From award winning breakfast cereal to award winning visitor attraction. The story of Pensthorpe with Bill and Deb Jordan

In this Skip the Queue podcast I speak with Bill and Deb Jordan, owners of Pensthorpe.

Leading the flock are the enigmatic owners of Pensthorpe; Bill and Jordan. Prior to purchasing Pensthorpe in 2003, the couple lived in Bedfordshire where Deb had a successful career in fashion and photography, and Bill ran Jordans, the hugely successful cereal business he co-founded with his brother.

Wanting to raise their two children in Deb’s native Northfolk, they jumped at the chance to buy Pensthorpe and combine Bill’s knowledge of sustainable farming practices with their longstanding love of nature.

They’ve been part of the landscape ever since.


“So we had a day looking around Pensthorpe which kind of came out of the blue and, I think we were sort of rather bowled over, knocked out by it all. It was, the kids were, surprisingly quiet and reflective.” – Bill Jordan

“And I really wasn’t very on board at all, but I have to admit that once here it’s an extraordinary site and it sort of pulls you in. It’s a place that you sort of, not too sure why, but you feel very connected to it.” – Deb Jordan

What will you learn from this podcast?

  • The heartwarming highs and lows of creating the multi award winning tourist attraction.
  • What part Bill Oddie played in it
  • How you create a work/life balance when you live inside your attraction!

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.

Bill and Deb Jordan Blog large

The interview

Your host, Kelly Molson

Our guests, Bill Jordan and Deb Jordan



Kelly Molson: Bill and Deb, thank you so much for coming on the podcast today. It’s absolutely lovely to see you both. We’re going to start off with a few small icebreaker questions just to get us warmed up. So we’re going to talk a little bit about cereal today. It’s going to be part of the conversation. I want to know, what has been the worst food that you’ve both ever eaten?

Bill Jordan: Oh, my word. I think school food didn’t exactly do much for us.

Kelly Molson: School dinners?

Deb Jordan: One of my flatmates once complained that I had a tin of meatballs in the fridge that was open. So now I realise that many moons ago, I did used to eat badly in London.

Kelly Molson: All right. Tins of cold meatballs in the fridge. To be fair, I quite like cold beans straight out of the tin.

Bill Jordan: Oh, really.

Kelly Molson: So I’d probably go for the cold meatballs, actually.

Bill Jordan: Yeah.

Kelly Molson: I might be all right with that. Let’s go for your unpopular opinions.

Deb Jordan: An unpopular opinion. I get very wound up about spin. I really do go off on one. It could be about anything where people actually say, so they pick up on something like children using mobile phones. Therefore, they will say that their business prevents that, and it’s all to do with the fact that X, Y, Z. I just get frustrated when people use something that they’ve heard of in the press that is good for people. Even if it’s like a cereal packet where it’s saying this is healthy for you. Probably because I’ll know that Bill will tell me exactly how many calories it’s got in it. It’s all a load of rubbish. But that is an opinion I get very wound up about. I hope I don’t then fall into the frame of actually being accused of doing the same thing.

Bill Jordan: I think when I heard the question, I got slightly concerned that I’d reached a sort of age where I didn’t even recognise whether the views are unpopular or not.

Kelly Molson: We’re all getting there, Bill. Oh, I love that. Well, that’s a good opinion to have. I wouldn’t say that’s very unpopular, but I think that’s a good opinion to have.

Bill Jordan: Might be the definition of being out of touch.

Kelly Molson: I doubt that very much considering what we’re going to talk about today. We’re going to talk about Pensthorpe today. I mean, I think it’s one of Norfolk’s best-kept secrets. Whenever I talk about Pensthorpe, I have been describing it to people recently and telling them how fabulous it is, and they go, “I’ve never been there. We go to Norfolk quite a lot.” And I’m like, “Right. Well, you have to go there now.” So I’ve convinced at least 10 people recently that Pensthorpe is top of their list of places to go. It’s just phenomenal.

But, I want to know what were your backgrounds prior to Pensthorpe? Because they’re very different. They weren’t in the attractions industry at all, were they?

Deb Jordan: No, not at all. I think Bill needs to lead on that one.

