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Still Standing

1st Rhagfyr 2020

James Rodliff, Operations Manager, Stonehenge – English Heritage

James Rodliff

Even prehistoric monuments built 5,000 years ago couldn’t escape the paralyzing effects of the pandemic.

Having joined a year and a half ago, operations manager James Rodliff was looking forward to his first normal summer running the day-to-day operations of one of the best-known world heritage sites in the world – Stonehenge.

Responsible for the Neolithic site’s staff, volunteers and education programme, he was forced with the team to close the site twice this year following government restrictions on large gatherings.

“Covid-19 has been devastating for the entire sector of tourism and heritage,” says James. “For us, it was a really sad day having to close the gates. At first we thought it was going to be quite a short-term measure, but then came that dawning realisation that this isn’t going to be a couple of weeks. How were we going to open back up? That was quite difficult.”

While many within the organisation went on furlough to help support the charity and continue doing what it could do with a limited income, James and a few others remained at Stonehenge to help look after the site – along with security – and plan for a safe, Covid-secure reopening. Doing everything from figuring out future digital strategies to cleaning toilets, opening other heritage sites like Old Sarum to testing fire alarms, the Salisbury-based manager saw light in the logistical challenges thrown at him:

“I’m over the moon – in operations we live for the extraordinary and like to get stuck into a crisis, and this has certainly been a big one! The challenge throughout has been great – there wasn’t really any time at any point to really step back and take stock of it, you were just going from one thing to the next.

“Getting the doors open and the staff back in again was quite magical. Seeing those who are truly connected to Stonehenge and the landscape, for them to be able to walk round and see it again was really quite touching.

“There were actually a few tears, which shows how important the site is. Then to be able to open up to the public safely – people who hadn’t left their house for a long time or hadn’t seen loved ones – using our site as a special place to come and meet outdoors was lovely as well. For many, it meant the world to them.”

Having grown up around the ancient settlements and standing stones of Cornwall, James studied archaeology at university and knew early on that he wanted to tell the stories of the past and work in heritage. He notes that The National Lottery’s support for not only Stonehenge, but the whole industry, is “huge”, adding that: “It certainly plays a major factor in our entire education offer and has allowed us to bring that back online for young people who have had their learning impacted.”

James is one of a handful of workers around the UK formally recognised by The National Lottery for his outstanding work, with his image set to be beamed on the Wiltshire stones.

“I’m surprised and exceptionally humbled by it,” he reflects. “There are so many people who have worked hard across our industry, across English Heritage and across the site at Stonehenge to make this year a success. We have an incredibly close team and I feel like I work in a family unit.

“Our staff came back with such enthusiasm and a genuine want to continue sharing the site’s incredible story. They continue to be adaptable and flexible through all weather, all the obstacles that get thrown at us. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to do any of what we do.”