During the summer of 2017, I painted some of the volunteers at National Trust Standen, a striking Arts & Crafts house and garden on the outskirts of East Grinstead in Sussex.
I chose subjects from across the volunteering roles so I had a room guide, a gardener, someone from the office, the events team and from visitor reception – and what a lovely bunch they were. Just have a little read of their stories that tell what drew them to volunteering and what they love about Standen.
Huge thanks to them all.
Sue Jacks, Administration Assistant/Room Guide
‘I started volunteering at Standen after my husband passed away. We had moved here from South Africa to be near our children and their families and, once the grandchildren were older and doing their own thing, Sundays became a bit dull for me.
I like people. When you chat to people here, you get as much back as you give, and you pick up so many interesting things along the way. I came here knowing nothing about Arts & Crafts but I have come to love it. I visit other properties now and they are rarely a match for Standen – not in my eyes anyway. If you live nearby, it’s worth coming here at least four times a year to see how the house and garden change with the seasons.
I worked in the airline and travel industry for more than 30 years. As a Duty Officer in the days before computerisation, I did the flight planning so I really enjoy the buzz of the office – it’s busy and varied and it keeps the brain going. I get to see people from all corners of the property from the café chef to the garden teams – the paperwork and questions always end up back with the office.
I do three shifts a week but that is flexible. I’ve met so many interesting people here. You get chatting to someone doing some cooking on the range in the kitchen and discover that they are a professor in micro-biology and the like which is really fascinating but equally – and what’s great about being a volunteer – is that we are all valued. It’s a level playing field.’
Lynn Box, House Steward
‘2018 marks my 36th year volunteering at Standen and I love helping visitors to enjoy and appreciate the house as much as I do. I have worked in museums and for historical associations including the Science Museum and English Heritage. As a teenager I volunteered at East Grinstead Museum so I have always had an interest in history. Now I am a carer for the elderly but I still find time to volunteer once a month.
I enjoy spending time in all the rooms but the most atmospheric is the dining room which looks just amazing decorated for Christmas. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard visitors say that they “could imagine living at Standen.” The house has such warmth about it that it’s easy to connect with, and I think the Beales would be really pleased people find it so welcoming, after all it was built as a family home.
During my time volunteering here, I have learnt a lot about the Arts & Crafts movement thanks to the house team who are brilliant at equipping volunteers for their roles, and I have been on some interesting courses too. It would be great to see more young people get involved. With arts education dwindling and volunteering a requisite for the Duke of Edinburgh award, this is a really enjoyable way to get that experience. I have met so many lovely people and made such great friends here over the years, it’s been a positive experience all round.’
Mike Sinclair, Room Guide
‘I have worked for some 50 years in the oil industry and still do – at 79, I am a semi-retired Director. I’ve had a long-held passion for the Trust and everything it stands for and I started volunteering for the National Trust 15 years ago as I wanted to give something back.
I am fascinated by the Arts & Crafts movement and Victoriana – the Victorians were such clever people and you see that reflected here in the house and in the stories of the family. I volunteer here two or three times a month which fits around my other commitments including family, hobbies and sport, and I am mostly based in the house, although I have covered other roles too.
As a volunteer, you build your knowledge over time but there is always information to hand in every room, and the information we are given is pretty comprehensive – there’s not much we can’t answer. I like talking to people and engaging with visitors. You can generally tell the people who will be happy to chat but everyone is different and we respect that.
I am especially fond of the dining room at Standen as it is clearly the heart of the Beale home. It is where the family would have come together for lunch and for dinner. Just imagine the atmosphere there in the evening when the gong was struck – what a great scene that must have been. And it is that family connection that makes Standen so special. It really is very homely. Visitors always remark: “I could just move in here,” and I tell them: “it would be pretty crowded.”‘
Jane Hale, Kitchen Garden
‘I have always been inspired by nature and its influence on design, so the Arts & Crafts aspect of Standen was a big draw for me; but also, I wanted to learn and to work outside. The five-year garden restoration project has been a brilliant opportunity to get involved in a specific development and I love the idea of maintaining this historic gem for future generations to enjoy.
