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Still Standing

1st December 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 English Heritage 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, James had to close the National Lottery-funded site twice this year in response to government guidance.

“Covid-19 has been devastating for the entire heritage sector,” 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 it wasn’t going to be a couple of weeks. How were we going to open back up? That was quite difficult.”

While many within English Heritage went on furlough to help support the charity, James and a few others remained at Stonehenge to look after the site and to plan for a safe, Covid-secure reopening.

“In operations we live for the extraordinary and love a challenge, and this has certainly been a big one! Throughout the first lockdown, 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.

“Re-opening Stonehenge and welcoming the public back was quite magical. People who hadn’t left their homes for a long time or hadn’t seen loved ones were finally able to get out and meet their nearest and dearest. Stonehenge was a special place for people to relax and provided them with both physical and mental refreshment. 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: “The National Lottery’s support has helped to transform Stonehenge over the years and allowed English Heritage to do justice to this wonder of the world.”

James is one of a handful of workers around the UK formally recognised by The National Lottery for his outstanding work during the pandemic, 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 desire to continue sharing Stonehenge’s incredible story. They’ve been adaptable and flexible through all weather, all the obstacles - without them, we wouldn’t be able to do any of what we do.”