Administrative Officer/Costumed Interpreter
National Museums Northern Ireland
After starting her career in the Civil Service and a spell working for the family business Marion has spent the last 26 years in various roles with the Ulster American Folk Park near Omagh.
What does your role involve?
My role at the Ulster American Folk Park is incredibly varied. I suppose you could say I’m one of the welcoming ‘faces’ of the park and like all staff here, my job is to make sure everyone who visits has a great experience and comes back again and again.
I’m involved in taking bookings for all our special events such as Hallowe’en and Christmas and our biggest event, the annual Bluegrass Music Festival, which is being held this weekend (September 2 to 4).
I’m in touch with visitors who come from as far away as America and Australia, helping them book tickets and find accommodation for the duration of the three day Bluegrass event. So many of them are repeat visitors and it is like seeing old friends and catching up on all their news when I see them each year.
How did you get into the position in the first place?
It’s hard to believe that I started working here almost 26 years ago. Since then I’ve worked in positions including Education Secretary, Payroll Officer, Front of House and also as a Costumed Interpreter, which I still do from time to time.
Then I was successful in securing a permanent post as an Administrative Officer. This position included marketing duties such as sourcing advertising, providing publicity information and attending trade fairs and shows across Ireland. I also travelled around Ireland placing brochures into every hotel, library and tourist outlet. I met the people who gave tourist advice and kept them up-to-date about the wide range of activities at the Ulster American Folk Park.
Did you always want to work in this sector in some capacity?
I have always enjoyed meeting and talking to people so there’s no better place for me to work. We meet people from all over the world; we hear their stories about their countries and way of life and share the same in return.
It is especially exciting at the Bluegrass Festival, meeting music enthusiasts of all ages and hearing about which bands they like, how much they enjoyed the concerts and seeing friends and families meeting up around Bluegrass in The Park. The atmosphere is electric with the buzz of people talking and laughing and music in the air.
What training or previous experience do you have that has helped you in your current role?
I started my working career in the Department of Finance in Stormont and then was transferred to Department of Health in Omagh. That involved working on a front desk with customers. While promoting tourism is a bit different to dealing with unemployment benefit I learnt the importance of providing accurate and informative advice. I left the Civil Service after my first child was born and joined the family business dealing with customers on a daily basis.
What is your organisation’s role in the local community?
The Ulster American Folk Park is an open air museum telling the important history of emigration from Ulster to America in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is the largest tourist attraction in this area and attracts over 165,000 visitors annually.
The Bluegrass Music Festival has grown to become the largest festival of its kind outside North America and has won accolades including Event of the Year at the Northern Ireland Tourist Board awards. Last year around 10,000 visitors came to the Folk Park over the festival weekend.
And how does your role fit in as part of this?
My role is to provide information and sell tickets to all those who enquire about events. I also offer information on accommodation, restaurants, shopping and generally what to do in the area during their stay. If you make an effort to provide as much information as possible it makes the customer’s visit more enjoyable and encourages them to return.
What sort of personality and qualities do you need to do your job successfully?
You need to have a friendly, open and engaging personality. Most people like to talk about their experiences, family and even their woes. I have made so many friends through working here. Fortunately I have been blessed with a great memory and I can remember the names of so many of our visitors. In an environment like the Folk Park most people like the personal touch.
What are the biggest rewards of the job? And the biggest challenges?
Well, this weekend I get to see Dailey and Vincent, the biggest name in the world in the bluegrass scene today, at my workplace! Not many people can say that.
One of the biggest rewards is knowing that people are happy with all the effort that the Visitor Services Team have put into an event. I love seeing the enjoyment people get from visiting the Folk Park and hearing the shouts of : “See you all again next year!”
From an administrative point of view obviously it’s vital that the books balance and there are no financial mistakes. I’ve seen a lot of changes on technology through the years but we receive training, which helps me cope in the rare event that things don’t go to plan with my computer or ticket printing.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
You only get out of life what you are prepared to put in.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to do the same job?
To build a rapport with people, to be accurate, if you don’t know the answer be honest and go the extra mile to find out the correct information. Be helpful and professional, and above all keep smiling.
What do you enjoy doing outside work?
I love to spend time with my family. I have two grandchildren with two more on the way – one expected to arrive during Bluegrass weekend. I love travelling and this year I have been in Madeira and Florida. I am also an active member of Omagh Lions Club, raising money for charities in the local area.