The End of the Seventeenth Century

East Riddlesden Hall

In February 2016 I was earning next to nothing in a job that was causing me a great deal of stress.

So we discussed it, my husband and I: a proper grown-up discussion. He got me to put into words what it was that I enjoyed about the job, and in fact why I felt I needed a job at all, granted we were already comfortably off.

Together we worked out that, as he was away a lot of the time, I needed something that would mean I was with people. Being at home on my own all the time was not good for me. I also needed something that would use my brain, that would make me think, solve problems, assess options, that sort of thing. And my job (as a GP’s receptionist) did all of that. But oh dear me, it was stressful too.

So, granted I was working for next-to-nothing, my husband suggested that I should, perhaps, actually work for nothing – do some volunteering. It would give me the benefits of a job but hopefully without the stress.

A very very good call – I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it myself.

The next question was – what sort of volunteering? Again, my husband had the answer. What about the National Trust? He knew I enjoyed visiting Trust properties, and had an avid interest in history. It sounded perfect. There is only one National Trust property near us – East Riddlesden Hall, a seventeenth century manor farmhouse about four miles away. So I rang them.

And my time as a National Trust Volunteer Room Guide began.

For the first couple of shifts I shadowed an experienced Room Guide, listened to the stories they told, watched how they dealt with difficult questions and boisterous children, how they asked people not to touch. I learnt that there’s more to it than just standing in a room.

I did my homework – learnt the dates, learnt the names, learnt the stories. I was given a room on my own and started to find my own style. I learnt to gauge people – did they want to chat, or did they just want to be left alone? I learnt how to tell people not to touch without making them feel embarrassed or defensive.

Once you’re ‘on the books’ as a National Trust volunteer, the emails start arriving. Could anyone help with a wedding set-up, or Bank Holiday car park duty, or supervising the Easter egg hunt, or… And the list goes on.

I found myself volunteering for a lot of things other than just room guiding. I was on the Food Group, on the Spirit of Place group, on the Room Folders group. I helped to develop a Seventeenth Century Gingerbread activity, a Butter-in-the-Barn activity. I did guided tours around the house. I became a Day Leader. And I wore seventeenth century costume – in fact I wore it so often that some days I forgot that normal people don’t go round dressed like that!

I’ve been there nearly 4 full seasons.

It’s been a huge privilege. It’s been a blast.

And now, because that same husband left our marriage, I’ve been looking for a proper job.

And I’ve just found a proper job. This is not to be confused with the other job I got, which was just casual. This is another other job. This will be 5 days a week, with occasional weekend work. I’ll be starting on 19th August – a week on Monday.

I’m struggling to realise that my time as a National Trust volunteer is coming to an end.

I’ve got a few shifts left – two more Thursdays, one more Gingerbread, and a weekend at CountryFile Live. I’ll certainly be going out with a bang!

I’ve loved every minute, working in the Seventeenth Century. And I will miss it more than I can put into words.

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