ticket for either love nor money. 

Kelly Molson: Yup.

Paul Griffiths: What a success story, what an amazing attraction, as well. Despite running a historic landscape, I find myself always looking at those bigger attractions, as places that we could just learn so much from. The service, and just everything that these places do, I always think is so good.

Kelly Molson: Yeah, I totally agree. I think that there’s been a behavioral change, right? People … they’re okay to pre-book now, because it’s an expectation of what they need to do, to go and visit the place that they want to go to. I just can’t imagine why anyone would want to take that away, if you’ve already changed someone’s behavior to purchase in advance. It doesn’t make any sense to me. So I think that they will-

Paul Griffiths: No, I agree with you completely. The only thing I think, which would take it away, is if people are upset about it, and it’s a demand from the public. They want to just get that flexibility back. I can’t deny, there’s some times when I have really got frustrated, with the lack of flexibility for places. My little lad, Barney, desperately wants to go swimming, and yet, we just cannot get booked in to go swimming. Now, in the past, we’d have just decided, on Saturday morning, “Let’s go swimming this afternoon,” rocked up to one of four or five, local swimming pools, and gone and had a lovely time.

And the worst-case scenario is, they’d have said, “Oh, there’s a half an hour wait, and you’ve got a band for a session.” And you went and sat in Costa, or whatever, and had a coffee, and then cracked on when it’s your time. But now, not being to make those decisions, I think is just … it is a shame, but I think we’re very different on that fact, because we’re not massively limited. We do have a limit, and we have sold out a few times, but on the majority of days, there are tickets available.

Kelly Molson: I think it’s what you said earlier, as well, about the length of time that people are spending there. Now, actually your venue is a day trip. It’s not just, “I’m going to pop there for an hour, and walk the dog.” People are changing the amount of time that they’re going to spend there. And then it becomes … There’s another thing about pre-booking, that makes it a little bit more special.

Paul Griffiths: Yeah-

Kelly Molson: Do you know what I mean? You’ve got to plan in advance, you’re going to do it, and actually you’ve got that build-up of excitement because you’re going there. I think that’s quite nice, as well.

Paul Griffiths: I think that’s why we also saw all these very, very luxurious picnics, as well, because people had planned, amongst two or three friends … obviously, no more than six, but had planned to come and meet. We were seeing lots of people, as I was saying earlier, with tables and chairs. But one of the chairs would have a little birthday balloon on it, because obviously, people were coming to do that, rather than go to a restaurant or a pub. And that’s particularly before they re-opened. And obviously, now it’s just difficult, because we’d like to see our friends, in other hospitality parts of business, supported. But there is a bit of nervousness, isn’t there, about people wanting to do things like that?

Kelly Molson: Yeah. There is.

Paul Griffiths: Every day, the news now, is full of more and more stories of where this could go. And this isn’t going away, is it? As much as [inaudible 00:38:39] before.

Kelly Molson: We had a question from one of our lovely, regular listeners, Richard G, on Twitter. And he wanted to know how you shared your vision, and motivated your team, to realize the vision for Painshill. And I guess part of that is, how have you kept your team motivated, during the last few months?

Paul Griffiths: Gosh, they’re two really good questions. I think I mentioned earlier, that we’ve been able to recruit quite a lot of the team, because the people that were here, when I arrived, really wanted to drive the place forward. I think a number of them wanted to change it for some years, and hadn’t been able to. And my philosophy has always been about trialing stuff, “Let’s give it a go.” I often see that, rather than sit, and write a lengthy business case … I’m not really a massive fan of writing big, lengthy stuff, but you could give it a go, trial it, and see if it works. You think, “Well, actually it’s brilliant.” Or if it doesn’t work, you can quietly close it away, or never talk about it again, and pretend it didn’t happen, unless something has gone disastrously wrong, of course, but I wouldn’t go that fast.

So I think in terms of motivating the team, initially it was just about people wanting to take the place forward. I made it very clear that I think there was lots and lots of quick wins we could do, just to transform the place, and give it a tart up. I wouldn’t say I was a yes man, in the sense, but I will try and say yes to good ideas, and say, “Well, let’s give it a go,” or, “Let’s see how we can develop that. And let’s see how we can take that forward.” And certainly, getting everyone together, and onboard, and sharing things. It’s so important, isn’t it? That people know what you’re trying to achieve, and buy into it, and you get people on board very early on.