One of my favourite parts of the property is the view from the top terrace – you can really see how the house fits perfectly into the landscape. I also have to mention the espaliers in the kitchen garden as they are a clear demonstration of how the property has been cared for and nourished over the decades.
I was previously a Managing Director of an oil trading company and then went on to train in education, and I have been able to use skills from my career to help revise the volunteer induction and training pack and to set up new areas such as the second-hand book shop.
I have been volunteering here for four years and being her at least once a week for the whole day has really boosted my gardening knowledge. I have been able to help expand the cut flower area and help others learn about willow weaving. Volunteering opens up such a range of new opportunities, interests and skills – it is such an enriching experience and I have made several new true friends.’
Helena Goalen, Events
‘When I retired, it was the contact with people I missed the most. I worked for the Registration Service and was involved with everything from the legal preliminaries to the final presentation of all kind of Civil Ceremonies from Baby Namings to Funerals – it was such a privilege to be involved in those key moments in people’s lives.
I have always loved this house and garden and found I was spending a lot of time of here so I signed up to become a volunteer at the end of 2016. I have a degree in textiles and still practise hand-weaving so I joined the newly-formed Events team which has been a great outlet for my creativity, but it has also been really energising and inspiring and it’s wonderful to be able to share that with others.
I am a big fan of the new developments in the house such as the freshly-decorated butler’s pantry and the creative projects happening in that space but my favourite area is still the garden. I used to come to the garden just to sit and read and I love the way you can move through the space as you would through rooms in a house – each part is unique and a new experience. And I absolutely adore the terrace. I love to see it changing with the seasons and it always looks amazing.
There is a very inclusive culture here at Standen. I have met people of all ages and from all walks of life and that’s what makes volunteering so fascinating.’
Nigel Coan, Visitor Reception
‘I like people and so volunteering on Visitor Reception really suits me. I’m one of the people you see as you come into the property and I love welcoming visitors – we’re not at all formal, it’s nice to have a friendly chat.
Why Standen? For me it was the landscape and being in the countryside. I volunteer here on an ad hoc basis and, when I finish, I go and sit in the garden for a while to contemplate and just enjoy the light and being outdoors.
I trained in the clock and watch trade and have always worked in engineering and mechanics including the aerospace industry and have been a technician in the NHS and in schools. Since I retired, I have been involved in Men in Sheds in Caterham where we use our DIY and mechanical know-how to make useful things. We have a skills list here at Standen too, where you can offer up specific skills that could be useful around the property.
My passion for cars and aeroplanes extends to 1940s events and I go to the big events in the south east where there are vehicles on show, dancing and memorabilia so I sat for my portrait in one of my vintage outfits. I have met people with similar interests here which is great, but everyone here is really nice – everyone totally wants to be here.’
And my story… Helen Stone, Events team (and artist)
‘I grew up living next to William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow and it was my favourite haunt during the school holidays. I’d be in there every other day studying the patterns and trying the patience of the curators so I was really excited to discover a beautiful Arts & Crafts house right on my doorstep when I moved to Sussex.
The chance to volunteer at Standen came two years ago when I decided to go back to college to study fine art while continuing my career in publishing on a freelance basis. I had always thought you needed lots of free time and had to commit to regular hours to be a volunteer so I was surprised to discover just how flexible it can be.
A lot of the work done by the Events team happens off-site. We come up with ideas for events, exhibitions and activities, we research and write leaflets, design and make props for children’s trails – it’s pretty varied but always fun. We have regular group meetings at the house and are also there to look after the current events. For me, it’s been a great way to gain new experience and I would certainly recommend it to school leavers and career-changers on the look out for work experience.
One of my favourite aspects is working behind the scenes and seeing the property at such close quarters. My first event was an evening talk in winter and, as we waved our last visitor good night, I realised I had the lamp-lit reception hall all to myself. It was such a magical experience.’