Helen Bailey, General Manager of Blickling Hall, has given permission for me to publish her response to my open letter. Here it is in its entirety:
Re Samphire Shop, Blickling Hall, Norfolk
Thank you for your letter to Dame Fiona Reynolds, Director General of the National Trust. This has been forwarded to me, as General Manager of the Blickling Estate, to answer.
I understand your disappointment about our decision not to renew the Nethercotts’ lease. Your passion for Samphire is clear from your letter, and the comments added to your blog show great support from local people. We understand how Samphire has become part of some people’s visit to Blickling. This was a decision we deliberated over long and hard, with a lot of discussion with the Nethercotts. We were – and are still – keen to try to find alternative accommodation for Samphire at Blickling, but no mutually satisfactory space has been found yet.
The redevelopment of the Dutch barn, as the main place to welcome visitors onto the Blickling Estate, is the start of major Estate-wide work to enhance people’s enjoyment here. Also in the early planning stages is work on the Courtyard area, which could create opportunities for local businesses, including Samphire, which we look forward to discussing in due course.
It is in direct response to the views of our visitors, which we gathered from extensive research, by a formal survey, comment cards, and in conversation, that we are making improvements to the main entrance to Blickling. Hundreds of thousands of people come to Blickling, and it is important to us that everyone is made to feel welcome, whether they come to walk their dog in the Park, use the cycle routes, or visit the house and gardens.
There is a real drive at the National Trust to bring our places to life, the result of which should not feel like some corporate roll-out, but provide the welcome visitors need and start to tell the story of Blickling and its rich history. We are developing and strengthening relationships with our neighbours and the local community to ensure that we understand their views and expectations. Inevitably, there are decisions we have to make which do not please everyone.
Please don’t underestimate how seriously we take support from, and for, the local community. The National Trust employs 35 permanent staff and around twenty more seasonal staff at Blickling, all local people. We are incredibly fortunate to have the support of over 350 volunteers, most of whom live locally. Also, we have 300 tenants on the estate, residential, local businesses and farmers. In our shop and restaurant, a very high proportion of what we sell comes from local producers, including our tenants – this is something we insist on, despite commercial pressures.
I hope this answers the questions you raised. I would welcome the opportunity to sit down and discuss our plans with you when I am back at work in the New Year.
General Manager, Blickling Estate