Getting Basildon Park in the festive spirit
myvolunteering correspondent, London and South East
myvolunteering correspondent Caroline McAslan talks about the exciting festive preparations happening at Basildon Park.
Set between the rumbling sound of the busy London to Oxford railway line and the quiet meandering River Thames, Basildon Park is hard at work preparing a great Christmas display for its visitors. This fine 18th century country house in Berkshire was built to the designs of John Carr of York for Sir Francis Sykes and is one of Carr’s masterpieces. The Basildon Park you see today is a recreation and restoration of this mansion, brought back to life in the 1950s by Lord and Lady Iliffe. It was Lady Iliffe’s wish that the house always remain a home.
In this spirit, volunteers and staff have been busy gathering conkers, cones, twigs and leaves to give a unique festive spirit to the stables, house and shop. When I arrived on a quiet Monday morning volunteers were threading conkers and hanging them on sticks to dry before a wood burner, which volunteer Colin Longridge prides himself on getting going with only one match. Team work is at the heart of everything volunteers, like Colin and Iola Sumner, do and mucking in and turning your hand to whatever job needs doing is very much the ethos. Colin is also the buggy driver and equally attends to car parking, especially at weekends when the steepsided overflow car park requires more direction.
In another part of the stables, Kirsten Linning, the Volunteer Experience Assistant, is masterminding the decoration of 1,200 conkers and at the time of my visit had completed 875 glistening, glittering white conkers hanging and drying again by the wood burner. With her previous Art degree experience, she excels in giving these natural products the flair and pizzazz needed to transform them into natural but highly festive decorations. Decorated twigs and leaves hang overhead in the shop and there is a cheerful Christmassy look to the shelves to entice visitors into planning their present buying early.
Basildon’s volunteers enjoy some flexibility in their working rotas with half days routinely offered at Visitor Reception. Up in the mansion, volunteer Angie Cavell is expertly guiding two morning and two afternoon tours but it is planned to introduce half day shifts too in the house, especially during the winter months. The tours last 45 minutes but visitors are encouraged to ask questions on the mansion tour covering eight rooms. Soon the house will be dressed for a country house Christmas with Christmas trees and decorations all around.
Down in the cafeteria, more decorations are already starting to appear and a themed food offering will be on the menu with mulled wine and mince pies during December.
Outside in the garden and 400 acres of parkland a family festive trail is planned with a prize to be won from the ticket office at the end. The trail is suitable for all ages and costs £2 per trail. If you have more energy there are four winter walks on the estate, varying in length from 0.5 to 5 miles. There will also be a guided walk around the grounds on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day to work off those mince pies.
With all the many preparations in hand, volunteers and staff at Basildon Park are eagerly looking forward to welcoming visitors of all ages to their splendid Christmas decorations and themed walks.