We spoke to Hannah Bryan, Head of Visitor Engagement at The Auckland Project, about what makes a successful visitor attraction and where to explore in the North East.
Tell us a bit about The Auckland Project
The Auckland Project is a regeneration charity, working to create positive change for those living, working and visiting Bishop Auckland and to ensure the town’s future is as magnificent and vibrant as its past. We believe that the best way to do that is by sharing what we have, and making beautiful works of art, venues, experiences and opportunities – the things that feed people’s bodies, minds and spirit – accessible to everyone.
To do so we are creating a visitor destination in Bishop Auckland, incorporating seven sites – Auckland Tower opened in the Market Place in October 2018, following the Mining Art Gallery, in October 2017. Bishop Trevor Gallery, a temporary exhibition space within Auckland Castle, opened in June 2019, with the Castle itself due to reopen to the public on 2 November 2019. A Faith Museum, Spanish Gallery and Walled Garden will follow in the coming years.
What makes a successful visitor attraction?
I’m a firm believer that passionate people delivering great, efficient customer service is what makes a successful visitor attraction. Though it certainly helps to have good facilities and somewhere visitors can get a cup of tea and a slice of cake. The other element is engagement with visitors, connecting them to the stories being told within our sites.
What impact does winning awards have on your business?
To win Small Visitor Attraction of the Year for Mining Art Gallery within the first 12 months of it being open was incredible and the recognition it gave to the hard work put in across the organisation was fantastic. It’s good to know you’re on the right track and motivating to keep doing what you’re doing.
It’s also a fantastic marketing opportunity to talk about the success and an ongoing seal of approval of being an award-winning attraction.
What inspires you to enter the North East England Tourism Awards?
We entered Mining Art Gallery in order to raise awareness both to potential visitors and to colleagues within the sector. Having only just opened it was important for us to use this as an opportunity for profile raising.
We also believe we have a fantastic visitor offer and an amazing team delivering it, so the chance for external recognition of this was not to be missed.
Where do you like to visit in the North East when you aren’t working?
I enjoy walking along the river into the historic heart of Durham and visiting the Cathedral, it never fails to impress. Otherwise taking a trip to Raby or Bowes out in County Durham because if I’m not at work then I’m likely to be at one of Durham’s other attractions playing the part of a visitor for once.
Are there any hidden gems in the North East that you would encourage people to visit?
I would encourage everyone to visit Locomotion in Shildon, as it’s an amazing collection there that touches so many moments within British history. I also love Escomb Saxon Church in Bishop Auckland which is one of the most complete Saxon Churches in England.