How we put some houses 'to bed'

Volunteers help 'put the house to bed' at Ickworth

All our properties require a bit of care and attention every now and again. Often the best time to do conservation work is in the winter when there are fewer visitors. Our volunteers play a key role in helping staff put a few of our houses ‘to bed’ for the winter months.

Although many of our properties stay open, some close over the winter months.

‘We have benefitted hugely from volunteer support when putting the house to bed over the last three winters,’ says Caroline Hill, house and collections manager at Beningbrough Hall.

‘We usually have a team of 3-4 volunteers on two or three days a week and they work alongside the housekeeping team.’

Keeping up traditions

Putting the house to bed is based on the traditional approach of shutting up the house when the family was away. This would have been carried out by servants in the 18th and 19th century.

‘What once was performed by housemaids has been continued by our house teams,' says Caroline.

Vital volunteers

If a property is closed for the winter then work begins in November and continues until the beginning of March.

‘In the initial weeks volunteers help us to dust cover the collection, move furniture and roll the carpets,' says Caroline. 'Then they help with the deep clean of all the rooms and condition checking and conservation cleaning the collection.

‘In the last few weeks they help us to put everything back and do the finishing presentation touches such as the brassing.’

Behind the scenes

The process gives volunteers the opportunity to get hands-on and experience what happens behind the scenes and work alongside specialist conservation staff.

‘They are often astonished by just how much work takes place,’ says Caroline.

‘When everything comes together in the last few weeks and the house looks gleaming there is a real sense of collective pride and achievement.’

Of the team of volunteers at Beningborough Hall, Chloe Woodrow, assistant house manager says: ‘looking after a country house is an endless job, so patience, an eye for detail and a sense of humour are essential. We really do have great fun and the winter period is a great time to bond as a team, as you are working really closely together.'

Learn new skills

Many volunteers return year after year providing an ever growing pool of trained, enthusiastic volunteers to help all year round. ‘Some also volunteer in other departments,' says Caroline. 'So it is a great way to spread the word about conservation. Our volunteers act as ambassadors for the work that goes on when they talk to visitors.'

Chloe says: ‘It’s dusty, detailed, fun. One volunteer described it as a ‘privilege to be able to get behind the scenes and experience the house at different times of day and year’.'