Yep, you read that right. A busy little Easter for the Footprints of London cohort on the quiet!
It all started back in September last year with an e-mail from Oxford Education, organisers of an event called the British English Olympics (BEO) and World English Experience (WEE), who were looking for a tour delivered by “engaging and professional guides” for “around 4000 students here for summer camps next Easter”.
First bit? Easy we thought; “engaged and professional” is what we do at Footprints. Second bit? We did some quick maths, took a deep breath and said “sure, we can handle that”.
In all seriousness, this is where Footprints of London’s structure really came into its own; we are a co-op of nearly 60 independent, qualified guides (therefore committed, professional and engaged), but one that can come together and act as a large company when required.
And boy was that required for this…
By February the outline of the groups was confirmed (not the 4000 initially estimated, but still more than enough to keep our planning team busy!), the walk was designed and approved (a circular Whitehall route taking in all the key sights) and a rota plan designed for each of the 6 days (2 walks setting off at 15-minute intervals, one clockwise the other anti-clockwise) which assigned specific guides to specific groups (up to 3 each day for each guide).
Three weeks out the route and content was briefed to and recce’d with the guides, then on the (frankly chilly) morning of Tuesday March 31st a group of Footprints of London’s finest stood waiting expectantly by the statue of Viscount Portal of Hungerford in the gardens behind the MoD waiting for the mayhem to begin.
All we needed now was for the first groups to turn up on time…
Of course a number of the groups were late. Of course they didn’t all arrive conveniently in the order we expected them to nor were they neatly parcelled up into their groups ready to go.
All of this was always going to happen, but we’d built all these assumptions into our planning and it stood the test.
This was not least due to the sterling efforts of Jiff Bayliss, our planningmeister-general (ably assisted by Jo Moncrieff) who was on the spot greeting with a smile, corralling and cajoling, linking groups with guides and setting them off with the efficiency of an expert cat-herder.
As for the walks themselves, we’d been briefed to strike an appropriate balance between information and entertainment (these were, after all, leisure days for the students in the midst of an intense period of study and competitive presentations).
Whilst we were happy that we’d achieved that balance in the content, there is always a nagging concern among guides just before you present a walk “live” for the first time about what the reaction is going to be.
We needn’t have worried.
The students (and their teachers) were marvellous; attentive, engaged and enthusiastic – if a little tired! (the BEO programme really puts them through their paces while they are here).
And a there were a few fun observations along the way…
Bearing in mind that the vast bulk of the students were from Latin America:
- most of them that recognised the door of No 10 associated it with One Direction rather than with David Cameron (sorry Dave…and I promise you, dear reader, that this will be the one and only time One Direction ever get a mention on this blog 🙂 )
- practically all that ventured an opinion thought it was Napoleon rather than Nelson at the top of the column in Trafalgar Square (I took to saying “Nearly. Right war, wrong side…”)
- Kate Middleton is way more famous in Latin America than her grandmother-in-law
But they all went ga-ga on finding the entrance to The Ministry of Magic and a corner Ron Weasley stood on in the Harry Potter films, the roof Bond stood on at the end of Skyfall and were fascinated by a nice, gory execution story (in this case, Charles I’s untimely demise outside the Banqueting House).
One thing we were certain of is that we knew it was going to be exhausting. What we didn’t know, though, is that it would also be quite so much fun.
The groups were an absolute pleasure to guide and clearly appreciated the amount of hard work that had gone into prepping the tours for them and the care our guides took in making sure that they not only had a good time, but learned a little too.
They took every challenge that was thrown at them with a cheery smile (groups and running orders changing at the last minute, rest breaks disappearing, standing in at ridiculously short notice for temporarily incapacitated colleagues to name but a few) and were utterly professional throughout, their only concern being that our student guests had the best experience they possibly could.
We’d do it again in a heartbeat and are already looking forward to repeating the exercise next year.
And any other tour operators out there wondering who to trust with your valued customers next time they are in London? Get in touch and you could have the best team of guides in London working for you too.