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Meet the Head of Visitor Services at King’s College

Sarah Friswell started her role as Head of Visitor Services at King’s College in February 2016. Previously, she was Public Relations Manager at St Edmundsbury Cathedral in Suffolk. The OC team asked Sarah about her first impression of King’s College, what she has planned for this new role at the College, and what Bridge the Gap walkers should look out for when they pass through the grounds on Sunday.

OC: You’ve been in position for only two months, how’s it going so far and what are your first impressions of King’s?

SF: King’s is an extremely friendly and welcoming place, which was evident from before I even started working here. I have a strong sense of being part of a ‘snapshot’ of history. Surrounded by the magnificence of the architecture of King’s, you can think that it is all about history. But you are also surrounded by young people studying hard, who are making new discoveries for our time and the future. 

OC: What does your role as Head of Visitor Services entail?

SF: I have overall responsibility for the visitor experience here. First and foremost is the welcome that people receive as they arrive.  A team of Visitor Guides welcomes people at the gates and in the Chapel, directs them and answers questions as necessary.  The Visitor Guides tell me that the best part of their job is meeting the many, many visitors who come from all over the world – and from just down the road too.  The Visitor Centre on King’s Parade is part of the visitor experience too where people buy their tickets to enter the College and (we hope) a souvenir or gift to remind them of their visit.

OC: This is a new role at the College. What have you got planned for the first year?

SF: I’m conscious that for many people visiting King’s is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This means that in the brief time they are here we need to offer a memorable experience that will stay with them forever.  So my focus will be on ensuring that visitors capture something of the ‘magic’ of King’s.  That might be by simply wondering at the architecture, or by learning of its rich history, or by listening to the Choir at Evensong.  This does not happen on its own and I will be working closely with the team of staff and volunteers to make sure that we are meeting the needs of our visitors.

OC: Which College event are you most looking forward to in the coming year and why?

SF:  This is a significant year in the Chapel at King’s because the organ is being restored – the first time since the 1960s. When I arrived here, the centre of the Chapel was shrouded in scaffolding and the organ had been completely removed. Over the summer, it is being rebuilt and then voiced (tuned) and by September it will be ready ‘for action’. I’m really looking forward to my first experience of hearing this world famous organ.

OC: Where is your favourite place in College and why?

SF: In my previous job, I would often mention King’s College Chapel in my guided tours. That was because the master mason who built the fan vault of King’s College Chapel (John Wastell) was also the master mason of the nave of what is now St Edmundsbury Cathedral.  So I feel a real connection between the two places.  Having the chance to marvel at the King’s vault every day is a real privilege.

OC: What do you think makes King’s College so special?

SF: King’s College, particularly the Chapel, is held in high regard throughout the world. The fact that so many people have either seen or heard the Christmas Eve broadcast in their own homes gives the College a special place in people’s hearts.  King’s has earned that special place through the beauty and quality of the music offered here in its historic setting. That sense of tradition and excellence is what resonates with people.

OC: Is there a little-known fact about the College you can reveal that most people wouldn’t know?

SF: We have a great team of volunteers who work in the Chapel at key times and help explain the building to the visitors. In my first week, I spent some time with them, learning facts and stories. I was delighted to be shown some of the small detail in the stained glass windows – such as a hedgehog and a duck. Perhaps the glaziers were having a bit of fun amidst the rich religious imagery!

OC: Can you mention something the Open Cambridge walkers should look out for?

SF:  As you enter the College into the Front Court you will see a fountain in the centre of the lawn. The Founder of the College, Henry VI, is on the top but on the side facing away from the Chapel is a figure representing Religion, holding a model of the Chapel building. You’ll need to look very carefully to see the model and remember not walk on the lawn – that’s reserved for Fellows.