Bill Jordan: Okay. Well, mine, for about 30 … Probably more years than that. I’d founded and was running with my brother a breakfast cereal company. I guess you’d call it such a natural food company in the days when there was a natural food movement. There was quite a reaction against factory food, which of course still goes on today. So my background was much more about food and land use and farming practice and local food and nutrition and all of those things, which I still find very fascinating. Although, thankfully, I’m not that closely involved as I used to be, because it’s hard work.

Kelly Molson: I can imagine that’s hard work. Did you come from a farming background prior to that? Did you grow up in that environment?

Bill Jordan: Yeah. We all grew up at on a flour mill, which still exists in Bedfordshire. Our mum still lives there. She’s 96.

Kelly Molson: Oh, wow.

Bill Jordan: She’s lived in the same house for over 70 years. Yeah, we were lucky. We got brought up as kids kind of above the shop, really. It was a mill that made white flour. It made brown flour. It made animal feed. It was an interesting place to live. A lot going on.

Kelly Molson: Wow. You were kind of in it, right? You lived and worked there?

Bill Jordan: Yeah. School holidays, you had to bag up animal feed or pack flour or something. It was kind of went with living there, really.

Kelly Molson: Yeah. Deb, what about you? What’s your background?

Deb Jordan: Well, I was very lucky to be born and live in Ringstead in Norfolk, which is only about 20 minutes, 25 minutes drive away. My dad was a farmer on the Le Strange Estate. The farm ran at the back of old Hunstanton. Yeah, idyllic. In the summer holidays, we were very lucky to just be out, left to just roam. I think actually once I ran away. I found a really nice spot to sit for the day.

And by about 7:00 PM, I thought, “Actually, nobody cares. Nobody’s noticed.” And that did actually really make me laugh. I remember saying to my mum when I got back, “Did you not know? Did you not notice I’d run away? So she’d, “No. I know you went out in a very mad mood. But no, I hadn’t noticed yet, darling. The good thing is you were hungry and here you are.”

I just remember thinking, “Gosh, when you look back, how lucky that was.” It sort of made you stand on your own two feet. You used to get involved with a bit of wild oat picking and have jumps around the farm, around the house. But sadly … I say sadly because it didn’t really suit me. I was sent away to boarding school quite a long way away and was rather rebellious and unhappy, but a very privileged start.

I think that probably stays with you forever about the nature and the fun. There’s so much to explore, and you don’t really need too much else other than a bicycle and the nature to make a very happy childhood.

Kelly Molson: Oh God, that’s really lovely. Ringstead is a very beautiful place as well. There’s a lovely pub there called The Gin Trap that I’ve been to a number of times. Yes.

Deb Jordan: Spent a lot of my youth in The Gin Trap. Yes. Sipping gin and orange or something ghastly with a boyfriend from cross lake.

Kelly Molson: Oh, what a lovely, so that’s really nice to hear, actually. I didn’t realise how kind of embedded nature had been into both of your childhoods really, which I guess brings us to Pensthorpe. And you purchased it in, it was in 2003, wasn’t it? And it was originally a bird reserve. What made you make the jump into buying something like this and you know, how did that happen?

Bill Jordan: Well, it was a very unusual day when we first got to see the Pensthorpe, we had the children were, I don’t know, kind of able to walk by that time. And we had a day in wandering around Pensthorpe.

Deb Jordan: Six and eight. 

Bill Jordan: Six and eight. There you go. I’m no good at it. So we had a day looking around Pensthorpe which kind of came out of the blue and no, I think we were sort of rather bowled over, knocked out by it all. It was, the kids was surprisingly quiet and reflective. We were having a good time and we’d read somewhere that it was possibly up for sale. So when we were walking out of Pensthorpe, we asked the lady behind the counter, “Is it still for sale? Has it been sold?” And they said, “Well, you better go and speak to that gentleman over there. That’s Bill Mackins.” And we did. And then we kind of got pulled into the whole site. Yes that’s how it happened.

Deb Jordan: It was actually, Bill had been looking for some years. He was always interested in properties for sale in Norfolk. I think he may have been thinking that his connection with Jordan’s and conservation and great farming and that he, I think he was already feeling he needed to put his money where his mouth was and start something to do with food in the countryside.