In terms of division, of course, things like, as I’ve mentioned earlier, the work we did with Scott. Everyone was involved with that. The entire team were involved with that, and feeding into it, at some point. So everyone at Painshill, members of staff, lots of trustees, everyone … We’d almost signed up in blood to … because we’d all been part of designing that new strapline, that thing. So actually taking that forward … and everyone knows that we’ve got to make Painshill, financially sustainable. It can’t survive without being sustainable, and it hasn’t been for some years, because the only years, when you look back, that Painshill made a profit, if you like, is where very generous donors, in the past, were writing large checks.

And those people aren’t always around, and there’s more of a demand. So we’ve got to make our operations side financially sustainable, so that if we’re getting visitors in through the door, we’ll generate enough money to pay the staff, and cover the costs, and stuff. So I think it was a stark motivation, in the sense that we have to make this place work, and let’s really try and have some fun while we’re doing it, as well. We work in an industry, which is making great memories for people, and giving people great days out. You want people to be leaving going, “What an amazing place.” And there was a lot of quick wins. Signage needed changing. There was no guidebook. There was nothing for people to buy, and take away, and learn about. 

Kelly Molson: Right.

Paul Griffiths: The tearoom was quite bland … is the right word, so we’ve now to create a bit of a sense of place. We’ve put some quotes up, on the tearoom wall, from where Painshill’s featured in either literature, or people’s comments. So two presidents in the United States have visited Painshill, and Adams gave a great quote, about it being the best piece of art seen. And so, we’ve got that up there, and Painshill features in War of The Worlds, and so we’ve got a quote up from there. There was a wonderful piece, in a newspaper, about how Queen Victoria used to like to come and promenade here, with Prince Albert.

Kelly Molson: Nice.

Paul Griffiths: So we’ve got [crosstalk 00:42:21] there. So actually, it creates a bit of a sense of where we are, and that we’ve arrived. And in terms of motivation, I think people have motivated themselves, and I think there’s been a real … there was a desire to make sure we got through this. And since reopening, this has been, this outpouring of people, and love [inaudible 00:42:40], I think has driven the team on. I think there has been a lot of exhausted people, and I think you’re seeing that across our whole industry, aren’t you? Because there’s a lot of people, who have worked very hard, without much of a break, since March. I certainly saw it on the face of some of my team, who’ve been working all the way through the six or seven months, not being on furlough. And I’m not saying being on furlough was easy, from any stretch of the imagination, because I don’t think it was, because most people actually wanted to do stuff, and wanted to help.

A bit like when you had Rachel and Carlton on, the other day, and Rachel was saying, on the podcast, she wanted to be doing stuff, and couldn’t. And I think that was the same for my team. They wanted to volunteer, they wanted to help. Lucy, who looks after our volunteers, wanted to keep doing the volunteers [inaudible 00:43:23]. Of course, we couldn’t let her, because she couldn’t be doing work for Painshill. Whilst I understood why the regulations came in, I think it affected charities in a way, because they couldn’t let people just still help, and keep everything afloat.

So yeah, I think it’s been an interesting time, and it’s been hard work for everyone in our industry. But I think what’s pulled it through, has been the fact that everyone’s worked so closely together. I think the fact that organizations, like ALVA and the amazing work Bernard’s done, through the last … Well forever, but for particularly [inaudible 00:43:57]. Letting people enjoy webinars, or getting those daily updates, when you’re not a fee paying member of ALVA, because you’re not a big enough attraction. But actually, the realization that everyone’s in it together, I think has just been amazing. And I’m just so grateful for what everyone’s done, during this time.

Kelly Molson: Yeah, it’s been lovely. I think that’s been one of the most wonderful things to come out of this. 

Paul Griffiths: Yeah.

Kelly Molson: We’re coming towards the end of the podcast, Paul, but I’ve got two more questions for you. You know we always end up on a book recommendation, but before we get to that, I want to know what’s next. So we’re in the run-up now, to Christmas. 

Paul Griffiths: Yes.

Kelly Molson: What have you been able to plan, for Christmas, because I’m guessing, it’s not what you were expecting to be planning.

Paul Griffiths: What we do at Christmas, is we have what we call a Santa Snow train, a land train basically. So if you think of one of the things that potters up and down the seafront, during the summer, with a pretend train at the front, and a few carriages. And the train would chug round the landscape, and delivers kids to the crystal grotto. And then the kids would wait in a tent, with the elves, and they’d play games and stuff. And then the elf would invite them in to meet Santa Claus in the grotto, so you’re seeing Santa in a grotto, which is perfect, of course, in many ways. And then you pass them back. We run it during the day, and into the evening.

