12:10 Thursday 19 December 2013

The people who make Sudbury Hall come alive


Sudbury Hall needs hundreds of volunteers to keep the historic house and Museum of Childhood ticking over. As the National Trust property looks to recruit more helpers, NIGEL POWLSON takes a peek behind the scenes to find out about their invaluable work.

IT takes an army of volunteers to keep Sudbury Hall in top condition and able to cope with the thousands who visit every year from all around the world.

The 17th century hall, which splendidly dominates the South Derbyshire village, relies on enthusiasts giving up their time and expertise to help in a variety of roles, from conservation work to leading tours.

A total of 400 volunteers fill the gaps at Sudbury (in the hall and the Museum of Childhood) and at the linked National Trust property at Kedleston Hall. They contributed 36,000 man hours a year and, without them, things would quickly grind to a halt.

Many volunteers help out for decades but there’s always a need to add to the list and Sudbury welcomes calls from anyone interested.

Emma Lipscombe, the assistant house steward, started as a National Trust volunteer and is now on the staff at Sudbury Hall.

She says: “We need people in all kinds of roles. There are the ones visitors will be used to seeing, like our room guides and the ones in the shop. But others are involved in our learning department and there are those who help out with conservation work and behind the scenes in the offices.

“The more volunteers we have, the more friendly faces we have for visitors and the more we can get done.

“Volunteers don’t have to have any special expertise, we train people for the roles. Our room guides are the welcoming faces at Sudbury. They get to shadow people and learn about the property rather than being thrown in at the deep end. We don’t expect them to come with an encyclopaedic knowledge. We then brief them in the morning and they all have a handy folder with key information about the rooms they are in. Most volunteers learn over time.

“It’s lovely to talk to the visitors and see the smiling faces of the children who have spotted the crickets decorating the ceiling for the first time. People really connect with the place.”

Many of the volunteers are retired but they range from teenagers doing Duke of Edinburgh awards, via holidaying students to working people with a bit of spare time.

“We are a big friendly team and there’s a social side to it as well,” says Emma. “An art club has been formed by the volunteers for example. You get to meet a great bunch of people.”

Jenny Layfield, the general manager, at Sudbury says: “I have always said that if I don’t have the volunteers then I’m just an idiot sitting in an office at a computer with nothing going on.

“They make the place live. They are the lifeblood of what we do. Without them we couldn’t open most of our properties. What I find amazing is the knowledge they have. We have volunteers with 25 or more years’ service. What they know about the property is incredible.

“They have a real passion for the place and know it inside and out.”

To volunteer you can either go to the National Trust’s website at or contact the relevant property.

For Sudbury call 01283 586800 or email sudburyhall@nationaltrust.org.uk and for Kedleston ring 01332 842191 or go to kedlestonhall@nationaltrust.org.uk

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