A bit like the sort of taste of north, but type thing I think was going on in the back of his head. So he was often buzzing around on the bicycle looking and when Pensthorpe came up, I actually saw it and he was looking at my magazine and I said, “No way, no, no, no.” So actually then we were visiting Norfolk because we did a lot with our children to see my parents and it sort of came to that.

Well, why don’t we just go and look? And I really wasn’t very on board at all, but I have to admit that once here it’s an extraordinary site and it sort of pulls you in. It’s a place that you sort of, not too sure why, but you feel very connected to it. And I think that it really surprised us that day that it took us in and it took us along and then meeting the owner and him connecting with the children.

It must have been about this time of year because then obviously the birds molt and there was a lot of feathers that the children have just spent the whole time looking for feathers and putting them in a bag. And we had to sort of say to the owner, look, we haven’t been plucking your birds. This whole collection is then explaining to us the molting, that how at this time of the year, everything, all the ducks and geese use their feathers and can’t fly.

So they’re all on the ground. And it’s extraordinary at the moment how we’ve got hundreds of gray legs and geese all sitting, waiting for that time where the feathers have grown through and they can then take off again. But it was just that he then had some peacock feathers and said, “Look here kids take these home.” And he knew my dad. So he was saying that he had known my dad before he died. And so there was a sort of an immediate connection there.

And then I think he could see that Bill was very interested. And then he suggested before we left, because we’d asked about it being up to sale, he told us that it’d fallen through and he suggested that Bill meet somebody called Tim Neva, that was working in Cambridge and was working locally. And that sort of rather started the ball rolling. Yeah.

Bill Jordan: Yes. I think another sort of link had been the fact that with Jordan, so amongst other things, we’d done quite a lot of work on the supply chain for the cereals. So we were working by then with quite a lot of farmers who were quite conservation minded and were putting habitats onto their farm for increasing wildlife and doing all of those sort of things, which of course was being done at Pensthorpe. So it was an aspect of what we’d been used to in the food industry. And it was done being done very well here at Pensthorpe. So yeah, that’s kind of how it fitted in as well.

Kelly Molson: What a wonderful story. You went to visit and then ended up buying the place. I love that.

Bill Jordan: Well, it was bit of a shock. It wasn’t kind of on the cards that’s for sure.

Deb Jordan: No, I think it was funny things to, you could have looked back and at the time I think we could see the beauty of the place, the fact that you thought, oh my goodness, Nancy’s bringing up a family here and getting connected to all this and the bird life and everything else. I think what probably happened, which was, in hindsight, wasn’t so good was that this connection with somebody that was a very good salesperson on behalf of filmmakers, who was saying I’ll bring my family from Brisbane in Australia because they ran the Mariba wetland out there. So I can run this for you. So we actually spent a lot of time working with Tim prior to buying it and hearing how he was going to bring his wife and do the total daily running of the place. And that it would be, “Deb, you can get involved in the hub and bringing in crafts people and local produce and local gift and Bill can get involved in farm when we see him”, because it’s going to, you were still at George.

Deb Jordan: And it wasn’t. So we signed on the dotted line up on December 20th, 2002. And about three weeks, four weeks later, we had a phone call from Tim Neva there about saying, “I’m really sorry, but my wife, my boys are older than I thought. They’re very at home in Queensland. And Gwyneth doesn’t feel that it’s actually something she could do at the minute, but I will be very supportive and I will come and be helpful.” So that was a big shock. And so we put the house up for sale and pretty well moved during Jan, Feb, March 2003.

Bill Jordan: I think within about 10 weeks, poor Deborah had to move the children from one school to another and make sure he got some housing. You trying to sell the housing you’re in Bedfordshire. So it was a bit of a traumatic time.

Kelly Molson: Oh my goodness.

Bill Jordan: Amusingly, our children, children. They’re big. Now they remind us every now and then that what we put them through and shouldn’t we be guilty. We have to take it on the chin every time they raise it.

Kelly Molson: I bet. I mean, that’s incredible. Isn’t it? So you, so suddenly you’ve gone from, “oh, okay, well we’re going to do this, but we’ve got someone that will manage it for us” to “that’s it. They’re not coming and you are in it. This is your deal. You’ve got to do it.” So Bill, were you still juggling Jordans at the same time? So you had,

Bill Jordan: Yeah.

Kelly Molson: You had both responsibilities.

