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Mad Hatter's Tea Party

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Who: National Trust Student Ambassadors at the University of Plymouth with National Trust Staff from across the Devon and Cornwall region

What: A tea party on the theme of Alice in Wonderland to connect with the theme of the local National Trust property

Why: To raise awareness of the National Trust and its 'Food Glorious Food' campaign amongst the student body

Where: The University of Plymouth’s Newquay campus in the student union

When: Held on the 26th March 2010.

Project DescriptionMad Hatter&#039;s Tea Party stall

In 2009 the National Trust with the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE) recruited 13 student ambassadors fromeight universities, to create an active presence for the Trust amongst the student body. This pilot model was hoped to work towards a change in perceptions of the Trust among younger people. 

The ambassador from Plymouth University hosted a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party in her Students' Union building in March 2010, working closely with a member of National Trust staff who supported volunteering in the region. The local National Trust property was already running an Alice in Wonderland theme during the year, which sparked the idea to create the event at the university.  The Trust was able to provide cakes in return for a small donation from students, and local staff met with students and talked about the National Trust’s local offer.


  • Developing a mutually beneficial relationship between the Student Ambassadors and the local National Trust properties

  • Raise awareness of the National Trust among the student body

  • Raise the profile of the National Trust on campus, using the National Trusts’ ‘Food Glorious Food’ campaign as an initial pull for awareness

Results and outcomes

What worked well

Being a bit different

The event took place on the last day of term when many students were free and able to get involved in something fun. As the tea party looked bright and attractive, with people in hats and costumes around lots of students stopped to see what was going on. Having this easily recognisable theme, furthermore in a highly prevalent place on campus, proved crucial to the success of the event. After attracting people the message was also easily relatable to the work of the Trust, as they connected to an ongoing theme of events.

Working together

National Trust staff worked in partnership with the ambassador.  A member of staff acted as the key broker within the Trust, while the ambassador publicised the event and organised the campus arrangements.

 "Everyone was really supportive because we had the head gardener, head catering manager, the volunteer coordinator and a woman from Anthony House and they said to me “If you want us to help you at all then let me know and we’ll make it happen"." Student Ambassador

Posters were put up around campus in the weeks prior to the event; however, the majority of interest was said to come from passers-by who took an interest in the theme.

Raising Awareness

The event gave the opportunity for the ambassadors and staff to talk to students in a relaxed atmosphere about the work of the Trust. By talking about the National Trust’s ownership of coastline, popular with students for surfing, it was able to be seen as a more relevant and accessible part of student life. Secondly, the ambassadors were able to dispel some of the misconceptions of the Trust, highlighting how inexpensive youth membership could be.

The National Network

After witnessing the success of specifically themed events such as the Mad Hatter's Tea Party in Plymouth, many of the ambassadors were inspired to use their degree subjects and personal interests to steer their events into both accessible and interesting directions for fellow students. This was an idea which was picked up, particularly by the newly recruited ambassadors who are keen to use their outside experiences to enrich the current experiences of the group. The new recruit from Plymouth, for example, wishes to organise a conservation day which would prove beneficial for the volunteers, both on a personal and academic level.

Lessons learnt

Although the day was successful in drawing attention to the stall and the 'Food Glorious Food' theme, it has been difficult to assess how far it contributed to changing student involvement with the Trust; therefore if repeated it would be useful to:

  • Find a way to measure results: Did this increase the numbers of student visitors to the local property?
  • Have a follow-up activity arranged: A volunteering event or visit that students could sign up to

Top tips

  1. Ensure the roles and responsibilties of students leading projects are clearly defined
  2. Have a clear and easily identifiable message to your event
  3. Think carefully about the timing and location to ensure a high presence of students at the event
  4. Establish good working relationships with the organisation, and ensure you have a key contact at both a local and national level
  5. Research the university procedures and find out what is possible, start small and then build up your events