To design and produce part-conference, part-festival for 137 volunteer managers from across the UK.

The National Trust conference is there to create a platform on how to approach volunteer management across two days that involves a range of workshops and plenary sessions.

With nearly the entire organisation being made up of volunteers, 65,000 compared to just 5,000 employees the organisation wouldn’t work without them; proof that the conference is crucial in delivering the volunteers message that couldn’t be communicated otherwise.  

The conference is designed to inform, educate and entertain Volunteer Managers and then pass this onto their volunteers across the country. Given the number of volunteers it was essential that specific volunteer messages were filtered amongst the managers, discussed in a creative way in order to inspire the volunteers for the year ahead.  

The budget was extremely restricted due the Trust’s charity status and their need to save costs, further limited on events which don’t touch the public. The main focus for the National Trust is to raise money to preserve and maintain their properties and bring them to life for visitors – through interactions with volunteers.


Given the limitations of the budget there were numerous challenges involved in producing the conference. Keeping venue costs to a minimum was vital but holding the conference at a venue that reflected the National Trust was equally as important. After undertaking extensive research into a number of venues across the country it was on Cascade’s recommendation that the National Trust hold the conference at one of their venues, specifically Calke Abbey, in Derbyshire.

Calke Abbey is home to a 354sqm riding school giving a perfect space for the plenary sessions. To produce the two day conference in the grounds and transform the riding school into a conference environment was a huge step for the National Trust, having never done anything like this before.  

Given the budget, producing the conference in Derbyshire was the single most effective intervention that could have been made within the volunteer managers training and development.  Keeping the venue within the organisation reduced onsite costs and enabled the money to be spent elsewhere, including dressing and theming, staging, lighting, artwork and additional marquees. Using a National Trust property as a location and including volunteering contributions in every aspect ensured that, it provided value for money for the charity.

In order to keep the budget as low as possible negotiating with suppliers was necessary. Reduced rates were obtained from a number of hotels that gave government rates keeping costs low. Our AV partner, PSP, also reduced their rates by 30% across all projection, switching, staging, sound and lighting. It was not only supplier rates that were negotiated but Cascade also waived their management fees. We provided specific items free of charge, including the creation and maintenance of the Convestival website, design of printwork and all video recording.

Delegates came from all over the UK across numerous National Trust properties; we worked alongside the National Trust to manage the registration of all delegates online as well as coordinating their travel. Once the online registration was complete we collated the list of delegates by area and property so all delegates were able to car share to save the environment. Once on site, delegates were encouraged to leave their cars and be transported by coach to and from the hotels, organised by Cascade.


As the title suggests it was not only important to build a clear volunteer management message throughout the conference but underpin everything with a festival feel.

The plenary sessions were held in the riding school with keynote sessions on a stage from a variety of speakers, including the Director General of the National Trust Helen Ghosh and Justin Davies Smith Executive Director of Volunteering at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations. Each presentation used lighting and video projection throughout.

The riding school was a perfect fit for the plenary sessions, having the capacity and space to create whatever the National Trust needed as well as having the space outdoors to make the conference become part festival.

These additional areas were provided on the grass directly outside the riding school having enough space for 4 extra tents, a central star marquee, catering van and Cascade tour bus turned National Trust hub. Locating a space that allowed for a conference message to be delivered to nearly 150 people and have an outdoor area to bring the conference/ festival alive whilst simultaneously mirroring the organisation, displayed why Calke Abbey was the perfect fit.

During the welcome address all delegates were given a festival style lanyard and plastic wallet with the agenda across the two days. Informal seating as well as a site map reflecting that of a national festival was given to delegates in order to navigate their way around site.

The map design reflected the free roaming nature of an event of this type, this gave delegates the chance to choose which breakout session they wanted to be involved with and when. This created a relaxed environment to encourage inspiration and motivation across the four breakout areas including the Love Zone, Inspiration Zone, Share Zone and Thinking Zone. The workshops equip the manager’s with practical tools and tips to put change into practice and create an opportunity for them to network with others in a similar role. Classes were given on topics that would inspire and help the delegates such as communicating with volunteers, dealing with difficult situations and working with interns and social media.

The evening entertainment reflected a festival theme with Thrill Collins performing, a UK Skiffle pop band playing songs through the ages to suit any delegate. This was a chance for the delegates to let their hair down and live the festival feel.  


The delegates were surveyed before and after the event with key measures to do with volunteer management. Across the board ratings improved from pre and post Convestival on average by 28% please see evaluation document. Understanding after the conference had improved significantly and showed clear ROI. Please see the Volunteer Management Evaluation document for more data. 

Helen Timbrell – Director (Volunteers), National Trust
Working with Cascade, it’s not like working with a supplier, it’s like working with an extended team. I know that we are demanding clients but I love that your team and mine can come together around a shared desire to do something creative and different and I think that is really rather brilliant!”

Shila Fletcher – National Volunteering & Community Involvement Manager, National Trust
We knew we wanted to maximise our impact and learning for our volunteer managers and wanted to take a completely fresh and creative approach in order to do that. Delegates tell us every year that this far surpasses any ‘in-house’ event they have attended and it makes them very proud to be part of the organisation. Crucial to the success of the event, however, is the way that Cascade DO work very closely with our in-house teams from day one.”

When we first ran Convestival three years ago, Cascade gave us the confidence to take the risk. They created a design and planning environment that helped us believe that literally anything was possible and any idea would be considered. They also play the role of ‘critical friend’ extremely well, using the benefit of their experience to help us see potential drawbacks and risks. They have always gone over and above their contract to ensure the touches of magic that everyone remembers are scattered throughout the event, from volunteering their time to transform our Director General into the Queen for our Olympics inspired opening film to providing beach gear and bobble hats for our holiday destinations on site. They lead from behind, letting us shine and feeling like the event is ours and how we hoped, whilst being constantly present in turning the ambition into reality.”