A couple of volunteers
Have you ever wondered what it's really like to volunteer at a National Trust property? Michael and Elizabeth Charlesworth joined the volunteer team at Stoneywell before the property opened to visitors for the first time in February 2015, and give us an insight into their experiences so far.
What is your role? How long have you volunteered for?
Both: We first heard about Stoneywell when invited, as National Trust members, to come along for a sneak peek in October 2014. 'A warm welcome awaits you,' said the card, and that is just what happened, and has been happening ever since. We volunteered on the spot and attended as many workshops as we could to identify the roles we'd be best suited for.
Michael: I plumped for minibus driving, after attending the recommended MiDAS course. Having worked in the stone business I was interested in dry stone walling, so when Peter (the travelling expert) invited me to be his apprentice I leapt at the chance. Soon I was sorted and ready to go with my steel toe-capped boots, safety specs and bright orange hi-vis overalls. I don't wear these when driving, though, so I don't frighten the visitors.
Elizabeth: I originally offered to do Hosting, but soon found myself invited to cover an emergency in the tea-room and enjoyed it very much. Now I do both, and thoroughly enjoy both, though they are very different.
What's the best part of volunteering?
Michael: The best part of volunteering is the reaction of visitors to a warm welcome, like we had at the start and which we see day after day from all the volunteers - and a warm farewell, too, to complete their day. Climbing down from the minibus (I'm less than 5'6") it's a delight to say: 'Hello the Jones Family, welcome to Stoneywell.' Most people are amazed that you know their name. Tell you how I know? Wouldn't dream of it!
It's less than 0.3 miles from the car park to the stables, so you've just time to tell them what a wonderful welcome and experience are in store when they arrive, and not spoil it for the other volunteers - each of whom has their own bit of the story to tell. Teamwork's the thing, as I found out when an urgent radio call came from the tea-room asking me to stop singing the praises of the flapjacks, as they had run out until the next batch was baked... 'Promote the scones instead!'
Can you tell us about a memorable experience volunteering at Stoneywell?
Michael: As a grandpa I love to see young children being initiated into the National Trust by their parents. They are easy and a delight to engage: 'What's your teddy called?', 'Did you try the big bell by the back door?' or 'Have you explored the woods?'. But I was beaten by one little girl when I asked if she knew the magic word to open the gate for the stable yard. 'Don't be silly,' she said, 'it's electronic.' Ah well!
Elizabeth: I particularly remember one couple whom I heard order two coffees from the volunteer manning the till. Before they had decided where to sit, their coffees were on a tray, waiting for them - they were very impressed! The unfortunate lady to whom I served a cream tea with chutney instead of jam was - I am glad to say - highly amused rather than offended! I also remember a little boy, aged about five, who did not like the spare room. 'It's got the wrong number of walls!' he cried.
" If you are thinking about volunteering, I'd say go for it! What's the phrase? 'Volunteers aren't worthless. They're priceless.' And the rewards come flowing back: pride in what you do, showing people a lovely place, making their experience as enjoyable as possible, bringing warmth and a smile whatever the weather and going home with a glow."
What makes Stoneywell special?
Elizabeth: Stoneywell is special because everybody who comes can relate to the lives of the family who so recently had their home here. Most National Trust properties are beautiful, but remote. Stoneywell is beautiful and accessible, and feels like coming back home every day.
What is it actually like to volunteer at Stoneywell?
Michael: It's no hardship to get up really early to come here. It is a responsibility to check out and then drive the minibus, or to put the right stone in its place on the wall, but it is a real pleasure and an achievement that makes you proud. The day goes by far too quickly - it's fun!
Elizabeth: It lifts my spirit every time I come! The sight of the house as I walk over the hill is enough to cheer anyone's soul. No matter what the weather, how many stairs I have climbed or how many trays I have carried, I leave feeling good!