Creative ideas and solutions for driving commercial income

In this Skip the Queue podcast episode, I speak with Matthew Henderson, founder of Matthew Henderson, Creative Ideas and Solutions.

“So we set up that online shop and literally between a very small team of us, used our existing ticketing platform. And it was a little bit like an episode of The Apprentice, really. There was like no budget, there’s a half a platform there for us to use, how could you turn this around?”

Matthew Henderson is well known across the sector, having won many awards for his creative approach to retail and product development, and is a Trustee of the Association for Cultural Enterprises.

Having increased sales and developed commercial activity as Head of Commercial Operations and Development at Beamish, The Living Museum of the North, Matthew has been inspired to launch Creative Ideas and Solutions. The aim of which is to support other organisations in enhancing their visitor engagement, commercial strategy and product development.



What will you learn from this podcast?

  • Product development
  • How to create commercial products
  • Experiences that truly reflect your organisation
  • Owls, Capital Radio and Russell Brand

Skip the Queue Blog Large Matthew Henderson


To listen to the full podcast, search Skip The Queue on iTunes, Google Podcasts and Spotify to subscribe. You can find links to every episode and more at www.rubbercheese.com/podcast.

You can also read the full transcript below.


The interview

Your host, Kelly Molson

Our guest, Matthew Henderson



Kelly Molson: Matthew, it is absolutely brilliant to have you on the podcast today. I’m just going to tell you, you have been, like, one of the most recommended people to me ever to come on.

Matthew Henderson: Really? 

Kelly Molson: There are so many people, “You’ve got to get Matthew on. You need to get Matthew on to chat to” and finally, we are here. 

Matthew Henderson: Well, thank you so much. That’s an amazing thing to hear, but, yeah, thank you for inviting me on. It’s a real honour to be on it. 

Kelly Molson: Well, shuffed. It’s going to be good. Okay. Right, I’ve got some ice breakers for you. I want to know what is your favourite crisp flavour?

Matthew Henderson: Favourite crisp changes rigged, but at the moment it’s probably squares just for how vinegary they are. 

Kelly Molson: Oh, the sort of vinegar ones? Yeah. 

Matthew Henderson: I would go with them, but occasionally a knickknack I would go for as well, which is quite a controversial opinion. 

Kelly Molson: Spicy knickknack. Did they used to do like a hang on, they did like a fishy one, didn’t they? 

Matthew Henderson: Yeah, I wouldn’t go near that, but, yeah, the spicy one, yeah. Normally I’m a chicken corner kind of guy, but I can handle a knickknack spice.

Kelly Molson: Spicy knickknacks. I’m with you on that one. That is a good solid, crisp flavour. Right, good. Okay, if you had your human body but the head of animal, what animal would you choose? 

Matthew Henderson: Strangely, I actually do have a pet owl, so I feel like just to keep on theme yeah, probably an owl. I think their school is taken up by three quarters. Their school is hitting up by their eyes. Their brain is very small, so maybe I’ll retract that. But wise old owl is quite a myth. But they are sort of very attractive, aren’t they? 

Kelly Molson: They are. Wow. Oh, God. So many questions. You’ve got a pet owl, you’re like Harry Potter. This is incredible. How have you got a pet owl? 

Matthew Henderson: Well, yeah, it’s sort of a bit more run Weasy than Harry Potter would say. Growing up, I used to help my grandma nature reserve and every weekend she used to take me to there on the Saturday and then the Budapest Centre on the Sunday. It was just the sort of thing that we always did and I ended up volunteering there and fell in love with it.

And then I had this little owl, who, when he came in, was written off that he would die overnight. It was so unwell. And I think a cat tried to eat him. All this sort of tragic story. And then every day he got a bit stronger, to the point where he used to come home with me every night. We’ve got a tesco together because you couldn’t leave. It was kind of in my hoodie pocket. 

And then when I sort of stopped volunteering there and got a job, he would have died of heartbreak, really. And I think so died by that point. So 14 years on, he still lives with me. Probably the funniest thing that’s ever happened with Bug is when everyone did Zoom quizzes during lockdown. 

Kelly Molson: Yeah. 

Matthew Henderson: And my friend works for Capital FM and Bug the Owl just happened to be in the background while were playing this quiz. And my friend from there was on, to which he told Roman Kemp the next day about Bug the Owl at work, to which Roman Kemp and FaceTimed me the next day to see Bug the owl. And then me and Bug coal hosted capitol breakfast for 20 minutes one morning, you think lockdown life couldn’t get any stranger. And then you describe what an owl looks like on Capital FM. 

