Meet volunteer Phil: Signing Father Christmas

Child meeting Kedleston's signing Father Christmas

We have hundreds of volunteers who help us get ready for a magical festive season at our special places here in the Midlands. Phil Royle at Kedleston Hall has an extra special role as a signing Father Christmas, helping families with deaf or disabled children to enjoy Christmas experiences and traditions.

What is your role as a volunteer?

I actually volunteer at Kedleston all year round, outside of the festive season I am a room guide and a conservation volunteer in the hall. However, when Christmas comes around I've got an extra special job helping out the big man himself. It can be a tough job putting together the Christmas lists so he needs all of the help he can get!

Ho ho how did you find yourself as a Father Christmas?

I came to the role initially having been asked to fill in for an hour or so whilst Father Christmas went to feed the reindeer and I've been helping him out ever since! 

Why is the role as a signing Father Christmas so important to you?

I was a special needs teacher for 36 years before I retired so I have a good rapport with children and enjoy being with them. Most of my working life was with Deaf children many of whom had additional difficulties which has given me a facility in British Sign Language (and a little Norwegian sign language!). I have a working understanding of visual impairment, autism and physical & learning difficulties which helps me to communicate a little better than most with children who need a little more time to get used to the idea of meeting Father Christmas. It is great to welcome children with special needs and their families and to help them to have an equal access to the joys of the season.

What's your favourite part of the role?

The most wonderful part of this role is bringing the magic of Christmas to children and families and sharing the wonder of the season with them. Our signing Father Christmas sessions give families the space and time to immerse themselves in the experience. It is a great privilege to be a part of the team which brings so much joy to our visitors both young and not so young. We have our regular visitors returning year after year so it's lovely to build up a rapport with them as their children grow. It's not always deaf children, in some cases it's another family member or parent, it's so lovely to be able to facilitate a family experience that is inclusive of everyone.

Catering for the local community

Derby has the largest deaf community outside London, Kedleston sits right on the outskirts of the city, only five minutes from the Royal School for the Deaf, with that in mind it's important to us that our Christmas offer is inclusive for families living locally. 

Find out more about Father Christmas at Kedleston Hall here.