Papplewick Pumping Station
Britain’s finest Victorian Waterworks
Interview with Ashley Smart, Museum Director of the Papplewick Pumping Station Museum - conducted January 2012
1- How did you start working for the Papplewick Pumping Station? How many years has it now been?
I started work for Papplewick Pumping Station Trust in October 2006 after I had unfortunately been made redundant from Coldharbour Mill, a textile mill and steam museum in Devon.
2- What in your mind has been your greatest achievement in this period?
To offer couples the chance to have their wedding ceremony at the Pumping Station. It has been a real success and helps to keeps the Station sustainable.
3- Can you tells us more of the staff, association and volunteers who help run the Pumping Station?
I am the only employee at the Pumping Station, so the Station is very dependant upon a small band of volunteers to actually carry out regular maintenance of the engines and site and to run the cafe. Also, without the volunteers the Trust could not have special steaming events for the general public. Some of our volunteers have been at the Station since the very beginning, since the mid 1970s when we first opened as a museum. We are very fortunate to have their dedicated support over all these years but we are always welcoming to new people who wish to volunteer too; we are always looking for more volunteers to join the Papplewick Association.
4- Can you tell us what your typical working day involves?
It is very varied. From completing funding applications, preparing the site for a wedding ceremony, managing the accounts, paying the bills, making and putting up road signs for forthcoming events, to taking groups on tours around the Station. That’s just a sample of some of the things I do and occasionally all within the same day!
5- I read from the web site that some academic studies have been done over the years concerning the history of the Pumping Station and the hydrology of the region. Do you think there is scope for more study in this area and does the Station have an archive that researchers can consult?
There is great scope for academic study and research. The Trustees are particularly interested in water sustainability and better ways of water education to encourage people to manage water more efficiently. This is one of the reasons the Trustees established the Water Education Trust (WET), to promote a better understanding of our water consumption and how we can all play a part in reducing our consumption of this finite resource.
We are also currently working closely with the University of Nottingham to explore ways of teaching the importance of water to school children, getting both the pupil and the teacher to look at water differently and realise just how much it features in our daily lives, often without us knowing it, and how dependant we are on it. The project is funded by the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation and the Garfield Weston Foundation and although it is early days I know that it is going to be a great success.
With regard to archives, we have a large selection of drawings and plans of the Pumping Station which are held at the University of Nottingham’s Manuscripts and Special Collections department. There is also a large archive belonging to Severn Trent Water which has only just started to be catalogued. We are all interested in seeing what interesting bits of information and data might lie within relating both to the Pumping Station and Nottingham’s water supply in general. The department also has a full online catalogue that people can browse and there is a vast amount of information on Nottingham’s water history already available.
6- Clearly we are now in economically straightened times where government has to cut back in all areas. Do you think Papplewick has enough revenue from visitors to survive this period?
It’s never easy but our wedding ceremony activities are a great boost to our income as all money we receive goes straight back into running and maintaining the Pumping Station. Ultimately we would like also to be able to offer wedding receptions and branch out into corporate site hires.
7- I see from the web site that you had a lecture run in conjunction with the University of Nottingham titled ‘wet behind the engineers’. Any plans to repeat this and possibly launch an annual series of lectures / workshops.
Yes, we are planning a Papplewick Lecture for November 2012 at the University of Nottingham again. We hope the lecture will become an annual event and that we can develop it further in the future.
8- Again from the web site I see education on water and conservation of resources is something you place a high importance on. How are your relations with the local schools, are you happy with the level of this mutual interaction?
Hopefully the education project I described earlier will really appeal to Nottinghamshire schools particularly with its links to citizenship, environmental studies and eco-learning in general.
9- The Station has clearly been a successful venue for weddings recently with some lovely photos to prove that on the web site. Any plans to extend that service to include corporate events?
We hope to but one step at a time, it would be unwise to over reach ourselves before we are ready. Our long term goal is to establish a new Education and Conference Centre but this will require a great deal of planning, not to mention funding!
10- Have you had the chance to examine the archives of the Station? Anything that really strikes you in their content?
The architectural drawings of the Station are brilliant, works of art in their own right. A popular one amongst volunteers and general public alike is the massive ‘network of supply’ drawing from 1958 featuring all of Nottingham’s Pumping Stations, reservoirs, filtering stations etc. It’s sad to think that if one of our Trustees hadn’t rescued it, the drawing would have ended up in a skip!
11- I see the Station also has its own Facebook group. Do you manage this grouping and any plans for a social events to connect and socialise with these fans in the future?
Yes, it’s a fun thing to do and it allows me to interact with visitors and supporters in ways that previously you could not. I’d like to utilise it more but it’s just having the time to do so!
12- Can you introduce to us the Trustees and explain briefly why the Station is run as a trust?
The Papplewick Pumping Station Trust was formed in 1974 as a determined effort to preserve the Station for posterity and public enjoyment and learning. There was the a real possibility back then that the Station once taken out of service, would be allowed to fall into ruin. The Trust therefore acquired a lease from Nottingham City Council to maintain the Pumping Station and open it as a static exhibit; there was no intention to steam the engines at this stage. It didn’t take long however before questions were asked about the possibility of running the beam engines and boilers for public demonstration. From here the Papplewick Association was formed and undertook the operational aspects of running the Station on behalf of the Trust.
The Trust is registered with the Charity Commission and is entirely independent from statutory funding, which makes ticket sales, site hires and wedding ceremonies all the more important in maintaining the Station. Our Chairman is Geoffrey Bond OBE DL.
13- Do you have any big wishes for the future concerning the Station?
To establish the Education and Conference Centre. It will allow us to offer so much more – bigger education programmes, guest lectures and talks and extra space to interpret the site’s history and importance. It will also enable the Station to expand our commercial arm and improve our income generation. Organisations are always looking for new and different locations for seminars, conferences and training events. Papplewick would be an ideal location.