Bill Jordan: Jordans were still going full ball. Yeah.

Kelly Molson: How did you manage that?

Bill Jordan: Well the usual thing, I handed it over to the lady on my left here.

Kelly Molson: Of course.

Bill Jordan: We done most of it since then.

Kelly Molson: Wow, Deb. That was, so that was not what you were expecting at all. And then suddenly you’ve had to completely change your life, move your children, move them to school, move home, and now you are managing a bird reserve.

Deb Jordan: Yeah, we were very naive and it was a struggle. Yeah. I think we’re both quite resilient and there really wasn’t much that could be done other than let’s just crack on. And just try and keep really focused and learn from all the people that were already here. And Tim was definitely in the mix, but I hadn’t realised that it would mean moving that quickly or looking for somebody to manage it. It was pretty full on to suddenly find yourself as the person.

They had an amazing book in the shop, which was all the garden and it was wildlife of the waterfowl of the world. And I remember putting it under my bed and got some binoculars and looked out at the lake every morning to see what was on there to identify what we’d got.

And then it was such a small team. There was just four ladies in the shop that ran seven days. Two of them did. You know, and we had about two, two wardens or yes on the farm banding Paul and you know, it was, it was just a very small team and they were really helpful and they explained what I was meant to be doing what happened. And then Tim came and went and we sort of, and it grew. We didn’t really have much of a plan I don’t suppose. Bill kept saying to me all along whenever I said, “Look, we need a five or a 10 year plan.” Or we just sort of, it evolved. We worked with the team and we started to sort of move slightly more towards trying to, we realised our kids aren’t kids all get nature you don’t have to explain it to them.

Deb Jordan: It’s just ingrained in them. So we realised we haven’t got any young members. That everybody was older and more bird related. We’d really upset one or two of them who wrote in, we just, we had a woman that would offer to become a volunteer here. And she was a fabulous lady and she’d actually been GM at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. And she said, “Look Deb it’s really important. We need to get more of a younger generation here.

And so what we’re going to do is we’re going to do play. I worked at Fowl and Wetlands trust. And they did Wellie Boot Land and I’ll eat my hat if it doesn’t work.” And Bill said, “I’ll eat my hat if it does work.” So we had to park Bill, luckily because Bill went home every Monday night, we’d sort of work on it quietly, Veronica, I and Mark, as to how we were going to get round Bill.

But by actually investing in an outdoor play area that was as though it was in the water as though it was a nature child. We encouraged people to bring their kids so that by getting them further out into the park, they could learn more about nature. But actually sometimes I think it’s the parents that you have to encourage to come to a nature reserve, because they sort of think, what am I going to do with the kids and the kids actually get it and love it.

So and one or two of the members that sort of said, I’m sorry, but we are now dropping out. We think that you are making a big mistake. I’m pleased to say that I bumped into the grandparents one day who said, look, “I’m going to own up we’re the people that wrote to you and were very rude, but this is Dudley and he’s our grandson and we can’t get enough enjoyment and make enough lovely memories with Dudley. So we forgive you.”

Kelly Molson: Oh, that’s so nice.

Deb Jordan: Yeah.

Bill Jordan: So we found quite a lot of the heavy duty birders might have started a bit nervous when they saw children’s play and different things happening. But yeah, just as Deb explains, after a bit, they realised that yeah, they got grandchildren and here was somewhere that worked for them and you know, actually got to a couple more levels of generations within their family. So we were lucky there. And within the year I told Deb that it was all my idea anyway.

Deb Jordan: As you do.

Bill Jordan: As I like to.

Kelly Molson: It’s interesting because earlier you used the word reflective about Pensthorpe and that’s very much how I felt when I visited there. And what I found really interesting is that the children’s play areas because now you have an indoor play area and the outdoor play area, they have been designed so well that they don’t detract from that reflective feeling. Does that make sense? Like I could, I came on my own, I didn’t bring my daughter, but I could still see how you could bring your children there and just have the most brilliant day of fun. But it is still a very calm and peaceful. It has a very calm and peaceful energy to it, the place that, and that’s, I think that really comes through the minute you arrive. That’s that’s how I felt.

