2013 was a momentous year for Knole: in July it won its Heritage Lottery Fund bid and received matching funds from the National Trust, to spend a total of £19.7 million on conserving the property and its showroom contents for future generations. Looking back on two years of managing the bid, senior Inspired by Knole Project Manager Richard Hill gives us the context of this, the most ambitious conservation project with the Trust, to date.
Senior Project Manager, Inspired by Knole Project
Interviewed by Veronica Walker-Smith and Christine Nevard
Richard Hill talking about the importance of the 'Inspired by Knole' project in the National Trust
R.H.: I’d heard things like it was the biggest project in the Trust and so on. But I was really keen to establish was that was true. Didn’t matter to me what the answer was. I just wanted to know. Because obviously if we were the number one project, then that meant it gave me a different approach to asking for resource; for you know, the way in a sense we set about setting our stall for it. And it was established quite quickly that we were the number one project in the region. We were certainly the number one project of its type in the organisation; so essentially for a conservation project this was number one. I’m not saying there weren’t other important projects and there haven’t been since. But in terms of a conservation-on-property project, we were definitely number one and that’s resulted lately in us being one of two national projects, of only two national projects. So the recognition for Knole is absolutely there. And the other thing we established as part of this was doing the right things in the right priority order. That was really key for me. And that’s basically how we’ve carried on. So we did the external repairs first. We’ve virtually finished those; that’s two and half million pounds’ work. Just slightly under budget, probably by about £100,000 which is terrific. Absolutely bang on time.
How all the complex pieces fall into place
It’s not just the size, but the complexity of the project:
R.H.: It’s a very big sum of money that’s being spent on conservation work both to the external fabric, the internal fabric and the contents. And that’s because money hasn’t been spent at Knole because of the restrictions of the lease and so on. And the opportunity was right, it was right financially, it was right with the family, and so everything sort of fell into place at the same time. And those moments happen in the Trust. That’s one of the great joys. You can sort of be patient. And you have to seize that moment; you have to take that opportunity. And you have to kind of run really hard with it, and that’s what we’ve done.
In terms of complexity, it’s because we are dealing with things in a very integrated way. So we’re not just doing conservation repairs, we’re improving the visitor experience; we’re increasing the volunteering offer and capacity and I would say quality. Not to say the volunteer content isn’t strong. I think it’s going to get even stronger and higher. We are involved with community involvement and participation; it involves marketing support, fund-raising support. We’re increasing the visitor experience. There’s a massive archaeological input in this project and importance to it. So all of these things kind of have to be knitted together. There are the intricacies of the lease and the relationship with the family. So my job in that is the sort of matrix management of that. Making sure that I try to get people to maximise the benefit of each area and that they are blended together.
The team at the top of their game
How the team has to be pitch perfect for the HLF governance visits:
R.H.: And on the last one, I’ve never seen the team here performed as they did. It was amazing. And they were absolutely at the top of their game. These were, if you like, professional consultants and property professionals, just completely as one. And what was so nice for me – Kathy Gee who was the Trustee member who had actually been very thorough – when I say she gave us a hard time …
That’s her job.
R.H.: That was her job. And she really kind of put us all – and there was one earlier meeting when I think it really made us sit up and think, you know – she really did put the fear of God into us actually, which was no bad thing. But by the time we had the last one, at the end of that meeting, she said: you ought to be able to hear yourselves. And what she meant by that was: that was just the most amazing performance. And what the Learning Visitor Experience advisor said to us, he said: it’s clear that you are absolutely sort of coordinated across a very complicated project and that you’re all kind of talking to each other and you’re as one. I felt immensely proud, sat there that day – just listening to those people kind of strut their stuff really, and it was terrific. I absolutely loved that meeting. Again, it wasn’t an easy meeting. But people were just absolutely at the top of their game.