Volunteer, Clandon Park
Cathy has been a National Trust volunteer for over seven years and a volunteer at Clandon Park since 2016. She regularly gives her time to share her enthusiasm for this project with our visitors and is excited to see the bright future that’s in store for this grand Surrey mansion.
Following my retirement from teaching I had some free time that I wanted to commit to something really worthwhile. I’ve always appreciated the National Trust, the values of the organisation and its aims, but I wanted to spend my time in the fresh air so I found a volunteer role working amongst the beautiful Surrey Hills based at Landbarn Farm in Westcott. I spend my Thursdays working on the conservation of the chalk downland there.
Our Lead Ranger at Surrey Hills organised a volunteer trip to visit Clandon Park in 2016, shortly after the ground floor walkway had first opened. I’d driven past it on the night of the fire and it felt extraordinary to be back there. I was fascinated by the remnants of the building, all the secret spaces that show how it was built, and I found the team working there really inspiring. At the end of the tour we were asked if we’d like to spend some time volunteering at Clandon. I went as a visitor, ended up a volunteer and now Clandon gets my time whenever I can give it.
Our role is all about making the building accessible to our visitors, enabling them to enter those parts of the house that are currently open to the public and to get as much as possible from their visit.
Each morning we arrive and the duty manager for the day will brief us on any changes or if there’s anything specific that we need to know. We work in a team of at least three, taking it in turns to move around our three stations – the entry to the house where we distribute hard hats and high-vis jackets, the ground floor walkway and the basement walkway. As the house is essentially a building site it can get pretty chilly. We keep moving, spending around an hour in each location and then swapping - the unusual circumstances make for great camaraderie.
The core of the role is really about interaction with our visitors. This begins from the moment they arrive with a short safety briefing. Then, as they enter the house we’ll be on hand to greet them and, if it seems appropriate, to discuss what they see or to answer questions.
At Clandon Park it’s extremely important that we get right the level of interaction that each individual wants. Most people will talk to us at some point during their visit because they’re so amazed by the scale of the experience and the emotions that Clandon tends to create. You need to use your intuition and judge whether visitors want to know more or whether they just need a little time to take it all in.
People can be shocked by the level of damage and want to communicate with a person that understands, and can talk through, what they’re seeing. Often when visiting a heritage site you can wander and enjoy your own little bubble without talking to anyone else, but at Clandon Park people seem to find it helpful, almost necessary, to express that sense of awe, shock, or whatever their personal emotion is. Our role is partly to help them process that.
I always want people to go away feeling positive. I hope that, even if some visitors do experience shock and sadness when they first arrive, they can leave with an understanding of our project and the knowledge that it’s not going to be that way forever. They realise that this enormous project will recognise what Clandon has been in the past, but that there’s also a bright, exciting future to be made which they can be part of by continuing to visit. Helping to take visitors on that journey is probably the most satisfying part of the job.
" What a time to be involved, it’s thrilling to be part of shaping the future at a pivotal moment in the history of the house and a privilege to be involved in such an important transition."
A special project
I live just a couple of miles from Clandon Park and have done for 22 years. It’s a place that I’ve known for a long while but never one that gave me a feeling of excitement, until now. What a time to be involved, it’s thrilling to be part of shaping the future at a pivotal moment in the history of the house and a privilege to be involved in such an important transition.
The fact that the National Trust is committed to keeping Clandon open despite the devastation is really important. We want visitors to understand the project, feel a part of it and to be enthused by what happens next. The best way for that to happen is for people see the building for themselves.
Clandon Park will become a house that embodies the past, present and the future. It will continue to honour the glories of the past and, whilst acknowledging the defining present, it will be able to embrace a bright new future role. Other places that have suffered tragedies have been restored to exactly as they were. That can’t happen at Clandon which provides an opportunity for a whole new dimension.
I’m looking forward to returning in a few years’ time to see changing exhibitions in a space that gives visitors a reason to keep coming back. I’m also reassured to know that there will be an acknowledgement of what has happened and visitors will see the effects of the fire and what is now a hugely important part of Clandon’s history will not be swept under the carpet.