Of course, when it run into the evening, we needed lighting and stuff like that. So there was a lot of outlay of costs, and a lot of concern. And also, we were really struggling to make the train social distance-able. Our booking system wouldn’t quite allow it, and couldn’t be made to allow it, without us parting with a large amount of cash, which of course, was just adding more onto the risk. So a couple of weeks ago, we made a quite emotional team. We know it works, because some people have spent since last Christmas planning it, and getting everything in place. So actually to have to make the decision to cull it, was really, really hard work. But we made that call, that we would pull the whole event, and really just try and see what we can start again.

Now, we’ve worked with a company, who are relatively local to us, by sheer chance. We got in touch with them … well, I found them on the internet, and then only discovered, after talking to them, they were not even a couple of miles away. It’s one of these, who do large models, so we’ve used them for the dragons that we’re having in half-term, and we’ve also had some dragons before. So they are doing, what we’re calling the Snowfari trail around the grounds. And this is just literally, people will walk round the grounds, in their own little bubble. So no train, no grotto, no tent to wait in. Because obviously, the other thing to it, if we have kids waiting in the tent, we’ve got to entertain them.

Paul Griffiths: Now, last year, myself and a number of other parents, as it were, brought in out of … not out of date, toys that their kids had stopped using. So Barney’s old train set, was merrily set up for playing. And kids were loving it, because they’d come in play around a bit, and off they’d go. But of course, we couldn’t let kids do that. They can’t be handling toys, that other kids have just handled. So we’ve got the Snowfari coming, which is going to be a really … Well, I hope and I know, cracking walk around the grounds, looking at penguins, and polar bears, and looking for reindeer, and there’s some gingerbread men in a big tree.

And then we’re doing a sort of tea with Santa. And this will be quite a limited capacity, but we are doing some form Santa event. And that’s just used in decking up one of our … a function conferencing room, but in a nice, Santary way, and kids and families will come in, sitting in tables and then we’ll … socially distance obviously, have a cup of tea. It’s not like an afternoon tea, but tea and a slice of cake, or a mince pie. And then Santa will come in, tell a little story, and then you go up individually, to meet him. So at least there is a, Santa is not, not coming to Painshill.

The main thing will be the trail, I’m going to try and push that, so people can walk outside, wrap up warm, and just enjoy the landscape, with multiples of animals, all over the place.

Kelly Molson: Yeah, I think that sounds really fun. I think that there’s some Instagram-able moments there, Paul, isn’t there? For sharing on social media, for sure.

Paul Griffiths: Yeah, I’m sure there is. I’m sure people can have a lovely time with Instagram.

Kelly Molson: We’ll convert you, eventually. Thank you for sharing all of that. Last question, which we ask all of our guests, which is, do you have a book, that you recommend, that has helped shape your career in some way, or you just would like to recommend to our listeners?

Paul Griffiths: Oh, gosh. Yeah, I thought a bit about this, actually, and I was trying to think of a book. I’m just trying to think of one about work. But then I noticed … I was going to pick one by one of your former guests, actually, which was Creating Magic, by Lee Cockerell. I, back in my Mary Rose days, we had a team away day, and I bought everybody a copy of this, before … so none of them can apply to get the book off you, Kelly. I made everyone read it, before we then had a session, because what was in there, was so many good points about … all around trying to take away problems from visitors. And I was so impressed with that. And that’s why I’ve always been … I mentioned earlier, looking at the larger attractions, or companies, or how they manage to do stuff, and think, “Well, how could we do that, to make things easy?”

I was so impressed with the story, that Lee told in one of his podcasts when they started taking the luggage from people. So actually, wave goodbye to your suitcase, at Heathrow now, and you next see it in your hotel room, in Orlando. So I just noticed it, and that’s a really, really good book.

Kelly Molson: Great. That’s a really good book recommendation, and I’m sure that when Lee listens to this episode … because if he isn’t a subscriber, he absolutely should be-

Paul Griffiths: Definitely, yeah.

Kelly Molson: … He’ll be delighted, that you’ve recommended that. So thank you. As ever, if you would like to win a copy of that book, then if you head over to our Twitter account, which is Skip_the_Queue, and you retweet this episode announcement, with the comment, “I want Paul’s book.” And you will be in with a chance of winning it. Paul, thank you. I’ve loved having you on the podcast today. I think it’s been a brilliant episode. I’d really like to say a big thank you for how … again, everyone that comes on, is superb, but people are so honest, and so open, and so happy to share their experiences, so thank you for doing that today.

Paul Griffiths: No, thank you for having me. It’s been great.


Do you know someone we should be talking to?

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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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