by Sally Jacobs
I was already in the second half of my life when I first undertook a Blue Badge Tourist Guiding course 24 years ago! I have never regretted my decision; my work has taken me to many interesting places, and I have met people from every nation across the globe.
Arriving at the first training session was a revelation – my fellow students came from all walks of life, an actor, an ex-engineer, an ex-banker, an ex-nurse, an ex-teacher, an ex-member of a tv production team, an ex-social worker, a housewife with teenage children, an ex-architect, an ex-coach driver, an owner of a B&B, plus some students who had recently graduated from university. We also had ladies from Finland, Holland, and France plus a gentleman from Greece. Obviously, ability to speak a second language is a great asset to a tourist guide. My own background in IT was unusual, but nobody cared, we were all off on a new adventure together.
The course was intensive. Each week we were expected to research for the next weekend activities, and this meant visiting towns, villages, historic sites, museums and galleries. I think it was more difficult then because we were studying in the days before the internet provided potted histories and biographies online.
The comradeship developed rapidly. We would reconnoiter in groups – one person would act as driver and passengers would point out the visual priorities along the way. We all shared notes and fed off one-another’s research. We quickly discovered who knew about birds, railways, golf, plants, sea defenses, agriculture, etc.
We attended weekly lectures – in those days, in person. Today students can sit in their own home and participate on Zoom, whereas we were often in quite cold draughty halls in out of the way places. The lectures were “mixed”. Some seemed pretty basic; for me the geography was a piece of cake, but other lectures covered topics I knew nothing about eg vernacular (local styles) architecture, developments in castle design, and the history of Brighton and sea bathing.
The first time you were asked to give a presentation was pretty daunting. Even people who were used to presenting to work colleagues had the jitters. The course covers communication and presentation skills and there is so much you have to remember from group positioning, keeping eye contact, volume of your voice to engaging your audience, smiling and monitoring the time you are talking. All this before using your powers of recall for information! However, we were all in the same boat and offered encouragement and support to our fellow students, even when they fell apart, stammered, turned their back on the group, or muddled up their facts, because it was always a case of “it might be me next time”!
I discovered that coachwork was a matter of love it or hate it. I have always loved it, but others view sitting on a coach as the worst aspect of the job. There is a knack to recognizing what your visitors are looking for on a tour, and it is up to you to deliver the type of information and sights they want to hear and see. Professional coach guides, we learnt, do not fall into the category of “a joke a minute” but rather “let me tell you about what is here”.
There were times when I felt overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of information I was expected to master. Somehow, we all struggled through the ups and downs of the exams and experienced an immense sense of pride on the Blue Badge presentation day. However, for me the most lasting legacy, is the large number of good longstanding friends I acquired whilst on the course. I have since gone on to train in other regions including London. I am also now one of the Course Directors of a new training course, accredited by the Institute of Tourist Guiding, which is currently being offered to those interested in joining us as qualified SE England Blue Badge Guides!
Follow this link for details of the new training course
Sally is a garden tour specialist and a Blue Badge Guide qualified for SE England, London and several other English regions.