Kelly Molson: This question has gone to a place that I would never expect him to go to. Oh, my God. 

Matthew Henderson: We could get him at the end. 

Kelly Molson: Oh, my God. Please, I would love to meet Bug. And also, my heart has just melted massively from that story. 

Matthew Henderson: Yeah. I love him.

Kelly Molson: Absolutely incredible. 

Matthew Henderson: My friends always say that I should do TikToks with them because I have a dog as well, and the owl will sit on the dog’s head and groom and they’ll play together. And I think if I had more time, they’d probably be a TikTok account for them. 

Kelly Molson: You have to make that. I would download TikTok just for that. Just for you, and Bug and your dog. Oh, my God. Honestly, Matt wasn’t expecting that response. That’s got me all the feels. 

Matthew Henderson: On the random way, I think I would have an owl’s head as a head and a human body. 

Kelly Molson: An excellent reason why. Well, this is random. My next question was, have you ever met a famous person and lost your tiny mind a little bit, but I don’t know if Roman Kemp is enough to make you lose your mind. 

Matthew Henderson: Yeah, I think I actually met Russell Brand. This is another sort of bizarre lockdown story, just as it happens, but I went to his gig, he did an outdoor, socially distanced gig and then at the end he walked past and I got a selfie with him, to which I just put it on Instagram. We haven’t broken any rules. It was all fine.

And the Daily Mail lifted that photograph and ran it on the front page of their website with a story around Russell Brand refusing to social distance, which wasn’t true. But, yeah, he ended up on Hollywood Reports and all sorts of zoom called with him afterwards to talk about it, and he absolutely loved it. But, yeah, meeting him was amazing. And then my ultimate hero is Mike Skinner from the Streets. 

I have his lyrics tattooed, and that probably the only time in life I’ve been absolutely speechless. I just could not say a word when I met him. And he was very nice and very polite. But, yeah, meeting him was pretty amazing. 

Kelly Molson: Oh, my God, Matt, I want your life. 

Matthew Henderson: We might go downhill from there. I think they’re only sort of two impressive odd stories. 

Kelly Molson: They’re probably the best answers to any icebreaker questions I’ve ever asked. 

Matthew Henderson: It’s quite nice because they don’t naturally come up in conversation, either of those points. But maybe that’s the art of icebreaking. 

Kelly Molson: Absolutely. Totally fascinating. Right, well, I don’t know where this is going to go, but what’s your unpopular opinion?

Matthew Henderson: My unpopular opinion is that I’ve never had tea or coffee and I have no desire to. 

Kelly Molson: You’ve never had a brew? You’ve never had a cup of tea? 

Matthew Henderson: Never had one. Yeah. Shocking. And I actually went on a half day course about coffee once I’ve smelled this and learned all about it, but it’s not for me. 

Kelly Molson: I think the coffee one I can get. I think that there’s probably quite a few people that because tea and coffee are very different and I can understand that. But to never even have tried a little sip of tea?

Matthew Henderson: Yeah, nobody’s ever really that impressed with it. Yeah, maybe it’s TikTok and tea this year, maybe that’s the aim.

Kelly Molson: 2023, we’re coming at you. 

Matthew Henderson: About two or three years ago, I tried to grip for the first time, much to all my friends amusement. And I remember afterwards my friend Ben, who’s a very loud lad, and he took me one side and said, “I’m so proud of you for trying that, man”. So I just loved, like, how genuine he was. 

Kelly Molson: Matt, it’s already my favourite podcast. Sorry, everyone, Matt’s got me in tears here. All right. Okay, let’s start where it all began, shall we? Let’s talk about Beamish. So you were there for ten years and you started out as a costume demonstrator? 

Matthew Henderson: Yeah, that’s right. 

Kelly Molson: And then your path went further and further and further in. 

Matthew Henderson: Yeah, it was the best thing ever did. So, like I sort of mentioned, my grandma used to run a nature reserve, a little small cafe and gift shop, and she would let me organise the Christmas tree fairs when I was little. And sometimes I do little markets and fundraisers and stuff. So I think, looking back, I was always sort of destined for a career in tourism from that, because my mom always laughed that I was more excited about seeing the gift shop than I was the attraction a lot of time.

