A Day in the Life… Heather Alexander, operations manager, Armagh Observatory and Planetarium
Heather Alexander, centre, with the Plantetarium team
WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT ROLE?
My current role in the Armagh Observatory and Planetarium is operations manager; however, I started out as an education officer. I am responsible for the running of the Planetarium facility on a day-to-day basis. I take school and public tours in the Planetarium, run Digital Theatre shows, create and set up events, and have developed bespoke tours of the historic Observatory building.
WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND?
My background is in History and Museum Studies. I have an undergraduate degree in History and a Master’s in Museum Studies. I have a passion for history and portraying it to the public and the Armagh Observatory and Planetarium is the perfect place to allow me to put this passion to work.
WHAT ARE THE BEST/WORST PARTS OF YOUR JOB?
Every job has its ups and its downs, and thankfully my job mainly deals with the ups. It is wonderful getting to work with school children and the public and teaching them everything from space exploration and scientific developments to the history of the Armagh Observatory and Planetarium. We work with people of all ages, and one of the highlights for me is getting to work with the older generations and talking about their own memories of the Moon Landing, rocket launches on TV and the fall of the Bovedy Meteorite in Northern Ireland in 1969. Another excellent aspect to the job is setting up all of the exciting events for the public to attend to learn more about different topics. This year in particular was focused on the Moon Landing in 1969, and we had so many events on that I’m positive all of Armagh walked through our doors.
WHAT DO YOU FIND MOST CHALLENGING ABOUT THE SECTOR?
Like any job in the public sector, working with limited budget is always a challenge, but we have managed to create some fantastic events with what we have been given. We always find a way to make things work, and that is one of the many positives about the job. The public come first, and whether we have £10 or £10,000, we will do our very best to make the experience one to remember.
OUTLINE A TYPICAL DAY
Every day is different, but if I had to outline it, it would be: open the building first thing in the morning and switch on the exhibition area and the Digital Theatre. Then get everything ready for your school visits. Check the rota to ensure you know what schools will be onsite that day and confer with the rest of the team about the running of the day. When your school arrives, take them on their two-hour tour. They get one hour in the digital theatre, then 30 minutes in the workshop and 30 minutes in the exhibition area. After that, it is tidy-up time and lunch. Once that is complete, you then have time to answer emails and work on any upcoming events that you’re a part of. There is also time for tea and coffee in there too. Some days will have training with our astronomers on the latest astronomical discoveries and theories, and other days we will have senior groups in the afternoon for a show and some tea, coffee and scones.
PROUDEST MOMENT OF YOUR CAREER TO DATE
The proudest moment of my career to date, is the 20th July 50th anniversary celebrations for the Apollo 11 Moon landing. This was an event that had been in the works for over one year. The Museum of the Moon came to The Mall in Armagh and we had shop window competitions for the local shops. I was in charge of running the whole Planetarium building that day, while my line manager was in charge of running the events on the Mall. We were the CapComs of the day. It was something I never thought I would have been in charge of. We knew the volume of people coming through the doors and going down onto the Mall would be huge, and we needed the Planetarium to be a well-oiled machine. I made that happen. The public were extremely satisfied with everything that happened during the day, and once the evening started to wrap up, the team all joined together and had their own celebration with some well-deserved pizza.
If I had to choose one more proud moment, well it would have to be the time I did an interview with Alan Carr and Melanie Sykes for BBC Radio 2, all in promotion of the Apollo 11 50th Anniversary. It was the best 10 minutes I’ve ever spent on the telephone, and I made Alan Carr laugh!
BEST THING ABOUT THE LOCAL SECTOR
The best thing about being involved in the local tourism sector is everybody knows each other. Everyone knows everyone and we’re all passionate about each other’s ventures. The support you get from people in the same type of role as you is unbelievable, and it is a really bonding thing to know that you go through the same experiences every day. We all support each other, and in my mind, no one is your competition in the tourism sector, not in Northern Ireland. We’re a small country and we’re passionate about what we have and, by supporting each other, we’re helping each other and promoting the amazing things Northern Ireland has to offer.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO TO UNWIND AWAY FROM WORK?
My favourite thing to do to unwind away from work, is to write. I am an aspiring novelist and frequently find myself drifting into fantastical worlds that just need to be explored.
TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELF NOT MANY PEOPLE MAY KNOW
When I drive to work each morning, I practice my karaoke skills in the car. I find it helps to get me into a better mood, as I am definitely not a morning person.