July 2011 interview with Janet Schofield, Manager of the Tourist Information Centre
As a local in Sherborne, it’s hard to imagine what we would do without the Tourist Office – our friendly source of local information on what’s on, a place to buy tickets for Sherborne’s plethora of events, supplier of ideas for nearby walks or bicycle trails, provider of unusual local cards and gifts…it is a stangely satisying sort of place, as you confirm your planned activity and possibly become inspired by others. For out-of-towners it is even more essential, providing details of accommodation availability and even booking it for you, helping to map out your itinerary and making sure you are completely aware of all the local snippets of information you need to spend a perfect few days. In charge of all of this is Janet Schofield who works with her dedicated team to provide a friendly smile and dollops of useful advice.
Read the full interview with Janet Schofield below:
Q: We tend to assume that the Tourist Information Centre (TIC) has always been here and always will be, but perhaps we shouldn’t take such things for granted given what is happening to libraries and other services.
JS: The TIC has been here for a good number of years and has operated under the auspices of the West Dorset District Council for at least 15 – 20 years, along with Lyme Regis, Bridport and Dorchester. It is a discretionary service so we are fortunate that WDDC understands the importance of tourism in this area. The TIC acts as a focal point for visitors as well as locals and disseminates information on West Dorset attractions and the local businesses that operate there.
Q: With more and more people finding information through websites, do you think you can compete?
JS: We actually complement some of the basic research carried out online. People still come to usto find out the very local information that is not available online. It’s surprising how effective a display of leaflets and brochures on the area can be when displayed altogether. People are inspired by what they see and are able to make the most of their visit armed with all of this ‘insider’ information.
Q: Is the TIC completely grant-funded or are you expected to defray your costs in some way?
JS: Well, yes, it is part of the economic imperative. We provide many other services apart from information which bring in some revenue including the sale of tickets to local events, local artists’ greeting cards and other local produce such as chocolate and tea, not forgetting maps and books on the area.
Q: It must be difficult to sustain a year-round service.
JS: Well the seasonal nature of the business is reflected in our opening hours – in the summer, we are open from 9-5 six days a week; in the shoulder period, this reduces to opening hours between 9.30am and 4.00pm and in the winter, between November and March, we open from 10-3. Nevertheless, we are strongly supported year-round by the local population through the sale of tickets and in the winter we have a huge demand for our charity Christmas cards – Cards for Good Causes. Most of the money from these goes to the charities concerned and we are the only outlet in Sherborne.
Q: What sort of people use the Tourist Office? What do they like about Sherborne and the surrounding area?
JS: Two thirds to three quarters of the people who come in are visitors to the town. We actually attract quite a large number of foreign visitors compared to the seaside towns as Sherborne offers more of a historic and cultural attraction with the Castles and the Abbey. For the same reason, we probably attract fewer families with children. Most visitors are just here for the day and want to know what to do, so are focussed on Sherborne. If they are staying for a few days then they are looking for what else is available in the area – usually in terms of gardens, historic houses, walking trails and tea shops with cream teas.
Q: Is Sherborne ever “full”?
JS: Yes, sometimes it is difficult to find accommodation. Don’t forget that Sherborne is a fairly small town so when there are any big weddings taking place or any important school events, then the accommodation does run out and people have to stay further afield. We do offer a local booking service so we can make arrangements for visitors who need to stay elsewhere.
Q: How long have you been managing the TIC? What do you think are Sherborne’s assets?
JS: I have been here just over two years. I live in Dorchester and travel over every day so I think I can look at the town objectively. Sherborne is such an attractive town to look at, it has a very mellow feel about it. Cheap Street in particular does not look like a standard High Street and even if the shops are changing and there are more nationals than there used to be, it has not lost its charm.
Q: What do you see as the future for Sherborne?
JS: There is also quite a buzz about the town with a very active Tourism Forum and Chamber of Commerce. Not having a city nearby also means that people create their own events – there is always something happening. In the two years that I have been here, there have been new initiatives such as the International Film Festival and the Hidden Gardens event. A new cycle touring company, Hope2Cycle, is currently opening up by the station and there are ambitious plans under way for a new Community Arts Centre. The town feels as though it is moving ahead.