Deb Jordan: Yeah. I think when we tried to look at the site, which is really unique, because it’s got so many different habitats and we sort of said to ourselves, “So how can we best use this?” And I think what we’ve tried to do is just like the play, which looks very natural. We’ve tried to continue the journey and so that you leave the play and then you head towards the wetland area.

But there is a diversion where at the top of the Sandhill, there’s in the wood, on the top of the Sandhill, overlooking the lake, there’s this amazing den building area. And when you go up there you know very well that this is a family affair. There’s no way that the kids have done the den building, but you pass through an area where we cut into the wetland and put a big ponder thing.

And then we sort of take you further along to a wood at the end where if a huge tree has fallen in the middle of it Richard leaves it there. And then the root base is all explained as to what’s going on there, wildlife and we mow a path to it. So you can actually know that you’re meant to get on the tree and run along the trunk. And, and I think, in fact we had a meeting here two weeks ago, Eco Attractions and they were saying, which was the best thing I’d heard, best acclaim I’d had.

They said, “We’ve been out there Deb. And we sort of get what you’re talking about, that you come across all this wild play, this just natural what’s there is being used to tell a story, but have fun with. And we think that the best way of explaining you is a bit like the lost gardens of Halligan.” Well boy, that was-

Bill Jordan: We didn’t mind that at all.

Deb Jordan: We didn’t mind that.

Kelly Molson: That is perfect.

Deb Jordan: What we are trying to do is keep the natural, but just encourage people to go out and get further and further from the hub with the trails that Natalie does and her team, which is so brilliant.

Kelly Molson: Yeah, it definitely comes across. So that is a perfect description of how I felt when I was there. I want to go back a little bit though, because we’ve kind of jumped forward. Let’s go back to 2008 because you get a call from Springwatch. That must have been pretty exciting at the time. What did that do for the venue?

Bill Jordan: Well, perhaps even before answering that, you ought to hear how it actually happened.

Kelly Molson: Okay. Ooh, share!

Bill Jordan: To tell you about a conversation we had with.

Deb Jordan: Yeah. We’d been told that Bill Oddie wanted to come to Pensthorpe for his really wild show. And he was here specifically to look at corn crakes, which we were breeding and releasing with the RSPB and [inaudible 00:24:25] isn’t it? And so he came and I hadn’t really seen much of him because he’d been whisked away and he’d met the agriculturalist and the team and looked at the corn crakes and then he’d had a little wander as Bill does.

And then he came back to the hub and I thought, oh, I’m not very good at selling myself, but there is nobody else. You just got to do this. I went out with my camera and I just said, look I’m Deb Jordan, and I hope you don’t mind. Could I take your photos for our newsletter because it’s so exciting to have you here.

And he did this amazing sort of thumbs up picture and he said, “I’m going to do this. And then you can write the copy dead because I absolutely love this place. You can say whatever you like and I’ll be happy.” Yeah. And it was about three weeks after that, when he’d gone that we received a letter to say, Bill Oddie has put you forward as a possible site for the next move at Springwatch. So I think they’d only done three years in the farm in Devon.

Bill Jordan: They had. Yeah.

Deb Jordan: And so they felt, and then with it, since then they’ve moved, I think almost every three years. So when I got this letter, I turned to Martin and said, this is special. Put it under my pillow and it stayed there.

Bill Jordan: Until they said, “Yes.”

Deb Jordan: It stayed there until, until we’d heard we’ve got it.

Kelly Molson: Oh, that’s amazing. Well done Bill Oddie. Thumbs up to Bill Oddie. So what, but what did that do that must have brought so much attention to the attraction?

Deb Jordan: It was amazing for us because although we can hear sky larks on the hill, above the scrape and we can hear our wildlife and we see our wildlife, it was fantastic for us to really get a grip. But when you see those nests that these guys are so clever and professional about finding, and I remember taking the children to school one day and on the way, hearing Terry Wogan talking about the little ring lovers that had been seen the night before at Pensthorpe on the way to scrape.

And I just have pulled into a laid iron with banging my head against the wheel think, “oh my God, doesn’t get any better than Terry Wogan talking about little ring lovers at Pensthorpe”. But it was fabulous. It allowed people to see the breadth of everything, wildlife and habitat wise because it is unusual because we’ve got the river that runs straight right through the middle. We’ve got farmland and we’ve a farm that’s running. We’ve got wetland, we’ve got gardens, we’ve got-

Bill Jordan: It’s 50 acres of lake.