When you look back, it’s so obvious, really, but from there I started volunteering at the Falconry Centre, which is obviously where Bug the Owl came from, and got really interested in the sort of business side of it and the customer service side. 

And I was studying business at college, a six month college, and they said to me, “why didn’t you go and try somewhere else on work experience?” And I was like, “no, I’m going to work at the Falconry Centre. That’s my sort of thing I’m going to do”. And they were like, “Why didn’t you just go for four half days, like four afternoons to Beamish, which was about 20 minutes up the road, and just see what it’s like?” And instantly, within about an hour of being there, I realised it was the people that I loved working with. And for all I loved the animal side, that it was that tourism, that business, that people and that culture that I loved. 

And then, yeah, from there, I think it’s sort of seven different jobs, but progressed from work experience to being a volunteer to then a costume demonstrator, and that’s how it kind of started. 

Kelly Molson: Amazing. So many people start their career at one level in an attraction and just work and that’s what happened, isn’t it? So ultimately, you ended up as head of commercial operations. 

Matthew Henderson: Yeah, several different jobs, and was really fortunate with my time at Beamish that I did an apprenticeship, which I’m really sort of proud to have come from a non traditional route into the sector and then did an assistant role and an officer role and started did a maternity cover. And all these sort of real brilliant opportunities from Beamish led to that head of commercial role, which was final role at the museum. 

Kelly Molson: Yeah. So Beamish, to give context to people that haven’t been to Beamish, and don’t understand what it is. It’s a living museum, isn’t it? And you’ve kind of got like little mini attractions within this attraction itself. It’s absolutely incredible. 

Matthew Henderson: Yeah, definitely. It’s a living museum. It’s around 400 acres in size and Beamish tells a story of everyday life in the Northeast in various different time periods. But the majority of the buildings have been moved brick by brick or stone by stone and recreated. So the buildings themselves are as much as part of the museum and the museum’s collection as the object inside it. But they use everyday objects to tell the story of life in the Northeast. So rather than having it in a glass case and obviously there’s a need to protect some object in the museum’s collection and stores, sometimes it’s replica. But the majority of real collections that have been really used, whether that’s a teapot or a post tube or how can that history be brought to life? So, yeah, there’s some amazing museum living museums around the world. 

Matthew Henderson: I think Beamish is one of the standouts, really.

Kelly Molson: Yeah. I think the term immersive is being thrown around, like, a bit willy nilly at the moment. But for me, that is a really immersive museum experience, isn’t it? Because when you go, people are in traditional costume and you can go and see things being made. Like, Matt very kindly people that are listening that won’t be able to see this, but Matt very kindly sent me some sweets in the post from Beamish, which I’ll just show on camera here. And the sweets get handmade in the shop and you can go and see that happening. And using all the traditional methods, So it is a fantastically kind of immersive museum experience that you can get involved in. So everything’s going swim and knee and then all of a sudden there’s a global pandemic. Life takes a bit of a turn, doesn’t it?

Matthew Henderson: Yeah, definitely. So I was working on product development at Beamish at the time, so we’ve been doing a lot of really exciting work about how could we use the museum’s collections to create products that truly reflected that experience. And Beamish is a dream for that kind of thing, because, like you say, there’s so many sort of hands on opportunities and there’s so many stories to be told.

And I think one of my favourite things about working in Beamish was that you have these pockets of specialism right around the museum. So you could go and have a conversation with the curator of transport and learn the intricacies of sort of steam and charms and buses and then try and come up with product from that. Or you could go and speak to the garden team or the horse team. 

So were making all this sort of exciting product and then, yeah, the museum was on the rise. Visitor numbers have been going up, income had been going up, and then, yeah, the gates were shut and 95% of the income comes from visitors. And suddenly there was a need to try and diversify and to engage that audience, which is where some of the sort of work that we did during lockdown came from. 

Kelly Molson: And some of the things that you did are absolutely brilliant. So I saw you speak at the Museum and Heritage Awards last year and you shared some of the things that you did during lockdown that helped to drive revenue and they’re so good. Some of the examples that you shared are just so creative and so genius. Can you tell us a little bit about some of them? 

