‘You could do that!’ she said.
National Trust volunteers come from all walks of life and can be inspired to try their hand at volunteering for many different, often very personal, reasons.
From choosing to spend time in a place that holds special memories or is home to a favourite item, to being a wonderful way to meet new people, or expand on some hobbies; whatever the reason for getting involved, a common thread running through it all is that people really do make our places.
One Lavenham Guildhall and Melford Hall volunteer Alan Wheeler has been meeting some of the people giving their spare time to these special Suffolk places. Here, he meets fellow volunteer David, who shares his own very personal reasons for joining the team.
'I met David for the first time only a few of months ago, and although we’d spoken only briefly, his passion, sincerity and openness sliced through everyday chatter like a chainsaw through a twig. David is semi-retired and volunteers as a room guide for a few hours each week at both Lavenham Guildhall and Melford Hall.'
Around 6 years ago, he suddenly and tragically lost his wife and muse Barbara. I guess we all deal with bereavement differently and in David’s case, although enormously supported by friends and family, gradually the days became more and more empty, and, whilst by his own admission his is not a lonely person, he began nonetheless to feel alone in a crowd.
‘My partner and best friend was gone and the house became quiet and empty of conversation and laughter,’ he said.
As time moved on, and although work friends and family were present and always supportive, the desire to communicate, reconnect and enjoy the spontaneity of meeting and talking to new people was never far from his thoughts.
‘I remember when Barbara was alive our National Trust membership enabled us to visit sites and properties up and down the country. We’d enjoy spontaneous conversations with local volunteer guides bringing to life the dramatic events and lives of the people who shaped these great buildings, landscapes and historical sites. I’d always admired those ordinary people who volunteer in a multitude of roles to continue to look after these special places today,’ he explained.
Then in 2016, 4 years after Barbara’s death, despite a positive attitude David hit rock bottom and sought help. During one of these subsequent bereavement sessions the question was asked of him,
‘Is there anything you really, really want to do?’
The question instantly transported him back to one of those National Trust properties, chatting with volunteer guides, Barbara standing beside him and whispering in his ear. ‘You know you could do that when you retire David’.
It turned out, as he freely admits, quite literally a life saver for him. Not long afterwards, with her words still occupying his thoughts, he went along to his local National Trust property at Melford Hall and after an interview, some paperwork and friendly on-site training, he became a member of their volunteer guide team with new friends, fresh opportunities and a renewed sense of purpose.
‘Meeting and chatting to new people about Melford Hall and Lavenham with their fascinating histories is something I look forward to each week,’ he says. ‘But most of all it enables me to reconnect with people, reaffirm my outgoing personality and character that had begun to ebb away and once again feel Barbara’s spirit at my side for a few hours a week’. Shortly after starting at Melford, David discoverd its twin property Lavenham and began guiding there too.
‘She was right all along… I can do that…. and I do’, he says, his characteristic smile and broad grin unfailingly reassuring and life affirming.