Employed in regal surroundings
Published: 29 May 2015
Name: Dr Alison Burke
Job: Drum Castle property manager
Company: National Trust for Scotland
There is genuinely no typical day when managing an ancient castle.
The mornings, however, I often spend on specific project tasks rather than typical day to day tasks. So, for example, working on the conversion of the upper floor to host Aberdeen Art Gallery, or planning the opening of the Old Laundry, or conservation work to the Castle or the other listed buildings on the estate.
It is a chance to plan the forthcoming events, everything from being the first Scottish Chelsea Fringe venue to our regular events of outdoor theatre or classic car shows.
It is also the time when I get to sit and think before all my brilliant staff and visitors arrive, so this is when I let my mind wonder to where Drum will be next year or in the next five years.
The morning is when I catch up with the Head Gardener on what is happening on the estate as a whole. From tree inspections to issues with historic drains, we try to find new solutions to ancient problems, and our amazing team of garden volunteers are always creating something wonderful from painted wellies to giant clothes pegs to funny scarecrows.
Making sure that visitors have a great experience is the most important part of my job - everything needs to be running smoothly. So from 11 am till 4 pm is all about the visitors and I rarely stop for lunch.
I believe fundamentally in a democratic approach to management. Everyone in the team has equal say and we make decisions together, which also means that we work together and share tasks, so on busy days during lunchtime I take my turn washing the dishes, guiding during lunch breaks, answering enquiries; really every job that can be thought of I do as part of the team.
As I’ve said, ensuring our visitors have a great experience is hugely important, and this season we have opened a new gallery within a previously unseen part of the castle.
We’ve got over 20 contemporary artworks on loan from Aberdeen Art Gallery while it is closed for refurbishment.
This is an exciting new phase for us that brings a completely new dimension to the visitor experience, so I’ve been keen to chat to people touring the castle to get their feedback.
Their comments have been positive - they like the contrast between our historic art and the modern works on show, and have said it’s like going on a journey of art through the centuries, and found it an interesting variance to our traditional collection.
The works are on loan from the gallery for two years but this is a permanent gallery for the estate, and we look forward to developing this and bringing significant artworks to Drum in the years ahead.
I live on the estate, so I live the job as well as love the job. Evenings can vary, sometimes working as part of the team at one of our evening theatre or concert events, or meeting guests as part of a dinner function or wedding reception, engaging with stakeholders at a private view, anything really that people want to come to Drum for.
Then we swiftly re-set the Castle after the evening guests have left for the visitors to enjoy the next day. I am always happy to go to groups and societies to spread the word about Aberdeen’s most ancient Castle, so I am often to be found giving a talk about how exciting Drum is at a club dinner.
My own time is all about horses and I love to go riding at the wonderful Aberdeen Riding Club in Miltimber, which also provides Riding for the Disabled.
I am very lucky that I can ride a beautiful retired school horse called Jazz who makes me smile every day.