Matthew Henderson: Yeah, so the first thing we did was set up an online shop. So the idea being that we didn’t want it to feel like a traditional online shop, we wanted it to reflect the museum experience, where you can go into the sweet shop and buy sweets, you can go into the cooperative store and buy biscuits, you can go into the various different sort of exhibits and participate. Like the chemist, for instance, has a cold cream that’s a recipe from 100 years ago.

So we set up that online shop and literally between a very small team of us used our existing ticketing platform. And it was a little bit like an episode of The Apprentice, really. There was like no budget, there’s a half a platform there for us to use and how could you turn this around? 

And I think because everyone at Beamish had such passion for it. It was a very concerning time, but also a very exciting time, thinking that we could try and drive some income. And we started seeing support from around the world. People were ordering these sort of tins of sweets and all this sort of product development work that we’d been doing. It was actually perfectly aligned that we had these unique products that could be sold. And then we started to think, well, how else could we use online?

So the Head of Learning, Simon Woolley, who’s a brilliant person, he started doing school lessons. So he would do murder mysteries online and Victorian school lessons for schools around the world. Me and him said, “there surely must be an opportunity for home schoolers here”. 

Matthew Henderson: So we started putting Victorian lessons on for home schoolers where they could order a slate and pencil in the post from the online shop and then Simon would essentially sort of scare them for an hour at the Victorian Headmaster. And the day was basically with the parents that we look after your kids for an hour, you have an hour off and they can participate in this living museum.

Then we did things like afternoon tea deliveries. So we have famous of amazing bakers. They came to the museum and created these unbelievable afternoon teas along with tea and coffee that were sourced from local supplies and branded as Beamish specific blends for them. And we sent out costume staff to deliver them. 

So you could only order them, you could order them from around the world, but they would only be delivered in the North East because we wanted to deliver them by hand, safely, but in full costume.

And I remember a quote that came from Jeff, who was one of the costume team that was delivering them and he said, “people ordered them from as far and wide to the nearest and dearest, the United States, Australia and Europe. And occasionally there were real tears of gratitude from the receiver where it felt a privilege to be bringing a ray of happiness to someone.” And that sums it up for me, really. 

Kelly Molson: That is incredible, isn’t it? 

Matthew Henderson: Because it wasn’t only about generating income, it was about keeping connected with that community. And 50% of Beamish’s audience is local, so being able to sort of literally go to the doorstep of 1200 people, which is like the equivalent of visiting every family that came on a bank holiday. If you think in terms of scale of two or three drivers out there for a few weeks delivering them and that was a really special thing.

And then I think probably we still we started wholesale ventures, we started selling to the likes of Fenix and farm shops when retail shops could be opened. But museums and visit attractions weren’t just a diversified income and that was like, again, about generating income, but also that connection with people. 

And it was really exciting for those shops when Beamish turned up in full costumes with these handmade sweets and keeping that name out there, that sort of museum alive. But I think for me the most special thing was we were faced with the prospect that maybe Father Christmas has gone, wouldn’t go ahead and how could we do an online offer of that was the challenge put forward.

So we did for 13 hours a day, we did zoom calls with Father Christmas around sort of well over 1000 children took part in that.  And every ten minutes, Father Christmas would call a different family and would have these absolutely amazing moments where grandparents would join in the call and seeing their children engage, their grandchildren engage with Father Christmas. 

And you would see parents, grandparents just in floods of tears saying these really special moments because we could collect information in advance that Father Christmas could use to make it even more special. And really did sort of bring the magic. So that was me and Father Christmas and a small team for sort of hours a day and it was just a really special way of connecting with our audience. 

Kelly Molson: There’s so many different ideas there as well, Matthew. I mean, obviously you’ve got your team around you as well. How did you go about working out what you were going to do? Because I can imagine that there were more ideas that actually didn’t happen as well. Right, so how did you work out that process of going, yeah, that’s the one, we can run with that. No, these ones, they’re just not going to work for us. 

Matthew Henderson: I think essentially there’s a little bit of looking at the resource that was available and the sort of finances behind it. If it was a nice thing to do, was it at least going to sort of generate a small income and then what were the things that were going to really drive income from the museum?

And Rhiannon Hiles is the CEO of Beamish, was incredibly supportive as she was sort of leading the museum and me and her would have these conversations where one of us would come up with an idea. And the Father Christmas thing actually started out it was going to be pre recorded videos and it was her that said, “no, this needs to feel exactly like the experience of the museum. We need to create that magic”. 

