23rd February 2021
Over the next few months, we’ll be discovering some of the most unusual jobs around the English Riviera and getting up close and personal with those lucky enough to have them.
Today, we’re meeting Elliot: An Education Officer at Kents Cavern. As you enter the upmarket area of Babbacombe near Torquay, it is hard to believe that lurking below your feet is one of the most important Stone Age sites in Europe – which has been inhabited for almost half a million years!
Today Kents Cavern is a multi-award-winning attraction, bringing history alive and making the geology and archaeology of the English Riviera UNESCO Global Geopark easy and fun for visitors to understand.
I have been in charge of Education and Outreach at Kents Cavern for just over 6 years, but I’ve worked at the caves for nearly 12 years! My first role was as a ‘Kids Activities Co-ordinator’ which involved hosting activities on site and looking after Cavog The Caveman.
I continued working at the cave as a tour guide whilst studying for my foundation degree in Early Years Education and eventually a BA in Education Studies. In 2014 I was ready to apply to study for my PGCE to go on and become a primary school teacher, but an education-based job came up at the caves and I knew that I had to apply. Luckily enough, I got the job, and the rest is history!
My job involves hosting groups of school children on site, showing them through the cave and leading activities with them.
A typical day starts with opening the cave and walking through on my own to check that all the lights are working. This is a task that has never bothered me but there are certain staff members that like to sing or whistle as they do this, just to make being in the cave on their own a little less scary.
I’ll then prepare the day’s activities and wait for my school group to arrive, greeting them in the car park. A quick introduction and we are straight into the cave to explore, discovering what life was like for the people and animals that lived inside 500,000 years ago along the way.
We’ll stop for lunch (you can’t beat a pasty from Firestone Kitchen!) and then it’s into the woods to learn about the survival skills that Stone Age people needed and then back inside to handle pre-historic artefacts.
After waving goodbye to the coach load of children, its time to evaluate the mess and get cleaning!
Usually, I’m left with a few hours to catch up with any other work I have, this is everything from designing interpretation panels to creating new activities for visitors.
The thing I enjoy most about this job is how different every day can be. Part of this is probably down to the Stone Age in general, it’s such a broad topic, with theories and understanding changing with every new artefact that’s found. A lot of the ‘how and why’ behind Stone Age people doing things is just sensible guesswork, and I always say to the school groups “that means that there are no wrong answers”. This then sparks the children’s imaginations and usually leads to some really unique, well thought out, clever and sometimes very strange, ideas and answers.
In the school holidays my focus switches from education and aligns with the rest of the team on tourism. I enjoy creating ways to educate the public visiting the site, they already have the guided tour where they can learn a lot about the caves, we can enhance the visit by adding more interactive things, like artefact handling at our Palaeo-table or developing trails and hunts for people to do in the woods. Interacting with customers and knowing that they are interested in what you are talking about is never dull.
To this day, I still find it awe-inspiring to walk into the cave and know that pre-historic people used to live here. In this space. Where I’m standing. WOW!
Kents Cavern is privately owned and doesn’t receive any funding from the state! So, any big projects or events that we want to run have to be guaranteed big hits or funded through public sources like the national lottery.
This is the easiest question I have answered so far! 100% the best thing about Kents Cavern is the team that work here. Because of the seasonal nature, we end up with a small regular team of staff in the winter, and in the summer months our staff numbers shoot up to cope with demand.
A lot of the summer staff are uni students that come back every summer during their degree, and already have the passion for Kents Cavern, but it doesn’t take long for new staff members to catch it! Everyone that works here gets along, we gel together, and we all understand that everyone is important for the day to day running of the site. I couldn’t ask for a better group of people to work with!
I don’t have a single proudest moment from this job, but every time people interact with something that I’ve created I feel very proud. I also get this from the feedback we get from our school groups. Its great to know that people enjoy their time at Kents Cavern and that I had something to do with that.
Although currently closed in line with government guidance, Kents Cavern will be open and welcoming visitors again in May. A winner of Visit Devon’s Gold Tourism Award, Kents Cavern is a unique day out for all the family, based on the beautiful South Devon coastline on the sunny English Riviera.