Rufford Abbey STARS Awards | Visit Nottinghamshire

Last week’s long-awaited, high-profile Nottinghamshire Hospitality STARS Awards 2018 saw some of Nottinghamshire’s finest establishments heading home with impressive new accolades and sparkly trophies.

This year’s winner of the coveted Visitor Attraction of the Year Award was the lovely Rufford Abbey, so we decided to pop in for a cuppa and a chat about their incredible win.

Rachael Dolan, Events and Marketing Manager at Rufford Abbey, was absolutely thrilled to have scooped the award.

“We’ve had an extremely busy year,” she says, reeling off a huge list of their developments, events and activities. Highlights included their recent 1940’s living history weekend, the popular outdoor cinema screenings and the Great Food and Drink festival – all of which had helped to raise their profile, she explains. They’ve invested in new facilities, such as an inclusive Play Village - including a castle and zip wire - as well as adventure golf, archery and boating on the lake.

This has led to a huge uplift in visitor numbers, and, impressively, their interaction on social media has quadrupled, which Rachael describes as “a clear indication that we’re doing something right.”

She explains that despite all of the investment, events and fantastic new facilities, Rufford Abbey markets itself as a budget-friendly attraction (admission is free, with only a £3.50 parking charge). Their aim, Rachael tells me, is to be “open to everyone”. This is reflected in their inclusive Play Village, specifically designed to be enjoyed by all children including wheelchair users.

We take a stroll around the park to see the facilities for ourselves. The Play Village is certainly impressive - clearly the result of very careful planning – and it takes a great deal of self-restraint to remain professional and not to join the queue for the zip wire. The grounds are lovely in autumn, resplendent with yellow and orange leaves, making for a very relaxing walk.

Rufford Abbey | Visit Nottinghamshire

Rachael explains how the team of staff had promised themselves that, if the recent VisitEngland inspection demonstrated that they had improved their visitor experience, they would apply for the Visitor Attraction of the Year Award. It did, and so they decided to go for it.

She offers some advice for other businesses considering applying for a STARS Award in 2019: “It’s about the story that you tell.” She explains that she made a real effort to consolidate the documentation, making sure it was all very visual and pulling out the key information. She believes that this would have helped the judges to see clearly why Rufford Abbey deserved to win the award.

How did you feel in the days leading up to the awards ceremony? Was everyone very nervous?

Rachael assures me that they were “confident that we had worked hard” and despite being “up against some big names” [the National Justice Museum and Holme Pierrepont Country Park were the other two finalists in their category], the staff believed that they could win.

She’s very complimentary about the ceremony itself, describing the room and the staging as “great” and concluding that “all in all, I think everybody had a fabulous evening.”

How did it feel to win?

“We were absolutely thrilled. The accolade of winning Visitor Attraction of the Year is testament to all the hard work that the team put in to ensure that visitors have an exceptional experience. Hopefully it will spur us on to do bigger and better things next year.”

What’s next for Rufford Abbey, is there even more on the horizon?

They certainly have more exciting development plans in the pipeline, and Rachael is extremely optimistic. “Hopefully we’ll continue to raise the profile of Rufford Abbey,” she tells me.

“Over the past year we’ve seen definite growth and more visitors from further afield. We offer so much to visitors and we’ll continue to improve our facilities. Who knows, if we can demonstrate even more growth and improvement over the next 12 months, we’ll probably enter the Awards again next year!”

This blog was written by Sophie Milne, Communications Executive at Visit Nottinghamshire.  


Rufford Abbey Country Park
Country / Royal Park
Rufford Abbey Country Park

Rufford Abbey Country Park is the estate and grounds of a former 12 century Cistercian Monastery and country house.



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