The Bridge: Tell us a bit about your career and what led you to this job.
Liz Bryant: I’ve had a pretty varied career. I worked in gardening, then I did admin for a publishers in Poundbury, then my partner and I started a shipping consultancy together. We sold that business in 2019, which gave me time to take stock and think about what I wanted to do next. Looking for inspiration, I started volunteering with the National Trust and at a wildlife hospital, and I soon I realised that what actually inspired me was working with volunteers. I love it – and of course volunteers are crucial to the Discovery Centre’s success.
TB: Is working with the volunteers your favourite part of your job here?
LB: Definitely! We have 37 volunteers here, and they all work either a weekly or fortnightly shift, morning or afternoon. I do their initial training – there’s lots to go through – then they start their role, mainly stewarding and helping the public. There’s a lovely atmosphere here; visitors come wanting to have a nice time, and they’re always surprised by what they find!
The volunteers’ enthusiasm and flexibility are what kept us going through the pandemic. Obviously we were closed during the first lockdown – and I was furloughed for three months – but we were the first centre along the Jurassic Coast to reopen (with restrictions) in June 2020. We stayed open until October, then closed for the second and third lockdowns and further restrictions, and reopened ‘for good’ in May 2021. This year, though, it’s been really, really busy – it just hasn’t stopped since the February half term, and we had 200 people through every day during the summer half term. That’s absolutely at capacity for us, and the volunteers have just stepped up and adjusted so well.
TB: What’s your favourite exhibit at the centre?
LB: I’m really into fossils so I love our ‘Buried in Time’ pop-up exhibition, which is all about the geology of West Bay. It’s to mark the 20th anniversary of the Jurassic Coast’s designation as a World Heritage Site.
My favourite permanent exhibit is the ‘Create a landslip’ game, where visitors pile up blocks of ‘cliff’ until they fall down. It’s noisy and it always makes people jump – I really enjoy listening to them having fun with it.
TB: You live inland at South Petherton. What do you like best about coming to work in West Bay?
LB: It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world. During my lunch break I like to sit outside, often on the pier, to look at the sea and watch the world go by. I love that it’s ‘real’ and unpretentious. It’s also a really important place to lots of people, including visitors who’ve been coming here since childhood and still come, year after year, because they love it so much. It’s very special.
TB: The Discovery Centre recently won gold in the Ethical, Responsible and Sustainable Tourism category at the South West Tourism awards, and went on to receive a bronze in the national awards. It also scooped the ‘Winner of Winners’ prize at the Dorset Tourism awards. What do you think makes the centre stand out among the competition, particularly in this field of sustainability and environmental awareness?
LB: So much of it is down to the passion of our trustees, John and Sarah West. In absolutely everything we do, they make sure we’re taking a responsible approach – for instance, working with suppliers to reduce plastics in our shop and maximise the use of recyclable materials. They’re also committed to spreading awareness, particularly to children, and promoting the message of environmental responsibility.
We have a permanent interactive screen showing how climate change would affect West Bay, and last year we had a pop-up exhibition called ‘Turning the Tide’, which was seen by more than 10,000 people. It told the story of plastic and highlighted the impact of single-use plastics, showing how individuals can help to reduce the level of microplastics in the sea.
I work closely with the Wests to make sure the centre is never static, always improving and doing new things. Our standards are high – we engage the community as much as possible and work with local experts to get things right. We have big plans!
West Bay Discovery Centre is on East Beach next to the Bridport Arms car park (DT6 4EN). From April to October it’s open Tuesday to Sunday (plus bank holiday Mondays) 11am–4pm. Entry is free although donations are very welcome. There’s more information at www.westbaydiscoverycentre.org.uk and on Facebook, Instagram & Twitter.