Volunteer, Clandon Park
A relatively new face to the team at Clandon Park, Katie has been volunteering on site since summer, 2018. Flexible volunteering hours have made it possible for her to give her time whenever she wants, enabling her to meet new people, get to know the area and learn more about a place she’s grown to love.
I was new to the area and I’ve always had an interest in history so I joined the National Trust as a member. There’s quite a high concentration of places to visit in the area and, on a trip to Petworth House in West Sussex, I stumbled on a poster about volunteering. I got talking to one of Petworths’ volunteers and they said how much they enjoyed it and how great it was for meeting new people. Until then I hadn’t fully realised how much of the National Trust’s work is supported by volunteers.
Inspired by that chat, I decided I wanted to find something that I could spend a part of my weekend doing whilst getting to know the local area. I used the online volunteering search and the opportunity at Clandon Park popped up. As soon as I started reading about Clandon it was immediately interesting. I went to visit the site, spoke with a few of the volunteers and that was it.
Volunteering at Clandon
I’m usually at Clandon a couple of times a month, sometimes more and sometimes less, but I don’t have a regular day or time. I help out as often as I can but always at weekends because I work full time. The shifts enable me to have a full weekend and still fit a Sunday morning or afternoon of volunteering in. I wouldn’t be able to do it if it wasn’t for the flexible shifts so that’s really important.
The majority of my time is spent talking to the visitors that come to see Clandon Park; it’s our job to answer their questions. Because every visitor is different, every shift is a little different and that keeps it fresh and interesting. There are a few favourite questions that everyone asks but each individual brings their own insights and knowledge to the conversation. We learn a lot from our visitors - builders and architects come up with some very in-depth questions.
We have a great team of volunteers. It’s nice to chat at the beginning and end of shifts or during quieter periods when there are fewer visitors. Lots of them have more knowledge about the historic aspects of the house than me, so it’s fun to pick their brains. Talking to people is a great way to learn. There’s nothing like listening to a volunteer with 20 years’ worth of experience - you pick up bits that you just wouldn’t get elsewhere.
A different type of heritage visit
When they first enter the house, visitors are often surprised or shocked at what they’re walking in to. You can’t tell from the outside what you’re about to see and we’ve had people who’ve been visibly moved. It’s a totally understandable reaction. Young kids, on the other hand, respond very differently. They find it so interesting to be able to walk through a place like that and see something they just wouldn’t see elsewhere.
Clandon is so different to the type of heritage sites that people visit up and down the country each weekend. There are so many ways to be interested in it. You have the historic aspect - the family, the people who lived there and built it; you’ve got the collection - the paintings, the furniture, the porcelain; but then you’ve got a whole other layer with the opportunity to see the house following the fire. Just being inside the structure and seeing the effects of what fire can do is extraordinary, it’s so rare that you get to see that kind of thing.
On top of all that there are the thoughts of what comes next and the project to rebuild and restore the house. It’s that multi-layered level of interest that sets Clandon apart for me.
Developing a connection
I don’t have a background in history or historic buildings but it’s been an underlying interest since I was young. Visiting heritage sites and historic houses was something I did with my parents growing up and it’s continued throughout my life.
The volunteers have been involved in decision making since the beginning of the project. We’ve been invited to meetings regularly to hear first-hand about the decisions that are being taken and give our opinions on a whole range of things. We’re the eyes and ears on the ground talking to visitors and so we’re well-placed to give feedback. I’ve always felt really involved and like we have an opportunity to comment.
I’ve had a great experience so far and it’s completely different to my day job, which is office-based. I hope to stay in the area for a good few years and continuing volunteering for as long as I can. Even if there comes a point where I can’t keep volunteering Clandon is somewhere I’ll come back to and visit regularly to keep up with the project. It’s become a special place to me.
" The opportunity to be part of a project like this one is a once in a lifetime thing. The rebuild hasn’t even begun yet so it’s going to get even more exciting."
Spending time in a rewarding way
I love how interested and engaged people are when they visit us. I feel like I’m passing on knowledge and information on a fascinating place and a great piece of local history, so it’s nice to feel like I’m having an impact.
Perhaps the biggest reward is the interactions with the children that visit - they’re so excited by the place. Kitting them out with their hard hats and high-vis jackets and then seeing them take the family snapshot is a joy. It’s special to be involved in helping to give a family a great day out, the same way volunteers must’ve done for me when I was a kid visiting these places with my family.
What would I say to people thinking about volunteering here? Absolutely go for it. The opportunity to be part of a project like this one is a once in a lifetime thing. The rebuild hasn’t even begun yet so it’s going to get even more exciting; in many ways the story is only just beginning.