A day in the life of Judith

Room guide and event volunteer, Coleton Fishacre

Judith Mills - Room guide and event volunteer, Coleton Fishacre

I’m Judith Mills; I work as a room guide volunteer in Coleton Fishacre. I also help with some events – at Coleton Aglow, the big Christmas event, I was outside in the garden helping people. I've also helped with outdoor theatre productions both here and at Greenway; the Gilbert and Sullivan classic ‘Iolanthe’ and some Jane Austen adaptations.

The dining room at Coleton Fishacre near Kingswear in Devon

What attracted me to volunteering?

I retired down here and after I’d done the house up as I wanted, I was looking for something different. I was doing a Gilbert and Sullivan concert and someone who volunteers at Coleton Fishacre saw me putting up a poster for it and said ‘you ought to work at Coleton Fishacre if you’re interested in Gilbert and Sullivan.’
I’d visited, but it was years ago. So she just said ‘come along tomorrow, I’m working and I’ll show you around.’ And that was it! I’ve been doing it for 12 months last February.


My interest in Gilbert and Sullivan

I’ve done all the Gilbert and Sullivan shows – I used to sing, and do all the soubrette parts. I’ve actually sung in Hungary, in America, in Majorca; I was involved with 'The Savoyards Appreciation Society' (an amateur society) and we used to travel all over the country and do shows. It’s been my hobby since I was about thirteen. 
Having said that it was a hobby, for quite a number of years I ran a costume hire company for Gilbert and Sullivan and I worked at the International Festival of Gilbert and Sullivan as a professional working with the amateurs and the professionals, costuming all the shows for them. 
I get to carry on the Gilbert and Sullivan love by coming here to Coleton Fishacre, which was the country home of the D'Oyly Cartes, the family behind the professional light operetta company. Quite a lot of people come to Coleton Fishacre because of the Gilbert and Sullivan connection. It’s why my husband and I first came here.


My favourite part of Coleton Fishacre

I love the map in the Library because there so many little puns in there, so many little jokes that the artist has put in. The road leading to Coleton Fishacre is called Slapper’s Hill. Well, if you look on the map, there’s a picture of a little boy having his bottom smacked. Another place is called Gallant’s Bower, which is over by Dartmouth Castle (an old fort of some sort), where they’ve put a courting couple behind a hedge.
There are lots of little things like that and it’s really interesting pointing them out to people because they see the map and think ‘oh, it’s the wind dial there, oh, that’s the peninsula’ but if you look into it there’s so much more. It’s one of my favourite rooms.


What I enjoy most about volunteering

I think its meeting people really. People come and appreciate Coleton Fishacre for the Art Deco style as well as the D’Oyly Carte link, and it’s nice to share things with them and have a chat with them. Sometimes it’s not even about Gilbert and Sullivan or Art Deco or anything, it’s just: ‘I remember grandma having one of those.’


Memorable moments

I’ve had lots of fun and lots of jokes with people. Most people are very appreciative of the place and they thoroughly enjoy it. One of the best things that happened: somebody came and he was a brilliant pianist and he was with a friend who was a singer. It was late on in the afternoon and there weren’t that many people in the house. The pianist began playing on the piano in the Saloon; we do offer the use of the piano to anybody who can play. His friend was singing – it was a duet - and I was sort of listening - one of them sang the wrong words and got lost. I joined in and we ended up doing the duet together. 


If someone was thinking about volunteering here, I would say to them...

Come along and try it because you’ll really enjoy it. You meet nice people and you work with nice people as well. It’s a lovely situation; you could be feeling really rotten and then look out the window at the gorgeous view and think ‘oh, it’s stunning here’. It’s homely as well, it’s a lovely atmosphere.