Reporter delves into the history of the National Trust’s Felbrigg Hall with a duster and brass cleaner
The National Trust opens its many doors to the public every day but reporter DONNA-LOUISE BISHOP gets a glimpse behind the scenes when she is invited to volunteer at one of Norfolk's stately homes.
Delving into Norfolk's rich history while bringing it to life for thousands of visitors a year is a historian's dream. But in reality, working in one of the county's stately homes could be more of a possibility than you think.
When I was invited to lend a hand working as a volunteer for the National Trust's Felbrigg Hall, near Cromer, little did I know that I would be contributing to vegetable planting and the preservation of centuries-old books – and that was only the icing on the cake.
The cherry came when I found out that anyone willing to give up some of their time could be immersed in a world only found in history books.
A whole army of more than 300 dedicated volunteers help make a visit to the 17th-century home not only informative but fun and enriching.
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These are just a handful of the 60,000 volunteers who work for the National Trust across the country.
And with this in mind I was soon stepping into my Wellington boots to prepare for the great outdoors.
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Not only is the running of the house an essential part of maintaining the estate, looking after its rolling park with a lake, 211 hectares (520 acres) of woods and way-marked trails is also key to the upkeep of the place.
With no time to waste I was soon sowing grass seeds and helping to clear up rubble around the hall's lake as part of an environmental preservation project.
With lots of friendly banter it was clear to see it was not just the sun putting a smile on these volunteers' faces.
Richard Flood is a student at Easton College and volunteers his time to gain valuable experience as part of his course in countryside management.
The 26-year-old carries out tasks such as planting trees and installing tree guards. He said: 'Practical experience is always desirable in the field I want to work in and putting a National Trust placement on my CV will stand me in a good position.'
With lots of work still to be done I returned to the hall to try my hand at working in the decorative and productive walled garden which provides fruit and vegetables for the restaurant and flowers for the house.
Greeted with tea, biscuits and homemade goodies baked by the volunteers, I soon got to see another appealing feature of volunteering – the social aspect.
Doreen Hudson, who showed me the ropes of onion planting, offers two mornings a week of her time to help.
She said: 'I love gardening, and working here is like having your own personal one.
'Not only do you help but you also get to meet some wonderful people.'
No sooner was my row planted than I was whisked away to try my hand at working inside the hall and with a quick rub-down of my muddy boots I was ready for a bit of spring cleaning.
My first task was to dust a selection of centuries-old books – some dating back to 1729. The house boasts a collection of 5,000, which takes around three years to clean.
Consulting The National Trust Manual of Housekeeping it soon became a quick task and I was moved on to brass polishing and even completed a condition report on one of the hall's 13,000 items.
House and collection manager Ella Ingle started her career with the National Trust as a volunteer and explained that they were the lifeblood of the estate.
'Without them we could not open,' she said. 'Felbrigg is one also of these properties that, once you get to know it, it's difficult to move from as there's something special here.
'All our volunteers are very much loved and we give them a certain amount of responsibility and rewards.'
Volunteers are invited to an annual Christmas party and a summer picnic. They also have the chance to participate in trips and can earn a National Trust access card.
Proof of the close-knit network is the choir, the Felbrigg Hall Singers, which started in 2008 at the Christmas party.
Co-founding member and volunteer Heather Pike, 63, said: 'The team here were very supportive of us and helped us get it off the ground.'
The group also have their own uniform with the National Trust's acorn emblem proudly placed on it.
Although there was no time for a sing-song with the choir, I finished off my day working with a room steward, 73-year-old Ann Prockter, who has been working as a volunteer for 20 years.
She said the role had inspired her to do an Open University course and gain confidence.
'I'm not a historian but the National Trust is a brilliant organisation,' she said. 'I love talking to the visitors and you learn so much working here. I love Felbrigg Hall as it's a home, not just a house.'
Before I knew it, it was time for the midway change over in staff and I was waved off by the team with a feeling of achievement and very much inspired by the magic of Felbrigg Hall.
? There are National Trust properties across the county offering volunteering opportunities, such as Blakeney National Nature Reserve and Sheringham Park. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer at the National Trust's Felbrigg Hall please call 01263 837444 or email email@example.com. You can also visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/get-involved/volunteer/ to find out more details about general volunteering.