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From breaking codes to making gin –Rebecca Foy the licensing potential of Bletchley Park.
Rebecca, thank you for joining us. You’re Director of Public Engagement at Bletchley Park. Personally, I’m a HUGE fan of Bletchley so I’m thrilled we’re doing this… For those yet to discover it, though, how would you describe Bletchley Park?
Bletchley Park was the home of British World War Two codebreaking. It’s a place where technological innovation and human endeavour came together to make ground-breaking achievements that helped turn the tide of the war and went on to shape the world we live in today.
Perfect! And, in my head, this is a redundant question – but what makes it special, Rebecca?
Well, as you know, Bletchley Park wasn’t just a secret during the war. It remained a secret until the mid-1970s… Now, we’re privileged to reveal our remarkable story to our visitors. That’s what makes this place special: there is literally nowhere else like it.
Right. And you know – if they haven’t heard of it –people should get a flavour for themselves via the website.
It’s also worth saying that the site itself is unique. It was previously a vast Victorian estate. Some parts, including the Mansion, still survive, but the estate was expanded significantly during wartime to accommodate Codebreakers in huts and blocks that formed the Government Code and Cypher School – or GC&CS. That department is now known as the Government Communications Headquarters; GCHQ.
So although Bletchley might be known predominantly for the Codebreakers in wartime, it’s also the birthplace, really, of an incredible intelligence network…
Absolutely. And the earliest computers, too… This initially small cadre of specialists grew to become a vast intelligence factory, comprising thousands of dedicated women and men. In often difficult conditions, they provided vital intelligence – through pioneering technological innovation – that had profound military and political influence. Today, the site continues to reveal secrets, and tell fascinating stories of our national legacy.
Brilliant. I literally get goosebumps whenever I visit, and you’re describing it beautifully. So, in terms of a mission – for want of a better word – what does the park aim to achieve?
Bletchley Park Trust is a registered charity, heritage attraction and independent museum, open daily to visitors. Our mission is to attract, engage and educate people from all over the world, inspiring them with Bletchley Park’s crucial role in World War Two. It’s no small task! As an independent charity, we rely on income from visitors, sponsors and supporters to secure our long-term future.
So you were, presumably, hit by the financial impact of the pandemic?
Oh, yes; hugely. We rely on visitors for over 95% of our operating costs. However, despite the challenges of the pandemic, we’re nearing the completion of an exciting three-phase project… Thanks to supporters and our funders, phases one and two have been completed.
Interesting. What are the stages?
The first stage was the refurbishment of Block A. Block A was a building used by Naval Intelligence during World War Two. It opened to the public for the first time in April 2022, with the largest permanent exhibition on site: The Intelligence Factory. The exhibition tells the story of Bletchley Park’s rapid expansion to a workforce of around 9,000; the work they did, the process of recruiting and billeting all those people and the other logistical demands of producing huge amounts of vital intelligence.
Then, the completion of the new Collection Centre concluded the second phase of our biggest refurbishment project to date. That now houses the Trust’s internationally significant collection: around 420,000 items relating to the wartime story of Bletchley Park.
Which just leaves the third phase!
Yes, we’re certainly getting there with our refurbishment projects! The third and final stage is the refurbishment of Block E. This is a wartime communications centre. We intend it to be a new state-of-the-art learning centre… That’s opening later this year. The centre will provide improved spaces for tailored learning experiences, and the creation of a 250-seat auditorium. The auditorium will also be used to host events including talks about subjects related to Bletchley Park and its history.
Oh, wow. That’s great!
Our overall vision for the future is that Bletchley Park will be recognised and acknowledged worldwide for the achievements that took place here in World War Two, and how and why these remain relevant today.
And to that point… For many, the name Bletchley Park instantly conjures associations with genius, secrecy, computers and heroism. What other qualities do you think make up the Bletchley Park ‘brand’?
I think there are many facets to it. We strive to be storytellers with honesty and integrity, to inspire people. But the very essence of our brand is Practical Intelligence.
Yes. These two words represent the two different types of people that worked at Bletchley Park and helped it succeed… Those with the common sense to get things done, and those with the brain and ability to solve complex problems. Individually, neither could’ve succeeded, but together they achieved greatness. This is at the heart of everything we do today, through the continued restoration, research and development of the site within this brand. We aim to ensure the experience we deliver is the best it can be and is true to our heritage.
That is as good an explanation as I’ve ever heard! Thank you. Looking at some of your output – for want of a better word – what kind of products do you carry in your gift shop?
We offer over 500 individual product lines in our gift shop, including books, clothing, gifts, pocket-money pick-up items, confectionery, spy kits and puzzle books… The list goes on and on. We’ve recently been shortlisted for Shop of the Year by Museums + Heritage, an independent events and publishing business.
Oh, wow! That’s quite something!
Thank you! We think it’s a reflection of how successful our shop has become, and – in our best year so far – our shop had a £1m turnover. We aspire to get back to that level as we recover from the financial impact of covid.
And just out of interest, how many of those products are exclusive to you?
Oh, a huge amount of them are exclusive. And they tend to be our best sellers! For example, we worked with Rose Design to develop the new Bletchley Park branding, which works so well across all our exhibitions, comms, apparel and products. Our codebreaking and puzzle books – in our own brand – are one of our bestsellers, as is our own gin, our hoodies, caps and tea towels.
