Embracing Change – Rhian Sula, Visitor Experience and Operations Manager National Trust – 7th April 2022

After three postponed talks due to high Covid levels, it was lovely we could at last hold one more talk before the end of the season. Rhian provided us with a fitting finale. She explained the challenges and opportunities the last two years have presented to the Pembrokeshire National Trust at each of their locations.  Rhian has worked for the Trust for fifteen years and is based at Stackpole. She works alongside Mark Underhill and focuses on properties and visitors.

After a round of redundancies following the National Trust reset programme, remaining Pembrokeshire staff have had to work creatively to meet the growing demand for the outdoors.  The Pembrokeshire National Trust has half a million visitors in the season and the 24 cottages and campsites had a 98% occupancy last year. It is unsure what will happen this season but the demand will still be high. Some positives have come out of the visitor changes needed such as online booking at the Tudor Merchants House and Martin’s Haven for Skomer creating a better visitor experience. The new car parking payment for entry to Colby Woodland gardens now allows more families to enjoy the more economical visit at this popular location. 

Rhian explained the closure of the Stackpole Centre, which welcomed more than 2,000 children annually, was very sad for the National Trust team but this has now improved with families booking the accommodation and school groups being hosted by third party providers at the site. The Stackpole location, in particular Stackpole Quay, has proved a huge challenge with the car park being full by 10am at peak times and staff, manning the roads to redirect traffic, began to be subject to verbal abuse. The introduction of body cam videos has now helped to improve this. Freshwater West is currently undergoing a community consultation project to look at the future for the area and more than 1800 people responded to a survey. In North Pembrokeshire and the Dale peninsula the focus has been on improving the car parks and visitor huts to provide a warm Welsh welcome and encourage people to join the National Trust. 

Rhian conclude by thanking all Pembrokeshire National Trust Association members for their support and helping to fund backpacks for Colby, the fire for the Tudor Merchants House, the accessibility bench for Stackpole Quay and a personal thanks for the wonderful bench in Stackpole woods where staff too can enjoy the bench and take a break from their busy jobs. 

Report by Jane Mason