The Bar Convent has gone through a major change in the last couple of years and at the heart of this has been the building of the new Exhibition, as part of our move to becoming a Living Heritage Centre. We recently welcomed our 10,000th visitor, which isn’t bad for a venue that used to see around 2,000 people a year.
But who exactly is coming through our doors? Is it history buffs, people of faith or just curious tourists? There was only one way to find out: by asking them. We’ve recently conducted a Visitor Survey, asking people in the Exhibition two simple questions, with a choice of answers (they could pick more than one).
How Did You Hear About Us?
This is interesting because it shows the power of old-fashioned Word of Mouth, which accounts for a third of all answers. People tell their friends and families about us and the message spreads that we’re a place to visit.
Similarly, Walked Past accounts for 11 per cent. This one is interesting as one of the challenges the Bar Convent faces is that it was built to be a secret, at a time when the Catholic faith was banned. Even today there are limitations on what kind of signage we can use, as a Grade 1 Listed Building, so having more than one in ten people say they came in after passing our front door is a good sign.
One area we are looking to improve on is the number of Guest House customers who then pay a visit to the Exhibition (it’s not every day you stay in a B&B with its own visitor centre). At the moment 4% of Exhibition visitors heard about it through staying in the Guest House, and our aim it make sure this group doesn’t miss out on the experience on offer.
Reasons for Visiting
This threw up a wider range of responses, bearing in mind people could give multiple answers. History is (at the time of writing) the top reason at 19% but there’s also specifically Catholic History (9%), Women’s History (8%) and Tudor History (7%). Combined, these make up 43% of all the reasons why people visit the Exhibition. So the story of the Convent is a big draw.
Being a Christian is given as a reason 13% of the time, while 6% of people come for the chapel and 4% to learn about Mary Ward. Again, it’s worth pointing out that people gave multiple reasons, so it’s more a reflection of how each topic draws people.
What we take from this is a reinforcement of the idea first laid down by the sisters themselves when they kick started the Living Heritage Project a few years ago (which paved the way for the building of the Exhibition). Faith is obviously part of the convent’s story and it is home to a living religious community. But an interest in history is something that is universal, across people of all faiths and none.