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Our work at Sutton House and Breaker’s Yard

A seated group of four people watch a performance at Sutton House in London
Visitors watching a performance at Sutton House | © National Trust Images/Lydia Evans

The team at Sutton House and Breaker’s Yard works hard to strengthen their links with the local community. Find out about their work, alongside how they keep the house in the best possible condition for it to be enjoyed by everyone, for ever.

Sutton House in the community

Sutton House has a long tradition as a space where local people can share their stories, histories, ideas and culture. An important part of our work is connecting to our local community and fostering a shared sense of ownership.

Sutton House’s Young at Heart group

A group of young-at-heart, over-55-year-olds, meet weekly to support Sutton House, socialise and have fun together. Formed after an intergenerational project between a local school and Hackney Caribbean Elders, the project worked to help people from a range of different social, cultural and economic backgrounds enjoy and become a part of Sutton House.

Nearly 20 years on, the group is part of Sutton House's heart and soul. Margaret has been a member of the team for 12 years and is a passionate advocate for the important role groups like this can play at the heart of a community.

‘No one cares what religion you are, what colour you are or where you come from. We accept everybody for who and what they are, we’ve become a family… There are so many different projects to get involved with, we sing, dance and make things.’

– Margaret, member of the Young at Heart Group, at Sutton House and Breaker’s Yard

The group usually meet for three terms a year, each of six or seven weeks, for a varied programme of activities and events, including African drumming, singing, dancing, life-drawing, creative writing, exercising, embroidering, collaging and print-making.

Outreach through film

Working together with the community and the team at Sutton House, critically acclaimed film makers Kayza Rose and Campbell X produced a video called Inclusion, which aimed to encourage more people in Hackney to consider coming to work or volunteer with us, alongside raising awareness of the wide range of community events and exhibitions on offer at Sutton House.

Black history at Sutton House

One topic several people talked about when interviewed for the film was the importance of understanding Black history as an intrinsic part of British history. We also discussed some of the ways that Sutton House can represent an inclusive view of history by sharing a range of people’s stories and histories through its exhibitions, and by involving people from the community in co-creating them.

A volunteer removes dust from the panelling in the Linenfold Parlour at Sutton House using a hogs' hair brush and vacuum.
Conservation dusting in the Linenfold Parlour | © National Trust Images/Lydia Evans

Our work in the house

Sutton House is one of the oldest houses in London and our conservation staff and dedicated volunteers work hard to look after it and its collection of furniture and objects, alongside cataloguing our growing archive.

Preventative conservation

Conservation at Sutton House is a bit different to normal housekeeping. The work we do here is called preventative conservation, as it’s much better to prevent damage than to repair it once it’s happened.

There are a few things that can cause this damage, known as the ‘agents of deterioration’. The most noticeable is dust, which can be corrosive if left on surfaces to accumulate, and less obvious ones include light, relative humidity and pests.

Have you ever noticed the little black floor traps around Sutton House? We use those to observe pest activity, and they alert us when there are too many insects.

You might also have seen little blue squares of fabric within cardboard borders in various places: these record the amount of light that falls on the highly sensitive collection objects each year. Light causes colours in organic materials, such as wood, textiles and paper, to fade.

Relative humidity is the amount of moisture in the air and if doesn’t remain stable, objects can shrink or crack. Old houses can be damp, especially in the basements, and we routinely use a dehumidifier and fan to keep the environment in the cellar under control.

The January 'conservation clean'

We vacuum the floors and dust the flat surfaces every day, but each January we close the house to visitors to carry out the winter conservation-clean and put the house to bed. The doors might be closed but the team is very busy cleaning each room from top to bottom – including every single object.

We do this extremely carefully and using special techniques and equipment, such as brushes made of pony or hog’s hair to remove dust from the smallest of crevices, and wax to nourish and protect the wooden furniture and floors. At the same time, we also make sure to check the condition of everything so we can monitor any changes and keep our records up to date.

Thank you

With your ongoing support, we're able to continue our vital conservation work. Thank you for helping to protect these special places.

Child skipping in the courtyard at Sutton House and Breaker's Yard, London


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