The Visitor Centre draws visitors and volunteers alike, with volunteer shopkeepers, greeters and teachers working alongside the NT staff – there is a noticeable spirit of togetherness despite the ever changing shift patterns and the unsociable hours. With the unseasonably good weather attracting large crowds coinciding with the completion of the shop makeover there is a real buzz about the place.
The VC is now the main attraction on the Estate having developed over the years from a sleepy back-water in the sixties until 1983 when Margaret Cleaver became a paid staff member supervising the operation run by the Friends of Ashridge incorporating some two hundred members –
“the number of people visiting and the work just grew and grew. We started serving refreshments from a hut at the back. Volunteers started selling postcards and pencils and even set up an information point. They were Friends of Ashridge who cooked cakes and scones and made soup. It was all prepared in Monument Cottage. We usually started at six in the morning and often finished at ten at night”.
Margaret retired through ill health in 1993 and the Trust were inclined to take over the enterprise and extend the facilities. There was something of a disorderly period with the Centre being closed for a full year. The Trust gradually got to grips with the situation and implemented their plan to upgrade the shop and create an education centre.
The external appearance of the attraction has not changed in the last twenty five years – architecturally speaking it is a vernacular style timber framed field centre with horizontal tarred external boarding, and a cedar shingle roof designed to be in keeping with its surroundings – but step inside and the décor changes to a modern enterprise. As with any retail outlet the offer has to be regularly refreshed and kept upto date with the latest demands as with the need for a reduction in plastic products. Whilst footfall on the High Street is in decline, numbers of visitors to Ashridge are still increasing which bodes well for the VC – if only they can get them through the door!