Deb Jordan: There’s just every sort of habitat you could really want. And I think that allowed people to sort of think, well, that honey little place that we hear about might be worth a visit. So it did help put us on the map.

Bill Jordan: I think we all learned quite a lot from it having us when I think there was probably up to 50, 60 people on site producing and one of the sort of excitements of the day for us was that we’d all been pulled back to the cafe building here, which they’d taken over and had about 40 different TV screens and monitors there. And we could see exactly all the bits that they filmed during the day and the night and all the bits that were current from being talked about and the interviews that were happening. Just to see the whole program put together a that end of the day, which was fascinating. And just the way they handled it and the way the sort of information they imparted to audiences is just, no, it was very clever, very clever indeed.

Kelly Molson: Was it strange to see the place that you live on the telly?

Deb Jordan: Very strange. In fact, one day, I can’t quite remember what had happened, but because for eight o’clock they go live. I think it was something like a Muntjack in my garden. It was upsetting me. So I ran as I usually do, got my saucepan and banged my saucepan and prop people. Oh no. You know, and somebody said the next day, what was that noise we had to sort of cover up? But yeah, to tuck into the television, knowing, I mean, some nights we’d creep down and hide or be allowed quite close, but to have those people, to have Kate Humble here, Bill Oddie and then Bill Oddie swapped with Chris Packham. So to have Chris here for a couple of years and yeah, it was very, very special and-

Bill Jordan: It was quite a good set for them. They used to, where we’re sitting right now, just below us was a sort of room that was completely derelict. So the whole, all of these five cottages here were derelict and poor BBC took pity on us and put a few glass windows and things. And so we wouldn’t look too impoverished.

Kelly Molson: How kind of them.

Bill Jordan: Very kind of them. Yeah.

Kelly Molson: I want to ask a little bit, and it’s something that you talked about right at the beginning where you said where you grew up, you kind of lived and worked and again now is where you live, and you work. How difficult is it for you to make that work in terms of your kind of like work life balance? Because you are kind of immersed in your business from the minute you wake up in the morning.

Deb Jordan: Yeah.

Bill Jordan: That not the clever bit, is it? It is hard work. It’s quite hard work. And it needs to be mentioned just in case anyone else gets vague and puts their name down for a similar thing. It is hard work and you need to get on well with people and yeah, you are seven days a week, which is how an operation like this has to go. You’ve got people on site quite a lot of the day when they go home at five o’clock we get the park to ourselves and we can wander around.

Deb Jordan: Yeah, I think even as far as the work side of thing, when I look out at the window, I’ll immediately think, “wow. How lucky. This is extraordinary”. And then I’ll immediately think all the things that I haven’t yet achieved or are on my list for this week that’s never long enough. And I think that, on its own, would’ve been enough. I think, to go through some of the hiccups that life throws to the whole COVID thing, the avian flu thing, those make you pause and really think. That was tough.

So we’ve had some brilliant times, some really big successes, but those things sort of leave you slightly wounded. But there again you’ve got a big team and everybody’s been through the same thing. The whole world has had to reorganise and regroup and move on.

So yeah, I think that looking forward, one needs to be optimistic that we probably had our fair share of things that haven’t really gone our way recently. But on the other hand, there’s an awful lot to look forward to. And we’ve just done the new rebranding and we’re very lucky with our marketing team that they totally understand this product. And when you’ve got a team behind you like that are so inspired by the site and are able to get that message across for all generations, whatever bit it is, whatever age you are, whether it’s gardens or birds or families.

It’s a place for people to come and make memories. And thankfully, hopefully we are now, hopefully COVID is now a thing of the past and sadly avian flu won’t be because it’s still out there. And it’s sort of becoming a real problem. You know, it hasn’t really gone away this year for the UK even on Springwatch, we were watching the problems they’ve got in Scotland at the minute and even slightly closer to home again. So it is something that we are aware of and that we have to sort of rethink going forward, how, how you know, that we work with what we’ve got.

Bill Jordan: We do. But I think we’ve also sort of figured out that actually there is even more sort of requirement, demand, whatever you call it for getting out there. And nature in its best form and walking and space and all of those things seem to be even more important to a lot of the visitors we talk to.

