Open Palace Programme 2017: A once in a lifetime opportunity!

By Aleesha Voight, Building Facilities Coordinator, Auckland War Memorial Museum

The Open Palace Programme is a 20 day behind-the-scenes tour which encompasses royal palaces and heritage sites in Bath, Brighton, Lewes, Windsor, Stowe, Woburn and London.

For me the Open Palace Programme 2017 was not just a unique hands-on experience, but a once in a lifetime opportunity! It was an exciting adventure that taught me a lot about myself personally and professionally.

The programme started in Bath, where we were taken on a tour of the city by the Mayor’s Honorary Guide, visited Beckford’s Tower and Museum, Museum of Bath Architecture and No. 1 Royal Crescent.

(l) Beckford’s Tower and Museum, Bath. (r) Aleesga Voight in front of the Royal Pavillion in Brighton. Photographs courtesy of Aleesha Voight

Our busy itinerary included Stonehenge, the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, the townhouse of Anne of Cleves (fourth wife of King Henry Vlll) in Lewes and the official residence of Her Majesty The Queen, Windsor Castle. In Woburn, we listened to an engaging talk by Chief Curator of the Historic Royal Palaces, Tracy Borman, and participated in a wonderful session about Woburn Abbey and its gardens.

Our last week in London was jammed packed visiting The Tower of London and the Crown Jewels, Kensington Palace, Hampton Court, Apsley House, Fulham Palace, the British Museum and The Wellcome Collection.

(l) Stowe gardens. (r) Hampton Court Palace. Photographs courtesy of Aleesha Voight

As an emergent professional, I learnt so much from expert sessions at each location we visited. The sessions covered a wide range of heritage specialisms –from conservation, restoration, education, buildings, gardens, fundraising, interpretation, exhibitions, display and marketing.

The experts had crafted inspirational sessions that consisted of a presentation (on one of the specialisms mentioned above) followed by an activity and a guided or self-guided tour. Each time I listened to a presentation and partook in the follow up activity I felt like I was walking in the expert’s shoes. I came out of each session feeling inspired to follow my passions and to keep on learning.

Getting ready to plaster at the Regency Town House, Brighton. Photo courtesy of Aleesha Voight

Being given the opportunity to participate in the Open Palace Programme as a Facilities Coordinator was a blessing. These experiences have developed my understanding of the role that each department plays within these facilities. Also roles vary between facilities depending on a number of factors such as staffing numbers, budget, funding and size of the facility etc. At times one person may have to wear many hats and be a Jack (or Jill) of all trades. We met amazing people who put their heart and soul into what they do.

“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” – Henry Ford.

One important lesson that all of our sessions had in common, was that different departments within an organization need to work together in order to develop and grow. Together we can tell can tell untold stories, preserve and restore artifacts, engage many different audiences in history and so much more. Our future generations will thank us for it!

The Open Palace Programme gives you an incredible opportunity to learn from professionals working at UK heritage locations and gave me a unique view into the history of the people and lives that took place amongst these magnificent locations.

At every stop our experts shared a bit about themselves and how they developed their careers. I learnt that there is not one single way to achieve your career goals but many different paths you can take. You can volunteer in your chosen field, study at a university, partake in internships, be mentored, take what opportunities are offered to you, work in many different positions, work your way up the ladder or you can do a combination of them all. The one aspect that they all had in common was that they all followed their passions.

There were 21 other emerging professionals from around the world on my programme and I have made good friends with some amazing ladies who I lived, travelled and shared astounding experiences with. (There were only ladies in my group, but the programme is open to men as well). These ladies provided me with wonderful support, lots of laughs and taught me a great deal about UK history, as I had never studied world history. They were open to new experiences, keen learners and were a lot fun. My programme leader and her team enriched this experience and created a relaxed, safe and happy atmosphere.

Plastering the Regency Town House, Brighton. Photo courtesy of Aleesha Voight

I found it to be a well thought out and creative learning experience, one that far exceeded my expectations. I could not be more proud to say that I was a participant in the Open Palace Programme 2017 and I would like to thank every organisation and person involved in assisting me with attending this programme. It has been a marvelous educational experience!

If you are a postgraduate or final year undergraduate student in heritage related subjects, or an emergent professional who is a keen learner and open to new experiences, and are wondering if you should apply for the Open Palace Programme – please do! It is worth it!

Aleesha Voight attended the Open Palace Programme 2017 with the assistance of a Professional Development Grant from National Services Te Paerangi.