Silver lining to Covid-19 Cloud for Kiplin Hall
After closing to visitors in March and watching the normally busy Easter period, which was blessed with record levels of sunshine pass by, many heritage attractions joined businesses up and down the country as the loss of potential income hit home during lockdown.
However, since reopening some sectors are seeing the glimmer of success post lockdown. Kiplin Hall & Gardens in North Yorkshire reports its busiest ever July on record! It seems that as well as adding significant additional safety measures for staff, volunteers and visitors, the ability to quickly pivot, identify shifting audiences and trends in their needs is key to a quick recovery from the lockdown deficit.
Although the charity is still suffering losses to its expected income, July has been a record-breaking month for Kiplin. Welcoming 2,833 visitors, generating £12,718 in admissions income during just 14 days of trading, 23% up on the previous busiest year. The highest for any other July on record. Despite opening for
just 12 days in June 2020 visitor figures were just 100 short of June 2019 when open 5 days per week. Combined with refreshments sales and gift shop the total income for the month of July is £15,817, although still down compared with other years figures it is far from the worst-case scenario.
Staff for the museum and heritage attraction, which operates as a Charitable Incorporated Organization (CIO) with a Community Interest Company (CIC) for its trading arm, were sent home at the start of lockdown in a combination of measures to conserve funds and preserve some level of operation. Unable to
open the Tea Room or gift shop staff from the CIC arm were quickly furloughed. The small team of staff for the charity were broken into groups. Front of house staff were furloughed during the closure, while curatorial and office staff reduced their hours and worked from home. The post of Warden, which includes on site accommodation for the rural museum proved to be of exceptional value. Keeping a staff presence on site for security and collections care needs. As well as providing topical content for social media and marketing purposes. The Head Gardener also continued his essential duties on site.
The early stages of the lockdown were used to take stock and quickly plan for a phased re-opening once the situation allowed. As well as the historic house museum Kiplin also boosts large grounds and gardens. These outdoor spaces became the focus of phase one of the plan.
A number of measures were put in place to allow for the safe re-opening of the gardens with the least possible financial risk. Including, but not limited to;
• Beginning with a 3-day week (Kiplin would normally open 6 days a week at this time of year)
• Re-structuring ticket pricing to offer better value for money when finances will be tight for many
• Making all tickets annual to encourage repeat visits
• No touch payment and ticket issuing at reception (with a no touch option for cash payments)
• Free-flow visits were maintained, without the need to pre-book (with the backup of introducing a booking system should it be needed)
• One-way routes to allow for social distancing on narrow paths
• Clear signage warning visitors of upcoming touch points like gates
• Providing touch point free routes
• Creating separate Staff – Volunteer – Visitor toilets
• Buying in portaloo service to replace cubical toilets that do not meet with social distancing
• Hand gel stations across the site
• Staff/volunteers to wear face coverings during visitor facing roles
• Contact tracing info was taken from the outset in early June, ahead of the government requirement
• Some office staff taking on duty manager roles, front of house, and cleaning duties on open days
Marketing in June and July took a very local approach. Targeting visitors from a 15 minute to half hour drive time, highlighting Kiplin as a ‘destination on your doorstep’. Director James Etherington describes the shift in audience type that quickly became apparent once the gardens reopened.
“Our core audience is largely retired couples. However, following lockdown we saw a huge rise in the number of families with young children visiting. We think largely due to advise for the over 70’s to isolate when possible and the need for small children to run off steam after weeks indoors. These families are also coming from very local locations. 63% from the DL postcode and 25% from the surrounding postcodes, only 12% from further afield. We had to pivot our working style to continue to reach these new visitors.
For example, working harder on social media and changing our marketing approach. Working even more closely with local papers and contacting grass roots community-based newsletters to best reach the local population.”
“A key draw for families has also been the provision of pizza picnics, especially while our Tea Room remains closed. Mark Craggs normally works as a waiter for us during the week, running his own business, Proper Pizzas, at the weekends. His wood fired pizza oven is housed in a converted horse box with a serving hatch. This quirky set up is normally found catering at weddings and festivals, all of which were cancelled. Bringing Proper Pizzas on site has meant we can offer visitors refreshments and earn money through the shared takings. This has been of real benefit to both parties. It’s also very much in keeping with the essence of Kiplin Hall & Gardens.”
Curator, Sarah Mayhew Craddock explains “As a passionate horse rider, an industrious individual and having nursed soldiers on the Austro-Italian border in WWII Bridget Talbot (the last owner of Kiplin Hall, credited with saving it for the nation) would have thoroughly approved of a horse-trailer pizza company on
Phase two of the re-opening plan followed in July as the Hall was able to reopen. Having tested many of the measures needed in the garden the team were quickly able to adapt the historic house museum to accommodate visitors on a one-way route, this included opening up a route through some back of house areas. While not aesthetically pleasing, these routes enabled the one-way system and allowed staff to move interpretation from two closed rooms into public view. Front of house staff have returned to work part time with the introduction of the part furlough scheme, and the opening of the whole site has increased to 4 days per week for August. Staff who are not in a visitor facing role will continue to work from home for as long as they feel they would like to, and plans to re-open the Tearoom are underway.
As many other attractions re-open their doors on the 1st August and beyond, staff and volunteers at Kiplin wish them every success and safe return. Kiplin has witnessed 400 years' worth of the world's ups and downs. It has seen civil war, the whole reign of Queen Victoria, the Industrial Revolution, two World Wars and more than one pandemic. It has survived dereliction to become a gem in the region’s crown. With careful management it will survive this too; with photographs of people queuing in socially distanced lines across the drive to enjoy a pizza from a horse box sure to be featured in exhibitions in 50-or 100-years' time.