Bunnies, ducklings and sensible shoes

There are FIVE ducklings under there somewhere!!

With all the talk in my last post about what exactly middle-age is – and what it’s not – I wanted to tell you about my work as a National Trust volunteer…

It seems to be a natural career progression for people who were teachers – at some point we become National Trust room guides (other heritage charities are available). I don’t know why – probably the same urge to tell people stuff that got us into teaching in the first place.

My first memory of National Trust room guides was as a child, being taken around Stately Homes by my parents. The guides were invariably redoubtable ladies of a certain age, in tweeds and sensible shoes.

I now volunteer one day a week as a room guide with the National Trust. No tweed in sight, but sensible shoes are essential (no stilettoes allowed on account of the wooden floors, and there’s a lot of standing). Did I say one day a week? Ha!!

I started as a room guide. I’m now what they call a ‘Day Leader’ – basically I supervise a team of other volunteer room guides. In costume – that’s the best bit!!

But my role has increased and expanded during the 3-and-a-bit years I’ve been there – on top of the room guiding (did I mention we’re in costume??), I do guided tours (in costume!!!) and conservation cleaning; I make butter and gingerbread (in – you’ve guessed it – costume); I proofread for the national ‘myvolunteering’ newsletter; I’m one of the Easter Bunny’s little helpers (I have my own ears); I’m a member of various groups involved with the future development of the property, and we’ve been re-writing the information that we keep in folders in each room (that bit isn’t in costume, sadly).

I’m sure I’ve forgotten some, but you get the picture – it’s become a big part of my life since I made that first tentative phone call back in February 2016.

The great thing is that you can do as much or as little as you want – once you’re on the system, the emails start coming. Does anyone want to help with a craft session, or in the garden, or setting up for a wedding, or in the carpark, or in Bunny Burrow for the Easter Egg hunt, or conservation cleaning, or… and the list goes on. No-one thinks any the worse of you if you don’t want to do these extras – but if you do, you really are appreciated. It’s really really nice to have someone say thank you at the end of the day.

I love it. It ticks all the boxes that I needed to have ticked – it’s a job that uses my brain, I get to meet lots of interesting people (visitors, staff, other volunteers), it’s flexible, and for me it has most definitely expanded to fit the space available. And I have to confess it still gives me a bit of a kick to be ‘behind the scenes’ – to be in the House before it opens, or after we’ve closed, to know what lies behind the door marked ‘Private’, to have a say in how the guides are written, what stories we tell and how we tell them.

I never get tired of turning in from the main road, through the gates, with the House and the duck pond in front and the barns to the side. It’s a view that hasn’t changed since the 17th century, but it’s different every time – I’ve seen the pond covered in ice, the trees with no leaves, snow on the ground, the daffodils out, drizzle and baking sunshine.

And the ducklings!! At this time of the year, it’s all about the ducklings. Some years they don’t all survive. This year, we’ve had two broods – one started with 15 (15!!!) and we now have eight strapping teenage ducks. The other brood started out at five, and so far they’re all still with us. We have a heron, which explains the slow reduction in the duckling population. But we haven’t lost as many as in other years – so now I’m worried about the heron!! It’s emotional.

And now I’ve gone and got myself a job. It’s just a casual job, so I can choose when I work (up to a point – the point being that I need the money so will be working as many days as I possibly can). As I’m seeing it as a step on the road to full-time work I have to accept that I won’t be able to continue volunteering, at least not to the extent that I currently do. The paid work has to come first. Like I said – it’s emotional.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this – if you’ve enjoyed it, please Share and Follow and Like as you see fit.

I always reply to comments from nice people.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. anglosvizzera says:

    Voluntary work is indeed extremely rewarding – it sounds wonderful what you do, lots of fun (intrigued to see the famous costume now!) but I hope your new job will be equally satisfying and that you don’t miss it too much.

    After I had started my family, as my (now ex) husband at that time was still a student and therefore we lived on a lowish income, being as I’d not kept up with my previous ‘career’ as a radiographer during my degree, the cost of childcare would have far outweighed what I might have earned. We didn’t have family available in the area, so I was rather stuck.

    However, when we only had two children, we moved to Hereford and my sister suggested I join the local NCT to make ‘friends on the same wavelength’. (I’ve since found that this ‘same wavelength’ isn’t the same everywhere around the country!) That was great advice and I soon volunteered my services for the group as membership secretary and then, with my ‘artistic background’ (a year’s Art Foundation course – where I met your lovely friend Jane – and a degree in Architecture) I offered to create the local NCT quarterly newsletter. That was before computers and so on, so it was a case of typing up articles on my trusty old typewriter, drawing little illustrations, sticking it all on paper and photocopying it, and then taking it to the local printer. It was a lot of fun.

    I had also been a member of whatever local choir was around wherever we lived and, on moving back to Winchester for my husband’s work (and another two children later), I was enticed onto the committee of both choirs I was in to design the posters and brochures. Thankfully by that time we had computers and all kinds of flashy software to make the job easier, but I learned a lot and was shown much gratitude by the choirs’ committees and members.

    I developed many useful design skills in the process which I was able to transfer to subsequent jobs, for which they were also very grateful as it saved them a lot of money in paying for design and printing.

    Aside from that, it was fun and got me out of the house and enabled me to meet lots of interesting people, like you have.

    Thank you for your lovely blog posts – and I hope you find time to continue once you start work 🙂


  2. Thanks for your good wishes Anglosvizzera!! And absolutely I’ll continue the blog – there’ll be lots to blog about!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. sheila says:

    My ex left after a 40 year marriage, for a younger ( by 25 years) woman. Having previously retired at 55, I went back to my career to support myself, but 4 months ago at the (middle – just!) age of 65, I retired. I now Volunteer with 4 Conservation groups. I absolutely love digging ponds, laying hedges, planting trees – anything involving physical outdoor work in mud! I also befriend an elderly disabled lady, visiting her for a chat for a couple of hours once a week. I do Tai Chi twice a week, and yoga twice a week. I joined a walking group, and an “ over 50’s youth club” where we have activities such as boules, and quizzes to keep our minds active. I spend time with my children and grandchildren, and regularly meet friends. After the initial devastation, forced into a very different financial situation, and coming to terms with a new future as an older single woman, I can definitely say that volunteering and actively seeking new challenges saved me. Your blog mirrors my life and I admire you for taking the time and effort to share with us, as it may help someone starting out on this scary road, to believe that things can improve and there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Thank you.


    1. That’s an amazing selection of activities – and lots of variety, which of course is the spice of life. I loved my volunteering, but because I now work very unpredictable shifts (there’s no pattern at all, and we only find out about 4 weeks ahead of time what our hours will be), I could no longer commit to doing anything. What makes it even harder is that I have to drive past the gateway to ERH on my way to my new job!!
      I really do hope my blog is helpful to anyone wondering what the hell happens next – it started as a way to get things straight in my own mind, but I’m chuffed to bits that people are finding it helpful for them too. xx


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