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Case Studies

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Alnwick Garden’s embraces TeamWorks

Psychological safety is a critical consideration as Alnwick Garden embraces diagnostic tools to prepare its departmental heads and senior managers for a future in the national spotlight.



The brainchild of The Duchess of Northumberland, Alnwick Garden is a multi-award-winning visitor attraction based in Alnwick, Northumberland.


Its 12 acres of meandering and magnificent gardens are home to the world’s largest Tai Haku Cherry Orchard, a Grand Cascade comprising 120 water jets and the world’s largest Treehouse Restaurant.


The 42-acre site is adjacent to Alnwick Castle and is run by a charitable trust. It attracts 350k visitors per year, is one of the top leisure destinations in the North of England and has a turnover of £6.5 million.

Realising the strength of its offer, the board of trustees, made a decision that Alnwick Garden should build on its phenomenal regional success in the North East of England, to become a national attraction. This would not only enhance its own reputation and standing, it would have huge, positive benefits for the town of Alnwick in terms of increased trade and further position the North East as a top tourist destination.


The task of implementing a strategy to achieve this ambitious goal, was given to chief executive, Mark Brassell, who has been with Alnwick Garden since 2015.


Mark, said: “We have a very progressive Board of Trustees and while we are financially sound and make a positive social impact, there was an overwhelming desire that we needed to be on the national stage and that we should be inspirational. That was the big challenge presented to me.


“I knew we had to be truly focussed on two teams, my heads of departments and senior managers. Both teams needed to be totally aligned with the future direction. We had to develop a new culture that embraced change, where individuals had the confidence to stand out and take leadership and where each department understood the importance of their interdependence on each other.”


Mark recognised that for this to occur the teams, who were already high performing, would need to be fully assessed for their readiness to achieve this significant challenge. He looked at the options, deciding that traditional teambuilding would not be good enough.


“Our existing culture, which was very strong, was based on the here and now and developing a fantastic visitor experience. The financial success we gained from this all went back to delivering social impact and creating jobs.”


He wanted to enhance the effectiveness and wellbeing of the teams and believed he needed a detailed diagnostic of how they were functioning. This, in turn, would help inform how the culture and norms needed to be developed and, most importantly, the detail of what needed to happen in order to achieve his strategic objective.


He needed to prepare the team for the future and build on the high levels of commitment he had witnessed. Simply, he wanted to create a psychologically safe culture which would enable the teams to thrive.


A psychologically safe culture is one where it is safe to be in a minority of one in decision-making or discussions, safe to respectfully challenge the status quo, safe to ask for help, safe to admit to an error mistake, and one where you feel valued by your line manager and by colleagues.


Conscious change, at any time, is testing, Mark recognised the impact the pandemic was having on the mental health of staff. He was particularly keen to acknowledge that working from home, furlough and uncertainty in relation to when the garden might reopen, would have significant concerns for everyone. Measuring the psychological safety levels in the teams, would shed light on the specific actions and support needed to assist them and which they, in turn, could adopt in relation to their staff, more generally.


Mark said: “The pandemic has impacted on the lives of so many people across the country. It has been a very emotional and stressful time for so many people and in moving forward with our ambitious plans, we were extremely mindful of the fact that we had to look after all of our staff.


“It was therefore, very important that the departmental heads and senior managers felt psychologically safe, as they were going to play a huge role in taking Alnwick Garden to the next level.”


Mark gained the support of the trustees to deploy diagnostic tools Teamworks and Boardworks, which have been developed by Newcastle-based Wellbeing Works and which have been successfully used across a wide range of organisations in the public and private sectors

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