Business recovery stories: The International Bomber Command Centre

The International Bomber Command Centre (IBCC) in Lincolnshire serves as a point for recognition, remembrance and reconciliation, telling the story that Bomber Command played in protecting the freedoms that we enjoy today as well as commemorating the lives of those it affected.

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The attraction is run by a team of staff and volunteers who were pro-actively engaged in planning for the future, an approach which was essential to sustaining morale. Their initiatives included:

1. Taking immediate action to ensure financial sustainability.  As soon as the implications of COVID-19 became clear, the team contacted banks and suppliers, renegotiating contracts where necessary and agreeing plans to secure the immediate future of the business.  This was particularly important in advance of the second lockdown, because the site would miss its main annual remembrance events.  Once finances were secure, planning for the future of the centre could begin.

“Prioritising staff welfare became even more important to us during the pandemic – their mental and emotional wellbeing. It was about making them feel that we still cared about them - as individuals and as part of the business.”

2. Looking after staff.  All but three staff were furloughed when the attraction closed.  Many of those who were put on furlough live on their own and consider their work as much more than just a job.  Keen to support them and keep this passion alive, the management team took an active role, organising weekly events and quizzes whilst the CEO also took the time out to call each team member weekly to catch up.  Confidential counselling services were also available to those who wanted to use them. 

3. Training for the future. The furlough scheme allows for staff to train and the team grasped this opportunity, helping staff to upskill for reopening.  Over the combined lockdown periods, 22 staff completed training across 33 different courses to prepare for reopening, including COVID-19 customer service, GDPR, health and safety, fire safety, first aid, and silver service (which the gardeners really enjoyed completing!). It means the business now has an even more adaptable and flexible team.

“The strongest lesson from the pandemic has been the business can never stop developing. It forced us to look at every angle of the business, and importantly it’s given us the time to do it. What I’ve learned is in future we need to make that time.”

4. Adapting the approach. In the period between lockdowns, the operations of the site and staff were reviewed and technology was introduced to keep everyone safe when they returned to their normal roles.  The size of groups for guided tours were reduced and each guide was provided with a personal head set and amplifier to support social distancing.  On-site training sessions (guided by the ‘We’re Good to Go’ scheme) were hosted for all staff and volunteers to ensure that they knew how to stay safe.  Visitor feedback was positive and visitors valued the steps that were being taken to keep them safe.

“We’ve invested in installing a Changing Places accessible toilet facility, which gives our disabled visitors dignity while they’re with us. To be able to offer this facility is not just the right thing to do, it makes good business sense to be able to attract the purple pound, which in tourism terms is in the billions.”

5. Tackling the to do list. During the second lockdown, new activities were offered to staff and volunteers, such as getting involved in maintaining the 10 acres of gardens.  Activities that had been on the long to do list were tackled, such as creating databases of media and businesses and refreshing image banks.  As a result, some team members are now taking on new tasks to refresh the site’s marketing or reinvigorate its image. Crucially this has enabled a reassessment of the whole team’s skills and aspirations to inform how their progression can be supported in the future.

6. Targeting new segments.  The team are planning for a different future with a more domestic audience than pre-March 2020.  Partnerships with, for example, Visit Lincoln, the Explorers Road Project and Cycle England are being used to explore new themed packages and events programmes.  Innovative approaches such as themed 1940s weekends are opening new opportunities to attract a younger audience.