A day in the life of… Helen and her many guises

This is a special Monday morning treat for you – a ”behind-the-scenes” glimpse into the world of one our Machine Demonstrators/ Apprentice House Interpreters – Helen Mackey…

In 1784 Samuel Greg, originally from Belfast, founded Quarry Bank Mill.

In 1984, I was born.

As the token Northern Irish employee, I like to think that Samuel Greg would be glad that someone with Ulster origins works at Quarry Bank.

 My day usually begins with the sound of planes flying overhead as I live underneath the flight path in Cheadle. Then it’s breakfast in front of the TV as I watch BBC Breakfast. I always anticipate the weather forecast with a little dread as that dictates how pleasant or unpleasant my journey will be! Depending on the traffic and weather conditions I usually make it to the Mill in 35 minutes.


 Once I arrive and get changed into my uniform I then head to my designated floor. Fridays on Cotton processing can be challenging as it’s the first port of call for many of the educational groups, and occasionally I have to adapt my talks so that both visitors and schools get the information they need.

 There is no such thing as a ‘typical day’ as a machine demonstrator. During term time we may have up to 250 school pupils a day visiting the property, and the interpreters and demonstrators have to deliver session plans to Key Stages 1-4, as well as Further Education groups.

I do enjoy the afternoons during term time as once schools leave it is less hectic! Conversations with visitors often result in some promotion of Northern Ireland from me as a holiday destination, as of course the National Trust has some beautiful properties there.


 As I am trained on all visitor facing and interpretative roles, I am sometimes called upon to move to a different department.   One day last October I was on site from 10am to 10.30 pm, a busy but very enjoyable day. I had come in expecting to work on visitor reception only to go on cotton processing due to staff shortages. I then spent the evening guiding groups around the Mill as part of our Spooky Tours event.

 I first came to Quarry bank as an Education Volunteer in February 2011. As I have a History degree I was very keen to use my degree skills in a practical as well as an academic way. I starting guiding school groups around the Mill in June that year and by February 2012 I was working as a casual Apprentice House Interpreter and Visitor Reception Assistant.

There are so many opportunities for development here on a voluntary basis. During the first 10 months that I worked here, I volunteered as an Education guide, at textiles sessions, helped out at the Apple Days Event October 2011, and played the part of a ‘skivvy’ in the Apprentice House as part of the Victorian Christmas event. I am now currently volunteering in the Learning Office assisting the Learning Administrator and also intend to shadow the Visitor Reception Leader as I learn about the administrative processes in that department.

Helen as an Apprentice House 'skivvy'
Helen as an Apprentice House ‘skivvy’

 Although I love the city lifestyle, I grew up in the countryside so being able to work in a rural property is both a pleasure and a privilege.

My top 10  Quarry Bank highlights………in no particular order….

  1. My first day of training in the Apprentice House February 2012 memorable due to the low temperature of the house.  As it was a very cold and frosty day I accessorised my costume with a blanket and cloak. Taking notes that day was tricky due to having to wear gloves, and it being too cold to write!
  1. The day that I met Ian Hislop in August 2013, and he very kindly autographed a copy of Private Eye magazine for my father.
  1. Volunteering and working at events such as the Apple Days October 2011, the Autumn fair 2013, and May Day 2013.
  1. Watching the filming of the TV series ‘The Mill’
  1. The morning of my interview for my regular role last February in the midst of the TV filming, watching Jamie Draven rehearse scenes helped to distract me from my pre-interview nerves.
  1. The summer of fundraising, enjoying the staff hog roast in July and getting involved in the Quarry Bank project through various ways of fundraising, such as the sealed bids auction.
  1. When I finally explored the Northern Woods for the first time in May 2012, thanks to an informative estate walk provided for staff and volunteers by John Waller.
  1. In May 2013 I started up the water wheel under guidance from the power volunteers.
  1. Taking part in the Spooky tours October 2013, and enjoying the fun atmosphere as I guided groups around the Mill.
  1. The legendary day that was August 22nd, when Tim Ratcliffe and I created the idea for ‘Apprentice House! The Musical’


Huge thanks to Helen for giving us an insight into her life at Quarry Bank and stay tuned this week for that intriguing Robert Hyde Greg document as promised!



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