Gin, puzzle books and a hoodie… That’s not just a good day out at Bletchley Park, it’s a pretty good night in after!
So let me ask you this… How actively does Bletchley look to extend its brand through other products or experiences bearing its name?
Very much so. We’ve worked with many partners on products and offers in order to promote our brand, and this is an avenue we would love to explore further. Due to the innovation element of the Bletchley Park story, we’d love to partner with people on more digital projects, such as gaming, virtual escape rooms, or apps, perhaps.
Fantastic. It feels to me that there’s a tremendous attraction to the park, the people that worked there, and the incredible stories they tell… In your experience, though, how much of your intellectual property is licensable?
This is a very good question… The Bletchley Park name and the brand and as whole, is licensable. If people want to work with us on partner projects to elevate their project to our audiences and stakeholders. As I understand it any invention, design, brand name or art/literary work is licensable, and we have a plethora of all those things.
Can you give us some examples?
Sure! We have a selection of Crypto machines, and crypto paperwork all of which are owned by the trust; Bombe-related fragments – cable and checking machine rotor in Hut 11A display; handwritten notes from people in building Hut 11A and stuffed into a doorway – on display in 11A… We have a radio as used by the Y Service… That was a recent donation; it’s going into the Never Alone display this month. We have estate-agent documents from 1937 about the estate, copies of which are on wall in the Mansion Anteroom. So there’s a lot of potential to explore.
We’re also aware that our personalities are key to the story of Bletchley Park, and we have statues of some of these. The locations within the park which are also classed as part of our collection include the mansion, huts, blocks, lake and landscape. Within these are unique designs and architecture which could possibly be licensable. Then there are the personal items, such as Porgy – Alan Turing’s bear – and his mug too; plus uniforms, poems, letters and diaries, photo albums, training materials, instruction manuals and scripts. So much more!
Do you know, this is one of those interviews that makes me just want to pack everything up and head to the site for another look round! I’m loving it! Are there any other potential opportunities you’d like to explore in the future?
As I say, we’d love to explore more partnerships that are a good ‘fit’ for Bletchley Park, particularly with technology companies, some of who have evolved over many years like us. In addition, we have a great many ideas for using the iconic imagery and personalities of Bletchley Park on a range of marketing and product items, along with steps into fashion, gaming and more.
On a personal note, Rebecca, you’ve been at Bletchley Park for exactly eight years. Happy anniversary!
Thank you! It’s really flown by as we have grown so much in that time and so much has happened: Bletchley Park has become a much more recognised ‘household’ name, and we’ve benefitted from a lot of media coverage. The Park has completed so many projects, and really transformed the visitor experience; we’ve made the organisation more professional. The vision has been to become a world-class heritage attraction!
Yes, it’s paradoxical, isn’t it? Bletchley has gone from being a site absolutely no one talked about during the war, to something you want everyone to talk about now! And where were you before Bletchley?
I worked for the National Trust for nearly ten years in various visitor operations and commercial roles. I was very, very fortunate to work at two amazing places – Tyntesfield near Bristol, and Cliveden on the Thames near Maidenhead in Berkshire. I’ve stayed in stately homes, cleaned toilets, sold raffle tickets, project managed the refurbishment of historic buildings, managed holiday cottages… The list is endless!
Cleaned toilets! Heritage sites aren’t all razzmatazz, are they?!
They’re definitely not all razzmatazz, no! But then, I’ve always worked in customer-facing or visitor-related businesses. I was a retail manager for years and have also worked in catering. It’s my passion to make people happy, and for our visitors to feel joy, excitement and a sense of engagement.
Now you’re at Bletchley Park, your range of responsibilities looks vast! To give people some idea of your role, what does it entail?
Yes, I wear many hats! My role essentially covers the visitor-facing side of our business: I lead the teams who are responsible for marketing and communications; our on-site visitor experience including exhibition content, events, retail, catering, learning; and I also manage our team of museum professionals, so our historians, curator, and archivist amongst many others!
I ensure we’re aligned with how we present Bletchley Park’s stories on- and off-site… It’s how we promote and enhance our reputation, and that’s all about building general public awareness and the brand so that more people visit and support us and our work.
We should start wrapping things up Rebecca; you’re clearly tremendously busy… Tell me: what’s the one question I could’ve asked you today but didn’t?
You haven’t asked me what my favourite brand is!
No, I havent! And it’s a testimony to my own incompetence! What IS your favourite brand?
It would have to be Harry Potter! Those books and movies, now included under the Wizarding World umbrella, have created an internationally recognised brand that’s since splintered off into the emergence of theme parks, theatrical experiences and video games. Although we’re slightly different here at Bletchley, of course, we also aim to educate, create excitement and spark interest for children and adults alike. I can’t see a theme park, but we would definitely like to develop more opportunities for our audience than just the original museum. There’s more to come from Bletchley Park, watch this space…
I’ll do more than watch it, Rebecca, I’ll visit it again! Final question: if you want to get in touch with you, what’s the best way to do it?
They can email me via firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d be interested in any brand proposals.
Thank you so much for your time; this has been fantastic.
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