Deb Jordan: Yeah. I think it definitely focused us on what is so special about this place? It’s the freedom, it’s the feeling of wellness out there, feeling of being able to put things that are worrying you that week away when you come to Pensthorpe. You get out there and you get diverted by the beauty of the place. You know, COVID was really problematic for everybody. I had started six months of chemotherapy in January 2020. So it was going into Norridge weekly for my chemo.

So then when the country locked down, I would be sort of driving all with sweet leaf on the bad week. Somebody would be kind enough to drive me and whether it was with my daughter or whoever was kind enough to come with me, it seemed odd to be out on the roads.

Because the first lock down, there was no one anywhere and you’d get to the hospital and the nurses were amazing, but concerned obviously. It was new to us all. So seeing them afraid but resilient and just pushing on whatever. It was a very unusual time and we did do some furlough, so it was very quiet here because we’d have like one warden in and one avian came and the gardener stayed and the maintenance guy stayed, but everybody in the hub was gone. It was a very extraordinary thing to know that our visitors sadly had no access and were really needing it.

There were some very ill people that I was coming across in hospital that were really totally needing nature at that time. And they weren’t allowed out in it. So that also, it was a time of sort of looking and seeing, and then the wonderful thing was when we were able to open up, just knowing that at last you could open the doors and people could do what they had so badly been wanting to do and get here and get back outside.

And so we were very lucky that there was no fear from people that they would come and might get COVID here because there’s so much space, as soon as we’d managed to alter the way into the park and get them through quickly. Yeah, sure. It was very rewarding to allow people to.

Bill Jordan: Some people were very cautious, wouldn’t they, for quite a long time for all the obvious reasons and all worked well.

Kelly Molson: Gosh, you’ve really been through some very big highs and some very big lows there. Haven’t you thank you for sharing that with us, Deborah and I’m really glad to see that you are recovered and enjoying your beautiful place again today. So let’s talk about the future then, because we’ve talked loads about what’s happened and what, what you’ve been through the venue has just won some really phenomenal awards. And I have to mention, so you were winners of the Large Visitor Attraction of the Year and winners of the Marketing Camp Campaign of the Year at the East of England Tourism Awards. But you also, you just won a bronze at a very large attractions award, very large tourism award, didn’t you?

Deb Jordan: Yes, we did. We were absolutely thrilled. Yes. We couldn’t quite believe that because we’d achieved winner of the east. Then I think they put all the winners of the east and maybe others as well, all the other regions. So you get put into a pot and then the whole thing starts again. And somebody from the nationally won then comes out and looks so you don’t know when they’re going to come or when they’ve been. But when we heard that we’ve been put through, that was extremely exciting. Yeah. To go to Birmingham with the team and accept that award. We had some huge competition with Chester Zoo and actually public actually.

Kelly Molson: Oh yes.

Bill Jordan: Some pretty huge sort of attractions. So we felt we’d done well to get in that sort of elevated company.

Kelly Molson: Yeah. It’s wonderful. It was so fabulous to see you get that, get that prize. I was really thrilled for you all. So what next? You’ve just had a beautiful rebrand and may I say also a beautiful website and it’s really, you are in a really wonderful position of kind of exciting new things happening. So what’s the plans for the venue?

Deb Jordan: Well, I think, the site itself is always going to need investment. Whether it be a cafe which has got a kitchen that needs work on, we’re looking at how to get visitors further afield of more exciting things. But those would probably be more about a planning application. We’ve been working on a new sculpture garden, which is absolutely in its infancy at the moment.

And the whole idea is actually to try and encourage sculptors to loan work. So that we’ve been buying sculpture on a yearly basis, which the visitors seem to love. I often come across the stag with people, with their children sitting on it or the wild boar or whatever it is. And we’ve just got the new fantasy wide ferry and the dandelions, which are a huge, seem to be pleasing everybody.

But the whole idea about that garden is actually to try and so that we can, when we’ve progressed it a little bit further, we can take photos and say to people, “look it’s not that we wanting to become a sculpture park, but we’d like for our members to be able to see other people’s sculpture here, that they could have the opportunity to buy”. So that’s something that we’re working on and it’s very much in its infancy.

