Hughenden's volunteer house team at Christmas

Three volunteers sat at a craft table making gingerbread people

Valerie Brickell has been coming to Hughenden since the early 70s, first as a visitor from London, then as a volunteer in the Manor. She's helping with Christmas at Hughenden and is on her second gingerbread man.

Not bad for someone who can't sew on a button

My felt gingerbread people are probably thinking 'I wish I was better dressed.' It's the first time I've done one of the Christmas workshops and it's quite a challenge for someone who can't sew a button on.

There's a bit of competition about whose gingerbread man gets the best position in the house, but I think mine are bound for the back of the fireplace. I don't mind, though, it's been fun and I enjoy being part of the production and part of the team. (I'm on the right in the picture.)

My day job 

I volunteer two days a weeks at Hughenden Manor. On a Wednesday I'm involved with conservation cleaning which can be anything from a general clean to the annual deep clean when each room is, quite literally, cleaned from top to bottom.

On a Sunday I'm the volunteer co-ordinator. I act as a room steward but also make sure that my colleagues have a break and change of scenery. 

It takes patience

There are certain ways of doing things, but there is good training and I use some of the things I've learnt at home now. For instance, I always use a hogs hair brush on the staircase, avoid furniture polish and fold the corners in on a duster so that there are no seams to catch on anything. 

I enjoy getting really close the the items in the collection that you don't normally see. 

And tact

As a room guide, you have to know when to keep quiet. Some people don't know much and want to be told, others are very knowledgeable and you can learn a huge amount from them. 

In the bedroom at Hughenden there are portraits of Victoria and Albert. One mother told her children that they were Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. I wouldn't ever correct her in front of her children. 

" I've been a member of the National Trust for 40 years and I've had enormous enjoyment from the properties and gardens. I've enjoyed my time as a visitor, now I hope I'm helping people to enjoy their time."
- Valerie Brickell, Hughenden house volunteer

Get in touch if you'd like to become part of Hughenden's volunteer team.