Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum

Jane's incredible journey...

Posted: September 27, 2023 at 09:57 am Author: Jane Shute

I remember the first day I started at The Friends in the role as Membership Manager in November 2017 vividly. I took on the line management of two incredible long-serving team members – Bev and Kelly - who had seen membership grow to around 31,000 members. On my second day, Bev took me along to the volunteer speed dating session where I met the enthusiastic and inquisitive group of welcome building volunteers, where I clearly recall meeting Bert the first time.

Kelly and Bev

Over the coming months, I aimed to build strong relationships at the Welcome Building particularly with the volunteers who are the friendly face of The Friends, taking memberships and donations to support the arboretum. However, it wasn’t long before I realized we had some significant challenges ahead. Firstly, the internet speed was so diabolical you could practically hear the dial tone when trying to get some band width. Secondly our CRM system at the time was going to cease in a few months.

Needless to say, I love a challenge! Over the next 2 years we scoped out and migrated to a new CRM, dug a trench, and laid a fibre internet cable, recruited Jo, our Marketing guru and implemented the Supporter Engagement Program which includes the Westonbirt magazine, eNews, social media, onboarding flyer, car sticker, chaser email, and fully branded website. Subsequently we significantly grew our membership base, and together with FE, launched Westonbirt’s 10-Year Vision. I even ran the Westonbirt 10K with Kelly – a big achievement for a non-runner!

Kelly and Jane

When the pandemic hit in March 2020, the site closed for 10 weeks. Suddenly we had thousands of members asking for refunds, extensions, and exclusive access! We also had to swiftly adapt to home working and figure out how to use our brand new CRM system. But all clouds have a silver lining, and mine was that I was still permitted to travel to Westonbirt through lockdown to run the membership scheme. This enabled me to experience the site at one of the most tranquil moments throughout its history. The spring flowers simply were incredible, and the sounds of wildlife, captivating!

Working from home

Those days passed, and we worked closely with the Welcome Building Team to reopen the Welcome Building to the visitors. With our training support, the welcome volunteers swiftly adapted to taking memberships digitally via tablets and assisted us in peak seasons on the gazebo.

Working on the gazebo

And so, we have gone from strength to strength…. we dramatically improved our business efficiencies by joining the Membership and Individual Giving Teams to create a Supporter Journey department and by the end of 2021, we almost reached 40,000 members, increasing our income to £1.7million per annum!

In 2023, we launched some great pieces of work – the opening of The Friends Exhibition in the Great Oak Hall showcasing the charity’s work, launched contactless donation points and published our case for support brochure.

Celebrating The Friends support

My journey with The Friends hasn’t always been an easy one. Weathering the cost-of-living crisis together with negotiating a way forward for hybrid prebooking and Forestry England’s national membership scheme have been challenging times, however we now have solid partnership agreements in place securing the charity’s future for the future.

It’s fair to say that we’ve had some fun along the way including team building events such as coppicing and cooking pizzas in Silk Wood, archery and kayaking at The Cotswold Water Park and coaching and mentoring sessions at Berkeley Castle and not forgetting celebratory BBQs with our talented trustees and making Christmas wreaths online! But one of my special memories is planting a Scots pine in Silk Wood propagated from an Italian seed collecting trip the charity funded…and it is thriving!

Planting a tree at Westonbirt ArboretumChecking on the tree

Of course, none of this would have been possible without the incredible team of colleagues at The Friends… and what an incredible journey it has been!

The Friends team in 2019

The Friends team in 2021

The Friends team in 2023