So, yeah, just really great support from her, really great team that were willing to give everything a go and it was just a real chance to bring commercials to the front of everything the museum was doing. And I think from there we really did connect with that audience. I remember one of the Father Christmas calls, a parent had written that a child no longer believed in Father Christmas because the last time they saw him was in America, and he has an American accent.

And our Father Christmas, luckily, could speak different languages. So straight away he said, “loving to meet you”. If it was Bethany, he said, “Love it to meet you, Bethany. I saw you last time in Florida, didn’t I?” And you could see a little bit of magic. He said, “the thing is, wherever I go, I change my accent, I change the language, like when I go to France”. And then spoke in fluent French, and you could see this kind of like moment where the magic was just literally back in that house. It’s like on a film where you sort of see the sort of stars coming back in and it’s back to life, and you could see the joy in her parents face.

And you think, if we hadn’t been allowed to do those calls, what would that magic have been for her in these horrible circumstances? Equally, on the flip side, our Father Christmas only really knew French and English. 

We were hoping there’s not going to any last minute request as we kind of moved on the conversation. 

Kelly Molson: So you saw magic in one window and sweat in another window.

Matthew Henderson: Behind the zoom screen. Yeah. Father Christmas sometimes had a little auto queue that I could give him prompts on, and we had a great time doing those things. 

Kelly Molson: It’s incredible to go to that level of detail as well. To be able to put that magic back is absolutely phenomenal. What you mentioned, you said that everyone was willing to give it a go, and I think that’s something that’s really important to talk about because there was a level of like during the pandemic, well, let’s just try it, right? What can we do? Can’t do anything worse than actually is what’s happening, right? So let’s just give it a go.

So people were quite brave in some of the things that they were doing. Do you think that’s got lost a little bit now? Do you think people are a bit more cautious about what they’re doing? 

Matthew Henderson: I think there’s definitely a thing where the day to day takes over again, and I think there’s a real opportunity to look at sort of strategy and given the opportunity for teams to come up with ideas, creative ideas, and then allowing them to happen, I think, with Beamish, I’m not certain we would have made an online shop within the last few years because you managing multiple different exhibits, outlets, operations, and it was never sort of creeping to the top of the priorities list. 

So I think the pandemic offered an opportunity to really question what you were doing and like, I said, give things a go. And Beamish has certainly carried on that sort of innovation with Rhiannon Hiles, CEO, I’m sure that will continue.

But, yeah, I think there is perhaps a thing where the day to day takes over and I think it’s maybe coming together through things like the podcast that you do and the work at  Association for Cultural Enterprise does and Museum and Heritage Show and hearing those inspirational stories. And I think we’ve all got those moments where you sit and hear somebody speak and then you just can’t wait to get back to where you work to try and sort of pivot from that point, really. 

Kelly Molson: Yeah. It’s the same with me, to be honest. I went on a new business and marketing workshop last week and came out of that completely and utterly inspired by the people that were delivering the course, by the people that were on the course with me as well. And now we’re kind of back in the day to day doing. You have to really be careful to make sure that you carve out the time to do those things, don’t you? You have to give time for innovation, you have to give time to be creative because you need the headspace to be able to actually do it, don’t you?  

Matthew Henderson: Definitely. And I think if you’re working in a visit attraction, there’s a lot to be said around the fact that it is a joy to work in these places, because the whole purpose of them is to bring joy to people. So for me, it’s often about sort of standing and looking at the attraction, walking through it when it’s busy, sort of hearing those conversations, working front of house.

And then I always find that at the moment when you realise, for me, I started as a costume demonstrator and that was the thing that I loved. Every time you got the opportunity to work with the visitors, to work with those people, it reignited that passion of, this is why we’re here. So for all in management, you might sort of step further away and you might be more in sort of meetings and the like. 

I think it’s about still being connected and realising why we’re all in this industry. 

Kelly Molson: Yeah. Off podcast earlier, when Matthew and I were chatting, we actually had a conversation about how our earliest memories are from attractions, aren’t they? They’re from places that we’ve been to, so I can remember one of my earliest memories is feeding the ducks, a place called Forty Hall in Enfield. It’s a lovely heritage home. It’s got beautiful grounds. It was really close to where my nan and granddad lived, so we used to always visit my nan and grandad and then go there afterwards.

And it’s one of my earliest memories of really happy times. And it’s a visitor attraction, so we have to remember the impact that we’re having on people from a really young age. And that’s a huge responsibility and also something wonderful to be part of. 

