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A rare breed indeed....

Freeman Roger Williams navigates through a Case Study on a visitor attraction that provides care and support for adults with learning disability....

After networking with a fantastic peer group that I respect, my main motivation for joining the WCoMC was to participate in ‘pro-bono’ work of a level and quality that I simply could not access as an independent consultant. So when the opportunity to support the strategic development of COTS (Canterbury Oast Trust) and the Rare Breeds Centre near Ashford in Kent came up, I jumped at the opportunity.


The Rare Breeds Centre is a leading Kent based visitor attraction which is run by and for the Canterbury Oast Trust, that provides care and support for adults with learning disability. The Rare Breeds Centre is one of several businesses run by COTS, and the main commercial income and employment provider for adults in their care.  For some, the rare breeds centre is also their home.

When you look at the website you will appreciate immediately that the Rare Breeds Centre (RBC) presents itself first and foremost as a visitor attraction,

Pig racing.....

to compete with other regional attractions, and provide a great experience for its customers. While the relationship with COTS and adults with learning disability is mentioned, its not ‘in your face’.  A key aim of the organisation is to build a bridge between their adults and society in general. To present and focus on the things that are the same, not different.  Ideas and dreams that we all share. The right to positive and gainful work. The right for independence and self determination, and the ability to push yourself to do more that others might expect of you. You find all these things and more in this well run, exceptionally entertaining, and incredible value for money attraction.

The Challenge

Led by Simon Robinson and Angela Phipps from the RBC team, the challenge is simple. With government legislation and budget cuts falling harder on people who are dependent on care, support and benefits, than other aspects of society, the RBC wanted to take action to not only create worthwhile employment for local adults with learning disability, but also to generate greater income that can contribute directly to the growing cost of care. This additional income would mean that COTS could maintain the quality of living for dependent Adults, and also provide a sustainable service that brings immense peace of mind to the family and friends of the adults in their care.

The RBC are a competent and creative bunch who have achieved incredible results and accolades for the quality of their visitor attraction.  If anything they were overloaded with ideas and opportunities, and as with many businesses, other challenges were emerging that meant they had many issues to confront and choices to make.

My role is to act as a sounding board for many of these ideas, and facilitate and steer them through a range of options, in order to create a coherent strategy and approach. 

To date we have achieved this with several meetings, phone calls and two major workshops, where we engaged a range of stakeholders, from employees through management and trustees of the organisation, in order to consult, engage and formulate a high level strategic plan.

The Actions

The RBC team wanted to establish a clear, structured, shared strategic plan. The rationale was to provide the trustees with clear evidence to support delegation of budget, so that the RBC could undertake development work in a responsible way.  Great trustees of a disability care Trust do not necessarily possess the same skills as the board of a visitor attraction (why would they), so the challenge of engaging their support is made all the more complicated. However, through these workshops, presentations, documentation of proposals, the RBC is now making significant progress, and the relationship with Trustees who authorise or delegate spend, is in the process of transforming to a model that balances the need to preserve funds to support adults with care, with investing funds in order to develop new commercial operations.

The first benefits have already begun, with vision numbers steadily growing. The RBC relationship with key customers and ‘members’ who are effectively ‘donors’ to the RBC is also on the up.

To achieve this result we employed a simple strategy technique called One Page Strategy. This creates a logical single page model of a strategic plan, and aligns the proposed strategic actions to improvement goals and other stakeholder goals;  and finally the vision and purpose of the organisation. The net effect of this approach is that the dependencies of proposed development activities, and the logical order for their action become far more transparent. When your table is overburdened with opportunities and issues, this is a great way to identify the things you need to focus on first.

In addition this has been a really good opportunity for me to apply my own research and methods for Customer Experience Management, with the RBC. This radical approach to Customer Experience Management centres the action around the customers (rather than the provision of an experience) and in doing so changes the way the organisation thinks about the way services are marketed, sold, delivered and assessed. I am delighted to report that this has had a profoundly positive impact on the RBC team, to the extent where we are now exploring a joint venture together.

The RBC has a visitor and conference centre that is used for the extensive training they provide. We ('Intelligent Linking') and the RBC are exploring the delivery of a 'Customer Experience’ course, where the Adults with learning disability will be part of my extended consulting team, helping business leaders / attending teams, to understand what it means to have a shared sense of purpose, and an authentic culture that is prepared to deliver on that purpose.

The Results so far…

We have structured and initiated a first programme of investment, in line with the overall strategic plan. Some of these are long term investments, some involve difficult decisions and a range of actions, and some are simple and straightforward improvements. So far the impact has simply been continued growth in visitor numbers and overall growth in income / profitability. 

We are also looking at several new opportunities, including the JV on Customer Experience with Intelligent Linking, that will contribute the income for this great organisation.

However the most important result is this. It has been possible to grow the income that will generate value for a group of people in society that are often invisible, and sometimes lack the voice to resist Government changes to their support and benefits. Their ‘bridge’ to integration with the local community, and acceptance of adults with learning disability, comes from the increasing numbers of people who now come to the Rare Breeds Centre, see the hard work being done, enjoy the fantastic customer experience that they provide, and go away feeling that their day, their entry charge or membership of the RBC is money well spent,  on any level. 

The disability doesn’t come into it.

It doesn’t feel like charity.





Freeman Roger Williams