Setting Sail – after the opening, then what?

Setting Sail – after the opening, then what?

“A ship in a harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are built for” attributed to William Shedd or Rear Admiral Grace Hopper

The Launch was a great success.  It was a huge relief too to complete the year’s journey and share the results with so many friends.  And interesting too to see this big building bulging at the seams at last!

But that’s when it turned into a ship, I think.  At the very moment it emerged from the chrysalis and spread its beautiful wings, the Pierian Centre stopped being a butterfly and turned once and for all into a working vehicle – a ship that I had to learn how to sail, and decide where to take it.

The business started with one booking in the diary – Mark Vaughan’s Tibetan Overtone Chanting at £30.  But I wasn’t worried!  My contacts were wide, and I was sure there was a need for working space like this.  Things would grow organically.  And the great thing about a slow start is that it gives you time to figure things out!

We didn’t use a computer.  We used the phone and a big paper diary to log the bookings.  The top two floors were my living quarters, but the remaining three floors were devoted to the business.  They comprised the two main training rooms on the first floor, the Freeman Room looking out onto the leafy splendour of the square, and the Music Room (with piano) slightly smaller and looking onto the newly restored back courtyard.  The ground floor then had the Morning Room, used for arrivals, coffee breaks and informal chats, two toilets and a small coffee station – and of course the exquisite Library which we used for one-to-ones and smaller meetings.

In the basement we had the Old Kitchen, for delegates’ lunches and cabaret-style meetings, more toilets, and the mysteries of the Well Room and Healing Room which we let out as a suite since you had to go through one to get to the other.  So our diary had to have columns for five different rooms, available for letting in three different time slots (morning, afternoon and evening), with the smaller rooms often rented by the hour.  But the big technological breakthrough was the discovery that pencil was the only tool for the job.  Bookings often changed – and ink was just too indelible to reflect the flux and flow of the real world.

People’s hearts lifted as their gaze spiralled up the staircase to the conical lantern – but stairs are still stairs, and you soon learnt to anticipate and be organized.  Nick remembers working up on the flat roof when he realized he’d brought the wrong screwdriver with him.  The Phillips screwdriver was sitting in the basement cupboard five floors below!  The stairs kept us fit alright, but lessons like those are learnt pretty quick….

But as bookings dribbled in, I was learning how to handle this new vessel of mine.  Admittedly these were inshore waters and the winds were still light, but it was all good practice!  What I didn’t worry about in fact was where to sail her to.  My “calling” had dictated the character of the Centre, but it had also established her function and purpose in the world.  I felt her voyages and indeed her overall journey would emerge from the collision of her own DNA and the happy accidents that life would blow her way.

But you can’t just sit at anchor waiting for a wind.  Sometimes you have to go looking for it!  Doors Open Day in early September 2002 was a breakthrough in this respect.  I’d gone on a course to learn about Georgian buildings, and become a firm friend of the tutor, Janet Margrie.  Her suggestion of Doors Open Day instantly lit a fuse in my mind, and I registered the Pierian Centre as one of the 40-odd Bristol properties that throw open their doors to the public each year.

I wanted to prepare a real Pierian welcome for the unknown numbers stepping over our threshold.  We put up displays on the history of the building and the long drama of the refurb – but we used it too as a shop window for the Centre and what it could now offer the world.  I was supported by a well-briefed army of volunteers, one in each room on an hourly rota throughout the day organised wonderfully for us by Alison Parry.  And the public flooded in!  They were waiting on the doorstep when we opened at 10am, and they were ringing the bell as we closed up exhausted at 4pm.  Over 400 people in all!

I’d still mainly shared the place with family and friends and a fringe of like-minded folk.  To see the reaction of perfect strangers, from all walks of life and with all sorts of interests, was a revelation.  This was what it was about!  This was what my calling had been pushing for!  They were open mouthed.  They were intrigued.  And they were hugely appreciative. They wanted to know about the history, but they also wanted to know about now.  They were interested in the courses we ran and the facilities we offered.  I could feel the wind filling our sails and our prow beginning to cut through the water.  We were under way at last!  And on Monday morning the phone rang with our first big corporate booking – the direct result of a visit to Saturday’s Open Day!