Sue Haslam Farr
Orchard Team, Croome
What inspired me to want to start volunteering with the National Trust?
I've enjoyed visiting National Trust properties for years and I'm glad we have such an organisation to look after precious places in this country, so becoming a volunteer was a natural progression for me. I loved my job as a graphic designer, but it was mostly office based, and when I finished full time work, one of my goals was to spend more time outdoors.
A friend of mine, Judith Stanley, was already volunteering at Croome and I thought I might find a suitable role there too. I went along to a recruitment event and chatted with various members of the Croome team, and having explained that I didn't want too big a commitment to begin with, I accepted Tina King’s offer of a Monday morning shift in the plant sales area of the shop. I do this through the summer months, and enjoy the watering, dead-heading and restocking – visitors often stop for a chat and say how healthy the plants look – and it's all down to Tina’s team of plant carers.
What keeps me coming back?
The camaraderie and the fresh air are the things that keep me coming back. The National Trust is a well-liked and respected organisation to volunteer for, and it’s a privilege to be at Croome, which is so near to where I live (about 4 miles) – I often visit for walks with friends and family - it's such a beautiful, welcoming place. The staff I have contact with are knowledgeable, dedicated and friendly, and as I get to know more of the volunteers – over 350 of us now? – I realise what an interesting and diverse lot we are! There is rarely a day at Croome without some entertaining conversation and a laugh, and I have made some good friends here.
What's keeping me busy at the moment?
After a few weeks volunteering at Croome I was hooked, so when plant sales ended in September, I worked in the shop. What I really wanted though, was more outdoor work, so when Katherine Alker advertised for people to join a new Orchard team, I signed up. In March, nine of us met up with Katherine and Justin for instruction on pruning - and the obligatory ‘safe use of equipment’ of course!
We spent the next few months renovating the Orchard, and we are still busy caring for the trees - pruning, mulching and replanting. This year we also spent three days working in the orchard at Middle Littleton Tithe Barn and a day picking apples at the Elgar Birthplace Museum - there's plenty to do!
What's my favourite part of Croome?
The Orchard, of course! The blossom looks beautiful on a misty morning, and on a summer’s day we'll hear buzzards overhead, woodpeckers in the woods and spot the occasional kestrel. The actual work, I reckon, is as good as Pilates, with the reaching, stretching and twisting we do to get to the branches and the fruit. Working at our own pace, it's surprising how much we get done in a morning. It's so satisfying to look across the tidy rows of healthy fruit trees and know I'm partly responsible for that view.
What's my favourite story about Croome?
I like the story of how Virginia, the American wife of the 9th Earl of Coventry, made him aware of the ways in which women at home could help the war effort during the Great War. She encouraged Lord Coventry to mobilise Pershore’s first Women’s Institute by getting 100 local women to meet together. Bread was, at that time, an important and inexpensive source of calories. Using Pershore plums, the women of the WI made jam to accompany the bread, helping to feed the soldiers at the Front and the folks left behind at home. I imagine Virginia to have been a confident, modern woman, persuasive and forward-thinking. And ultimately, the contribution that women made during the Great War led to their emancipation and suffrage, something all of us should be thankful for. Jam and Jerusalem!
What do I do when I’m not volunteering?
When I'm not volunteering, I go to Malvern School of Art twice a week for classes in landscape drawing and sculpture, and I am often busy painting, drawing or printmaking. I belong to two local art groups and there is usually an exhibition or sale to get work ready for. It's good to get the work out there, especially when someone else likes it enough to buy it! I love photography too – I’d like to wear a T shirt I saw which said: “If I can't take my camera with me, I'm not going!” I'm on a couple of committees and I help run a badminton club too, so I do keep very busy.
What advice would I give anyone thinking about volunteering with the National Trust?
I would say: “Go for it!” There are many different roles and areas to volunteer in, and different levels of commitment, so you're very likely to find something that suits you. Staff and volunteers make you feel at home – and what a lovely place to feel at home in! If you like visiting National Trust properties, and you value its role, you work knowing that you're making an important contribution. And you're rewarded with a discount card to use in NT shops and cafeterias, plus free membership for 50+ hours of volunteering – payment in kind.
A friend’s mum recently retired from running a B&B and thought she might like to volunteer somewhere, so I suggested the cafeteria at Croome. She began with a real baptism of fire – working over the Easter Bank holiday weekend – but there must be something about volunteering at Croome – she has been doing it for six months now and loves it!