Thanks to support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Liz Grant was recruited by Sussex Wildlife Trust as the Rye Harbour Discovery Centre Manager earlier this year. Liz is an extremely experienced project manager, with a background in tourism and heritage. She came to the trust from Kent Wildlife Trust, where she’d been working for six years, developing and managing the Romney Marsh Visitor Centre and the Local Nature Reserve.
Liz has been living on the Romney Marshes for many years and is passionate about the area and its wildlife. She says, “I want to be part of something that helps make sure my granddaughter can have a wild childhood.”
We caught up with her over the phone to ask a few questions…
What have you been up to since coming into post?
Before lockdown, I was working with Sussex Wildlife Trust colleagues and others who are involved with the Discovery Centre project. Since then, it’s been the same, but mostly from home. Basically, I’ve been getting up to date with where the project is at and moving things forward. There’s been a lot of finding out to do!
Can you tell us more about how fitting out of the Discovery Centre is going?
We’ve been sorting out the kitchen design, thinking about stock for the shop and café, choosing the fixtures and fittings, as well as completing plans for the Community Wildlife Garden. Right now, I’ve been working with Interpretation Officer Sam, and Rye Harbour Nature Reserve Manager Barry, planning all the interpretation (i.e. signage - how things are explained to visitors). This will be both inside the Discovery Centre, and for trails across the reserve. The idea is to expand visitors’ knowledge of the reserve, and to tell its story, in terms of wildlife, heritage and history. We will do this through words and images, as well as hands-on units, video and sounds.
In the welcome area there will be a regularly-updated ‘map’, which tells visitors what they might see on the reserve during their visit.
Tell us more about the café.
The kitchen design is complete and the fittings are going in over the next couple of months. We’ll have an exciting and varied menu and an excellent coffee machine with ongoing training for everyone who works there.
The café has beautiful big windows overlooking the reserve, around which there will be a contemplation ledge, with binoculars provided. I’ve been talking to local designers about tables and chairs and so on.
We’ll definitely be selling ice creams!
(photo taken March 2020)
How will you manage litter?
The café aims to produce minimal waste and will have extensive recycling facilities. There will be bins in and near the centre.
Tell us about the shop.
It will sell art and produce from local artisans, crafters and local books, as well as a wide range of wildlife-related products. The display scheme will be flexible, so we can adjust it seasonally.
What will the Discovery Centre be like for staff and volunteers?
There’s a beautiful staff and volunteer room with a big window with a view of the Rother. We’ve got a little kitchen area and enough seating to sit and have lunch together. It means volunteers who might not have met each other, have space to do so.
What new staff are being recruited?
I’ll next be recruiting a Café Manager. Then we’ll be looking for an Assistant Centre Manager, which will be a wide and varied role with responsibilities including volunteer coordination and supporting the day to day running of the Centre.
Tell us about the loos.
All in now, six of them, although three can be split off for private use of school groups if necessary. Plus one large, accessible wet room.
Will you need new volunteers?
Yes we will, lots, and in a much wider range of new roles too. More about that in due course.
Will dogs be allowed inside?
Yes, friendly dogs on leads are welcome. There will be guidelines in place and some dog free areas.
What’s been the biggest learning curve?
It’s been fascinating to learn that the entire building is an automated environment. Fans, air quality, ventilation. Everything is computer operated.
What about the outside areas?
There will be a specific gathering place outside for activities on the reserve, such as the Wednesday Healthy Walks.
We’ve finalised the Community Wildlife Garden design, we’re just awaiting quotes for landscaping. The design of the garden is inspired by the reserve. There will be some planting and we will wait for seeds from the reserve to blow in, so it will take a few years to fully establish itself.
It’s an area where it will be great to have volunteers to help us manage it.
There will be benches and picnic tables too.
Where will the ‘Buy a Bird’ frieze be located?
We’ve been working with Bob Greenhalf to create something very special for the 151 people have been generous enough to ‘buy’ a bird, they will be displayed on the wall in the café as part of a beautiful art installation, and of course there will be an accompanying plaque of names, thanking those donors.
When will it be open to the public?
COVID-19 dependent, we plan to open seven days a week from the autumn.
If people want to help, what can they do?
Thanks to the generous support of the Friends of Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, a number of grant funders, charitable trusts, companies and individuals, we have nearly reached our fundraising target. But we are still raising funds to help us complete the final stages of this inspiring new centre, so if you are able to support us, please see more information here
Liz will be giving us regular updates as to progress on the Discovery Centre - here's the first one