Volunteer, Sutton Hoo
Tony has been volunteering for the National Trust for several years. With experience under his belt at both Sutton Hoo and Flatford, he talks us through what he enjoys most about his roles and offers some top tips for anybody interested in volunteering.
Why volunteer for the National Trust?
As a National Trust member, I have had many enjoyable visits to different properties over the years and felt that when I retired volunteering for the organisation would be the best use of my free time. In a very very small way I think we (volunteers) help the National Trust take care of special places, without this help many National Trust properties simply would not be able to open for the public, including me, to enjoy.
What volunteer role(s) do you do?
I started volunteering at Flatford and now I’m really lucky as I volunteer at both Flatford and Sutton Hoo. I help out in the cafés at both sites. When I first started at Flatford I was the only volunteer for the café (now there are 3 of us) and I ended up getting known locally as Tearoom Tony! At Sutton Hoo I am predominately in the café where I do both front of house and help in the kitchen. I’ve got great pot washing hands, they prove very useful! During the busy summer months when the café is well equipped with staff and volunteers I defect and become a car parker when needed. I also help out with events such as the Fun Run, I like to help out wherever I can.
What do you get out of being a volunteer and what do you feel you give back?
I find being a volunteer really interesting, no two days are the same. You can be working your way through a really big pile of pots and then you find one of our regular visitors in need of assistance, I help the gentleman by holding his dog whilst he gets a dessert from the café, it’s the small gestures that make a big difference. I enjoy being able to help others. Both Sutton Hoo and Flatford, like many NT properties, have many visitors that tend to treat the sites as part of their back garden. They visit to go for a stroll and then pop into the café for a coffee, you see these people coming back and back again and you build up a rapport with them, that makes it a very friendly place to volunteer.
I am not necessarily shy, but you can see visitors who are. A simple “hello, how are you?” is sometimes all it takes for them to then engage in a conversation with you. Taking the time and making the effort makes their day all the more enjoyable. You don’t get that experience in a commercial tearoom, it’s not the same. Here we get lots of friendly people making it a lovely place to work.
At the end of your shift you go home proud of your dishpan hands and are pleased that you have coped with the dishwasher through its fits and starts. You enjoy yourself so much that the hours go by so quickly. The staff are really friendly and, this may sound daft, but in the world we live in where it is very cut and thrust, not a day goes by when they don’t say thank you and that is really nice.
What have you learnt about yourself since joining the team at Sutton Hoo?
We are all different in our ways, we have had different jobs and upbringings, I’ve learnt to be patient and I’ve learnt to love the dishwasher! On a busy hot and sunny August Bank holiday when the site is packed with visitors, I’ve learnt that everybody is happy to share the space. If we have run out of seating I will always walk around and ask visitors if they are happy to share their table with others, they always say yes, everyone who visits National Trust sites are all here for the same reason to have an enjoyable day out.
Despite any hiccups you get on a very busy day I’ve learnt to be more patient, my life doesn’t depend on the dishwasher on those days, but it is very handy to have! Also, I’ve learnt a smile can go a long way! Especially on days when the dishwasher has given up and you are having to wash all the pots by hand!
What is your favourite spot/object at Sutton Hoo?
This is a tricky question as there are lots of places I love at Sutton Hoo! For me one of the nicest things to do in the winter is go for a walk through the woodland, I love visiting on a nice crisp frosty morning before the sun has come up over the trees, it is so peaceful and there are no vehicles anywhere. During the summertime a stroll along the blue route to the dragon is a must, there is a nice bench there where you can sit, look and listen to the wildlife. The vast variety of wildlife is incredible and I think this is a great day to be alive. There is something magical about Sutton Hoo and when I am not volunteering here, I come up almost every weekend. I tend to treat it like it is my back garden – it’s a very nice back garden!
What advice would you give anyone thinking about volunteering?
I wanted to help others and do something that kept me busy when I started my retirement, for me that was very important. I wanted to feel like I was doing something worthwhile. Without sounding selfish I like to visit nice places and without volunteers the National Trust wouldn’t have as many nice places to visit, so ultimately I am helping others to enjoy these amazing sites and helping myself!
For the younger generation just starting out on their career path I strongly advise volunteering, in my professional career I spent a lot of time reading CVs and often they contained blank spaces. Volunteering can fill those blank spaces and can teach you skills to help you in your future employment. So why not come and enjoy yourself, learn new skills and do something that will help others. There is always lots to do at Sutton Hoo, for young people starting out in their career or for those that have retired and for all those in between volunteering really does provide lots of opportunities. For me I love being part of a team that makes this place work and brings enjoyment to so many.