Stewardship Worthy of the Nation’s Trust

In 1978 I became a Life Member of the National Trust.  In doing so I committed to a lifetime’s support of Britain’s premier conservation charity and secured free entry to the Trust’s portfolio of buildings and open space properties.  Almost immediately I became acquainted with that most British of personalities – the National Trust volunteer steward.

Of course the National Trust has a core staff of employees engaged on a variety of administrative, technical and practical tasks but the majority of people you’ll encounter on a visit to a Trust property are volunteers.  What makes so many people give up their time for no apparent reward?

When I retired from paid employment I decided that I wanted to repay something for the 20-plus years’ enjoyment I’d received from my membership.  So I contacted the Volunteer Officer at my National Trust Regional Office for information.  After a telephone discussion and completing a form I awaited an offer of involvement.

It wasn’t long coming – a few days later I got a call from Melford Hall, in Long Melford, Suffolk.  Would I like to be a room steward?  After a short on-site interview I took up my place on an afternoon opening, armed with my catalogue of room contents.

Room stewards fulfil several functions, the primary one being security.  National Trust houses contain priceless treasures and it isn’t unknown for a visitor to try for a “souvenir” of their visit, though thankfully this is rare.  Visitor safety is the next consideration; a busy opening day can result in hundreds of people passing through the room you’re stewarding.  Then there are questions – visitors always have lots of questions about the properties and their contents.  It’s the room stewards’ job to answer these to the best of their abilities, though some visitors’ questions can leave you stumped!

Giving a talk to visitors

Imagine my surprise when I got another call, this time from the Grange Barn in Coggeshall, Essex.  Would I like to volunteer there?  Variety being the spice of life, I agreed to working there too because of the complete contrast between an Elizabethan country house and a 12th Century tithe barn.

It’s hard to say which I prefer – both properties have their own charm and the companionship of a dedicated team of volunteers and staff.  Perhaps the Grange Barn’s more “hands-on” because opening is very much controlled by the volunteers.

Imagine my surprise when I got another call, this time from the Grange Barn in Coggeshall, Essex.  Would I like to volunteer there?  Variety being the spice of life, I agreed to working there too because of the complete contrast between an Elizabethan country house and a 12th Century tithe barn.

It’s hard to say which I prefer – both properties have their own charm and the companionship of a dedicated team of volunteers and staff.  Perhaps the Grange Barn’s more “hands-on” because opening is very much controlled by the volunteers.

Volunteering for the National Trust isn’t just about room stewarding – there are many other functions fulfilled by volunteers according to people’s skills and abilities.  Some that come to mind are gardening, forestry and practical work on open space properties.  There are also opportunities for people with administrative, technical and professional skills according to the needs of the various National Trust regions and properties.

Why not get involved?  There’s nothing to lose and an awful lot to be gained!  Contact your local National Trust Regional Office and see how you can help.  Remember that Scotland has its own National Trust, as do many Commonwealth countries.  All welcome and depend upon the contribution of volunteers.

© Brian Smith 2004

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