Bill Jordan: There’s a sort of ongoing program with reintroductions, which is pencil QNS. We’ve got a very good agricultural team led by Christy. And yeah, we’re working with the MOD, Ministry of Defense, who are collecting eggs from various different air fields around the east of England. We’re then incubating the eggs here, looking after the chicks until they’re ready to be released in the washes or Ken Hill farm, which features in Springwatch at the moment or this spring anyway.

So yeah, there’s a lot of that work goes on, which again our visitors, like they can’t see a huge amount of it because obviously it’s all got to be bio secure, but it’s something they like to feel that they’re supporting. And it’s sort of something that suits the area and yeah, it’s something fortunate that some members of the team here are very good at. So yeah, that continues a pace. What else?

Deb Jordan: I think it’s probably now sitting with the team and working on a more five, 10 year plan where we all know exactly where we’re going and we are trying to just even become more wild. It’s just trying to find that happy balance of people with giving them something to do that actually helping them want to get their kids further out into.

Bill Jordan: Yeah. And there is a lot of space here. We keep going on about that. But you know, the reserve itself is probably 200 acres, but you’ve got in total more like 500 and we take the discovery tours, land Rover tours out onto the farmland where we’re, the wardens are working hard on the habitats there, fulfill encouraging more biodiversity and more wildlife out in that part of the reserve as well. So yeah, it’s all part of the same thing and I don’t know that we’re going to run out things to do.

Kelly Molson: No, I think Deb’s to-do list is getting longer by the minute. Isn’t it? Thank you. This has been so lovely to talk to you. I would implore all of our listeners to please go and visit Pensthorpe because it is a really magical place. Bill Oddie was absolutely right about it. We were at the end of the podcast and we always ask our guests to recommend a book that they love. So it can be something that you’ve found useful for your career. It can be something that you just love from a personal perspective.

Deb Jordan: Well mine, the one I’d suggest that everybody should read, is Fingers In the Sparkle Jar by Chris Packham. I think it may have won best book in the wildlife somewhere. But it’s a very remarkable, raw. It gets absolutely into the vulnerability of people with Asperger’s. And so Chris did this extraordinary program on television, which was Asperger’s and me. And I was amazed by that and how he put himself into that position of saying what was going on in his life and how difficult it had been for him. And this book is very much his early memoir, probably from about five to about 17.

And I think that it’s just as any parent, anybody that has any sort of difficulties with actually fitting into a peer group. And I’m sure there are many people that either went through that themselves, when you are reading that book, you actually sort of feel the pain and you feel the vulnerability. And actually, I think it just makes us all as adults, especially aware if we’ve had that in our family, it helps us understand it. If we haven’t got it in our family, it helps us understand it somewhere else. But it is a mesmerising read. So it’s not like a chore. Everybody will read it and his descriptions and the way he explains his life in nature. It’s just an absolute extraordinary book.

Kelly Molson: I have not read that. That’s going top of my list. That sounds wonderful. Bill, what about you?

Bill Jordan: Well, we’ve just had a week away, which was rather nice. I read Sitopia by Carolyn Steel, which is a fascinating book. And it’s talks about the way that we haven’t been valuing food. We should be doing more on a local scale. The regenerational farming thing comes into it. And of course, Jake Finds and Holkham are all involved. And that’s very much a Norfolk thing as well. So, no, I thought it was just a brilliant book. And again, we shouldn’t be just talking about buying the cheapest food, although for some it’s certainly necessary, but we should be looking at the importance of food in the civilisation rather than just what we can get away with and then factory farming and intensive farming it’s got to change. Yeah. So that’s my book.

Kelly Molson: Very topical book. Thank you both. As ever listeners, if you would like to win those books, if you head over to our Twitter account and you retweet this episode announcement with the words I want Bill and Deb’s books, then you will be in with a chance of winning a copy of them. Thank you both so much today. It’s been such a pleasure to talk to you. I know that you’ve got a really exciting summer coming up. There’s loads going on at Pensthorpe, and I’m looking forward to coming back and bringing my daughter over to see the place as well. I’ll see you then.

Deb Jordan: Fantastic. Thank you very much.

Bill Jordan: Thank you very much.


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

Give your customers a better online experience with our newsletter

Receive free advice that will enable you to create better online experiences for your users and guests.