Matthew Henderson: Yeah, completely. I went to Sovereign Hill in Australia, which is a living museum, a few years ago, and one of their directors said to me, “it’s an honour to bring joy to millions of people”. And often you might see that joy firsthand, but then it’s like you say, you would never really know the impact of that work.

You would never know that people like you and me are talking about feeding the ducks all them years later. And I think it’s every time you get an opportunity to create something or to work with someone, it’s about making it the most special thing and that’s how you get that legacy. 

And I think for Beamish in particular, the people of the Northeast have a real love for it because everybody has a connection to it, whether they donate as an object, whether they know somebody that used to live in one of the houses before it was moved, whether they went there on a school trip. And I think it’s about working with all those generations.

And I love the idea that we might create retail products and you don’t really know where in the world they end up or who’s going to treasure them. And it’s a real honour and I think you have to keep remembering that, especially when sort of day to day work maybe sort of takes over or feels a little heavy. 

Kelly Molson: Yeah. So you’ve moved on from Beamish now. Let’s talk a little bit about some of the things you’re doing. I’m a recent Trustee of the Museum of the Broads, which is quite a big responsibility, actually, and I’m really enjoying it, but it’s all quite new for me. But you’ve been a trustee for quite a while, haven’t you, for the Association for Cultural Enterprises? 

Matthew Henderson: Yeah. So off the back of the work that Beamish did during lockdown, I’ve got the opportunity to speak at the Cultural Enterprise Conference and then met some of the team there and had kept in touch with Jill, who’s the brilliant CEO. And then yeah, the advert went out that they were looking for trustees and it was one of those things I spoke to Rhiannon at Beamish and sort of said, “do you think you would apply for this?” And she was saying, “Well, I think you should.” And it said, “Why didn’t you give this a go?”

And I think that’s what I was really asking was, “should I give this a go?” So I applied and interviewed and, yeah, it’s been one of the best things ever done, connecting with the work of the association, but also the other board members. 

So sitting on a board for me, like some of my sort of industry heroes, really, and getting to hear them speak. And sometimes I’ll be in these board meetings and I’ll realise I haven’t spoken in a little while because you’re so busy listening to them and you kind of forget that you’re part of it, really.  So, yeah, they’ve been really welcoming to me and been a big part in the decision to give this new venture a go. 

Kelly Molson: Yeah. So this is exciting. So I am going to guess that everyone that you’ve been speaking to there has been really supportive of this. But you have jumped in with 2ft and you’ve set up a new consultancy. Tell us a little bit about it. 

Matthew Henderson: So where it came from was, through the work that I’ve been doing and the work for the Association for Cultural Enterprise, people had been very kind in the sort of words that they were saying about some of the work we’ve done. And then often I was visiting other attractions or meeting them and helping to come up with creative ideas.

So the new sort of venture is allowing that to be a full time thing for me so that I can offer more support to these organisations, whether that’s on product development, whether that’s on community co production, creative strategy. So, yeah, it’s a very new thing, but really exciting. 

And like we sort of said at the start, I think from that moment of helping my grandma at the nature reserve, you kind of look back and it was always meant to be that you would work in tourism and then this path has come quite naturally, really. 

Kelly Molson: It’s really exciting. And congratulations on getting set up and taking the big leap into doing it for yourself. How do you start this process with an attraction? Because I guess just thinking about what you’ve been through at Beamish, I mean, it was perfectly set for all of the things that you did. You’ve got this amazing heritage there, you’ve got these artefacts that you can take design elements from for packaging and everything kind of came together so beautifully. How do you start to look at that, doing those things in a different organisation? 

Matthew Henderson: So I think if it’s a product development, there’s a lot to be said around, hopefully getting to know the team that are working in the shop. They’ll know what sells well and what doesn’t, and if they have any data to sort of back that up. But a lot of the time, those informal conversations of, “I wish we had a magnet wave exxon”, or speaking to the front of house teams of what are the things that the visitors find emotive, what do they laugh at? What do they cry at? What do they take a photograph of? And then, how can we draw inspiration from that to create product ranges? And that’s a lovely challenge and it takes working with the team, I think, because it’s a new venture. 

