She’s only been in the job for just over a year, but Ashleigh Hill’s having a busy time of it.
The enthusiastic 23-year-old is the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland’s marketing officer, something of a dream job for her considering her background in marketing and her family connections to the organisation.
“I’ve always gone to the parades since I can remember, so I definitely had an interest in it and it’s just something I’ve been brought up with,” says the Saintfield girl, who was educated at Victoria College in Belfast.
“I love the traditions of it.”
Ashleigh took up the position in May 2013, and indeed her appointment came at one of the Order’s busiest ever times.
They are currently in the middle of extensive renovations of their two interpretive centres in Belfast and Loughgall - Schomberg House and Sloan’s House respectively - and Ashleigh’s primary responsibility when they are completed will be to promote them and raise awareness of what they have to offer, something she is heavily involved in even now.
“Once the museums are open I will be responsible again for encouraging visitors, as well as promoting ideas and just general press queries regarding the centres,” says Ashleigh, who studied communications and public relations at the University of Ulster.
The development of both Schomberg House and Sloan’s House is part of the Orange Order’s REACH Project (Reaching out through Education and Cultural Heritage) which received £3.6 million from the EU’s PEACE III Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body and aims to promote shared space and great levels of reconciliation.
Work at the Cregagh Road based Schomberg House, which is the headquarters of the Order, officially got underway in February, and when it is completed will be home to a wealth of items and artefacts relating to this history of Orangeism across the world. The expansion will also incorporate a research facility and educational resource, with particular access for school and cross-community visits.
Sloan’s House in Co Armagh, where the first ever Orange warrants were signed more than 200 years ago, is also undergoing refurbishment and improvement.
And the two properties are on track to be fully operational and open to the general public by spring 2015.
“Marketing was always something I loved, and something I wanted to pursue when I left university,” continues Ashleigh, as we talk about the magnitude of the role she will have come then, considering the fact that the Orange Order is the largest Protestant organisation in Northern Ireland, and interest will be high.
“Both sides of my family would have had connections with the Orange Order - I have great uncles who would have paraded every year.”
She adds: “A lot of people may not fully understand the entire history of the organisation, even those from Orange backgrounds.
I think it’s important that people have a better understanding of what the organisation is before they make any judgements.”
And Ashleigh says that the whole aim of the creation of the two interpretive centres, as they will be known, “is to create education, understanding and mutual respect for the organisation.”
She adds: “The idea is that they will be two shared spaces and anyone and everyone can come and see them.”
She explains that the centres will comprise not only museums, featuring a range of artefacts, but also a research facility: “It’s hoped that we will turn all the research books which date back hundreds of years into a date base.
“And we really want to push for school groups and community groups to come and visit us.”
It’s an exciting and by no means modest sounding project.
Ashleigh explains that Schomberg House is being extended at the back of the building for the permanent exhibition space and the library.
“There is also a replica Orange Hall which will be a lodge room which lodges can come and use for meetings.”
She says that one of the most fascinating artefacts that will be on display is King William’s saddlecloth; this was presented to Sir Thomas Coningsby, Quartermaster General, and came complete with a warrant from William and Mary.
“There is also a damask table cloth on loan to us and dates way back to 1675. We have interesting things from around the world because the Orange is a global organisation.”