Guest post: volunteering at Alexandra Palace

This is a guest post by Svetlana Smirnova, Learning and Participation Volunteer.

Photographs by Aggie Michael, Learning and Participation Volunteer.

I have been volunteering at Alexandra Palace since July 2017. I studied cultural management and communications with particular focus on historic palaces and parks, completing a double MA degree in Germany and Sweden, and an UNESCO internship in France. Therefore, by joining the volunteer team of the Learning & Participation department at Alexandra Palace, I looked forward to gaining a valuable insight into the development project of the renowned North London landmark and to champion the broadening of the participation programmes of the Alexandra Park and Palace Charitable Trust.

A view of Alexandra Palace South Side

A view of Alexandra Palace South Side

I enjoy learning about the process of events management and planning at Ally Pally, as this is a public centre of recreation, education and entertainment, whilst being an integral part of the running of the community outreach activities. In July 2017, I supported the Summer Festival, one of London’s largest public festivals, showcasing the best of the iconic Palace and its vast Victorian grounds. As an event assistant, I was involved in different aspects of the Festival management: set-up, front-desk welcoming, liaising with community artists, ensuring the smooth logistics of the creative production and the best possible customer service to festival goers.

Above all, one of the many reasons why my time at Ally Pally is so special is the commitment of the Learning and Participation team to professional development related to volunteer assignments and on-going hands-on training within a clear programme of activities. Volunteers are provided an induction and briefings appropriate to their role, as well as relevant safety information to be able to re-act to any potential problem. Most importantly, the Charitable Trust promotes engaging, diverse and meaningful volunteering experiences.


The group enters the basement via Traitors’ Gate

Working as part of an amazing team has been highly rewarding and impactful. Volunteering at Alexandra Palace provided me a tremendous opportunity for professional and personal growth. Inspired by this positive experience and determined to progress, in September 2017, I volunteered to give history tours of the basement at Alexandra Palace as part of Open House London, the world’s largest architecture festival.

On the one hand, it was a delight to show visitors around the original historic premises, as they were opened for only the second time to the public. These very popular tours were fully booked well in advance. On the other hand, the major challenge as a tour guide was how to enliven the dramatic history of the People’s Palace in all its complexity, whilst leading excited visitors through the enormous cellars and vaults. Without doubt, impeccable time management and the highly coordinated teamwork of the volunteers was essential to the successful delivery of an outstanding visitor experience.


Inside the basement

As a licensed guide, I managed tours of major museums and collections in St Petersburg, Russia, including the Hermitage, the Amber Room and Alexander Palace. However, leading a group in a challenging and unusual environment was new to me, so attending the specialised session on tour guiding for the volunteers, organised by the Learning and Participation team as part of our training and development, was a fantastic experience.

Led by a Blue Badge tour guide and trainer, the session looked specifically at challenging routes and provided practical advice from an industry expert on how to guide a group in unusual spaces like the basement at Alexandra Palace. Moreover, to build upon our existing skills, we were given the chance to test the tour route under the guidance of the  trainer. This effective tour management training has significantly enriched my overall experience, giving a fuller understanding of guiding a challenging tour.

Our lovely group of volunteers at the end of the day

Our lovely group of volunteers at the end of the day

So, one week later, when I found myself leading a group of 15 guests, all clad in high visibility jackets and hard hats, and flashing pocket lights into dark corners, and with eyes glowing with anticipation, I knew that I was fully prepared to make their visit to the Open House event at Alexandra Palace both engaging and comfortable. It was a great day, a result of the dedicated teamwork of volunteers, and the organisation and co-ordination of the Learning and Participation team.

It is always exciting to volunteer at Alexandra Palace. Inspired by new ideas, I will definitely employ these skills in my professional career.


This activity is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of the East Wing Regeneration Project