 One of the things I’m really keen on is that the support isn’t a standard package, so depending on the attraction, I can sort of flex up, flex down and take different approaches, but very much about putting those people at the heart. It’s not a consultant coming in to say this is how you should be doing, it’s more about allowing them to discover this is the different way you can do it. And we don’t all have to have the same I keep using magnets, but magnets or food and what are the opportunities to support local, to create different things to be sustainable in terms of packaging and environmental impact? So, yeah, really exciting. But it’s about putting those people at the heart of it all, I think.

Kelly Molson: Because we talk quite a lot, don’t we? About having things that are niche, like products and things on your shelves that you can only get at that attraction.  Not just the blanket. Everybody’s got these things. It’s just another thing with the logo on it. And I think there’s also a big part about at the moment especially, where we still don’t really know what’s coming this year.

Attractions, I guess, still pretty nervous. They’ve had a really rough time the last few years and this year might not be that much better, we don’t know. But it’s thinking about what more they can do with what they already have. So looking at the products they already have and actually can we improve those rather than something from scratch? What more can we do to make this better? 

Matthew Henderson: Yeah, definitely. And I think people understandably in the current climate are even more cautious with money. So it’s about making sure that it’s an experience, that the experience doesn’t stop when you get to the gift shop door that carries on. So how can you create product that is reflective of that amazing day they’ve had that memory and that they can take a piece of it home?

And I think that’s the challenge and one that is really exciting to work with organisations and attractions to do and not always the most expensive thing to do. I think there’s always ways to find smaller suppliers, local suppliers that can offer that bespoke and offering support both ways. 

So if it’s a small producer that works in a certain town, reassuring them that, “look, it is a risk for you, it is an investment for you to partner with an attraction and to do something bespoke but look at the benefits when this happens”. What can we put in place to work both sides? Do we make an agreement that we’ll keep stocking it until you’ve run all those labels out? Because those labels might be a big investment for a small company or a small business. So, yeah, it’s adaptable solutions, but making sure experience is key, I think.

Kelly Molson: That’s really nice as well, isn’t it? Because it builds the partnership between local organisations and therefore you’re kind of actively both promoting each other. 

Matthew Henderson: Yeah, completely. And I think especially now, I think there is so many from lockdown. A lot of people change their lives, didn’t they? And a lot of people set up as local producers or suppliers. And if they were there before, I think they had a really rough time during that. And that was one of the things with the work at Beamish, was really support and local and it’s such an exciting thing to find a coffee supplier or a tea supplier. Not that I’d be sampling either of them.

Kelly Molson: Wasted on you. 

Matthew Henderson: Yeah, a fudge supplier, and bring them into the heart of the thing that often they pay to take their family to. And how can you find opportunities to involve them? So could they go to morning briefings and bring everyone a cup of tea to try it? How do you make sure that the person stands in behind the till has as much passion about that coffee as the person that makes it?

And it’s by showing them that connection that every time they get an order that there’s sort of a celebration in that office. Really, that, “wow, look, we’ve had another order from this organisation”. Our business is strengthening and it goes back to the point where the customer is buying something and you want that person selling it to have as much passion. 

So a lot around staff ownership, I think, is quite key with it. 

Kelly Molson: Yeah. I love that idea of celebration, isn’t it? That’s really important, isn’t it, to drive that kind of passion for what you’re doing. 

Matthew Henderson: Yeah, completely. And I think in all of our own businesses, often that’s a private thing, isn’t it, to celebrate it and while we’re chuffed, because you have to kind of look cool and as if you don’t really need the work or don’t. But actually, it’s about sort of really celebrating those moments.

And I think through the work that the Museum and Heritage Show do and the Association of Cultural Enterprise, I think it’s about celebrating those moments and really enjoying it on a bigger scale. But for those local producers, I love the idea that someone might buy something local and have a feel good moment. 

So, yeah, it’s really nice to buy something that’s a memory or a part of the attraction, but also that feel good of supporting the attraction, which is often a charity within the cultural heritage sector, but then also supporting local and UK businesses. So, yeah, there’s a lot of lovely moments to be had, I think

Kelly Molson: Isn’t there? I’ve got, like, a big grin on my face while we’re chatting about now. It’s lovely, Matt. And I think, actually, we can’t talk about celebrating without discussing your recent award, because you won quite a fantastic award recently, didn’t you? Let’s talk about it. Let’s celebrate it. 

