In my case, it wasn’t so much a case of having to build it. I was handed on a plate a stunning 17th Century mansion, with extraordinary gardens surrounded by thousands of acres of farm and woodland. All building had been done 350+ years ago.
It was a case of “Open it and they will come’…’ As I grew up I always felt a bit guilty about so few people enjoying the extraordinary beauty of St Clere but I couldn’t work out how to share nicely. Small forays into opening up to the public in the past had gone very wrong for my parents. Four years in a row a statue was stolen from the garden within days of opening the garden for charity. When they opened up an ancient pinetum for people to enjoy freely, the place was trashed and finally a car was driven in and torched. The entrance to the pinetum was sealed like The Secret Garden and now ferns, nettles and rhodedendrons battle for control of the place.
So how to ‘open’ without exposing ourselves? After about 30 years of thought, when I took over the reins with my husband we decided to open up to groups who will benefit from the privacy and positive feeling that this place exudes.
We started with mediations. The hope was to use the place as a force for good, a weapon in the arsenal of the mediator. In order to find new solutions to old problems, particularly those problems that are heading fast towards court, you need a serious arsenal. Moving people out of solicitors offices where they hone their legal positions for months and sometimes years, into a fresh environment where the mediator can help them look at things anew makes solution finding more likely. Same old people in the same old mindset taking the same old positions leads to same old outcomes. We try to assist the mediator to change the mindset.
Now we also offer corporate events, away days, client entertaining and meeting space. We want people to use St Clere to benefit their business. Coming to St Clere changes people’s mindset; we want people to use that to their benefit. In The Grapevine Event at St Clere last week, I set out how we hope to help businesses achieve that at St Clere;
The ideal meeting involves very little of the normal clutter or attitudes, rather it is a place for free exchange of ideas leading to progress, problem solving and decision making. It takes a positive mindset for that to happen which is difficult to achieve in the office.
The ideal corporate event (whether rewarding staff or wooing clients) involves relaxing, ’’bonding”, learning about yourself and the team, and having fun (and in my view, eating well, for me all ‘ideal’ things need to involve eating well). If you’re going to spend money on people, you want them to be impressed with you by the end of the event.
So that’s where we’re headed. I believed that once I was clear about that, people would just come. It turns out I have a lot to learn! Although we have had extraordinarily positive feedback from every person and business who has come to ‘share the magic’ at St Clere, the telephone doesn’t ring off the hook. I’ve employed a fabulous marketing guru (thanks Sarah Kershaw!) who is going great guns, and we’re ready for anything.