Matthew Henderson: Thank you. Yeah, it was an amazing thing. So my great friend Matthew Hunt, who was formerly at the Science Museum, nominated me for Rising Star, the Cultural Enterprise Awards. And then I was sort of blown away that he would even consider that and then somehow won that. And literally this isn’t something maybe I shouldn’t be saying on the podcast, but I was literally talking to the person next to me and didn’t hear because I didn’t know that ever seen that I would win.

So went up and was like, over the moon to win. And to be in that room full of those people years was I remember getting back to the hotel. I just couldn’t sleep. Sort of reliving that. But then actually, there’d been a vote for the overall winner during the conference and amazingly won that as well. 

So, yeah, it was certainly something that it was something that sent to my mom, really, a photograph of those two awards. And then the museum had great success as well, with Best Shop for the market stalls, a lot of market stalls that they did in the museum. And heritage awards and the Pandemic Pivot award. And best products for the cold cream and the chemist shop.

So it was lovely as a team, really, at Beamish to celebrate those wins. And Allison, who’s the stock manager at Beamish, we had a little shelf for those trophies and it was just in our little stock room. But it’s a really special thing for a team that had sort of been brought to the front through lockdown because of the needs. 

Kelly Molson: I think that’s wonderful and it’s really good. Like you say, it’s really important to celebrate all those little wins and they’re big wins and they definitely need to be celebrated. It’s been phenomenal talking to you today. Thank you so much for coming on. We always ask our podcast listeners to recommend a book that they love for us, something that might be something that they just enjoy reading to their children. It might be something that’s helped shape their career in some way. What have you got for us today? 

Matthew Henderson: Thank you. So I’m actually, in between leaving Beamish and this new venture, I had four weeks off where I went to the movie theatre to volunteer. So my thing was that I was going to take loads of books and to sort of read. And actually being a walking by lines in the middle of the night and not being able to sleep was a need to do that.

And I read a book called A Bit Of A Stretch by Chris Atkins, and it’s not a book that would normally jump off the shelf to me, but it’s a real story about his time that he spent in Wandsworth Prison after being involved in a tax avoidance scheme. And it’s this day by day diary of his time in Wandsworth. And the reason that I picked that is previously, Johnson King hearing outreach, working in prisons.

And I think at the moment, everyone’s looking at the things that we can see in terms of cuts and the things that need support, but actually, for prison and sort of rehabilitation, it’s behind a wall. And we never sort of look at it or think about it because it’s not in many of our day to day lives. But that book and that sort of time for the work that I did in there really brought those people and those people that work there to the front. So I would recommend that I feel like every person in the country should have a copy of that book and it’s just the most emotive funny book that I’ve ever read. So, yeah, I would definitely recommend it. 

You could keep out the lions roaring over the top of it, but certainly I would recommend to anybody to read that. 

Kelly Molson: Brilliant. That great recommendation. Never been recommended before either, so this is a new one for us. Well, listen, if you want to win a copy of that book, as ever, if you go over to our Twitter account and you retweet this episode announcement with the words, I want Matthew’s book, then you’ll be in with the chance of winning it. It’s been brilliant to have you on, Matthew. I’m so glad that everybody recommended you to come on. I’m so glad that I took their advice. Your new venture is called Creative Ideas and Solutions. Your website address is your name, right? 

Matthew Henderson: It is, yes. It’s MatthewHenderson.net

Kelly Molson: There we go. We’re going to put all of that in the show notes, so if you do fancy a chat with Matt, you’ll be able to find him there. Matt, keep being you, because, honestly, this has been such a delight to talk to you. I’ve loved every single minute of it. I hope Bug is well and continues to be your best bud. 

Matthew Henderson: Thanks so much for the invitation here. It’s a real honour. So thank you for that. 

Kelly Molson: It’s been great. And maybe you’ll come on again. Maybe come on again next year and you can tell us how things have been going. 

Matthew Henderson: Yeah, that’d be amazing. Yeah, I’ll bring Bug with me. 

Kelly Molson: That’s what I was hoping for. 


Do you know someone we should be talking to?

Do you know someone fascinating we should be talking to?

If so, email us at hello@rubbercheese.com – we’ll get back to you shortly.

Paul Wright.
Kelly Molson Managing Director

Host of the popular Skip the Queue Podcast, for people working in or working with visitor attractions, she regularly delivers workshops and presentations on the sector at various national conferences and universities including The Visitor Attractions Conference, ASVA and Anglia Ruskin University.

Read more about me

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