What goes on behind the scenes at Standen House, an Arts & Crafts family home

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Front of House

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One of our very welcoming volunteers on duty on the Porch

One of the most important jobs that we do here as staff, is to ensure that our volunteers are happy and enjoying what they do for us. We do this mostly through front of house duties.

Doing front of house basically means ensuring that the house runs smoothly on a daily basis. This is a role that we split between myself, the Assistant House Steward, House Steward and House Manager.

We start off the day with a briefing. This is to update everyone, staff and volunteers, on things that are happening that day, such as if there are any groups coming or if there is a new exhibition starting. It also means that any information from other departments like the garden team, are passed on to keep everyone updated, such as updates on the Garden Revival project. We also let each volunteer know what room they are guiding in for that shift.

Once  we are open, we will go around the house and see how the room guides are doing – It gives me an excuse for a quick catch up as well. We are also on hand to answer any queries or requests that the room guide feels unable to answer fully or generally lend a hand if it is busy.

Larkspur Bedroom

Larkspur Bedroom

Front of house does bring its own challenges especially with us being open 363 days of the year now. Often I find myself going from room to room covering tea breaks or covering the room whilst the guide goes and does an introductory talk – one of my favorite rooms to cover is the Larkspur Bedroom and Dressing Room. However  this does give me the opportunity to connect with our visitors and find out what they like and dislike about the house.

Being front of house is always an interesting way to spend the day. Every day is different, with new questions, challenges and demonstrations. I always find that I learn something new, whether from a visitor, volunteer or member of staff.

Happy New Year

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Chim Chim Cher-ee

This winter, we have been able to light the fire in the Hall for the first time in over 40 years. But there are always a few things that need to be checked before lighting a fire in such a historic and unused fireplace.

Testing the Chimney to see if there are any gapsChimneys need to be swept regularly so that the flues remain clear of soot, debris and birds nests (especially in unused ones – see previous posts about birds coming down the chimneys in the bedrooms upstairs here). Also they need to be swept so the gases can escape safely out of the top of the chimney as opposed to building up and causing a chimney fire. All of this will help to increase the chimney’s ability to draw the smoke up instead of out into the room and generally help to keep the fire going.

Much like in the song in ‘Mary Poppins‘, brushes are still used today – technology has not changed that much due to the confines of space in the chimney, the main change has been that vacuums are used in some to help get rid of build ups of soot and tar. The brush are twirled upwards to dislodge any soot and tar until the brush pokes out the very top of the chimney. A series of poles are used to extend the brush to make it long enough.

One of the other jobs that needed to be done, was to line the chimney. If a chimney is not lined and burns wood, tar builds up on the inside and eventually seeps through the walls leaving black/brown stains. If lined incorrectly, the flue can also start to leak smoke and fumes such as carbon monoxide as well as leading to poor updraught. The main reason that we got the chimney lined was a precaution against moisture and tar leaking through the walls. Also as it was last used in 1972, we needed to make sure that the chimney would draw well.

We have been lighting the fire every weekend in December and will do so over the 27th and 28th December if you would like to come and have a sit down by it (House open 11am – 3pm). You will be very welcome to.

Merry Christmas everyone.The fire all warm and cozy



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There is no “I” in Team, but there is “U” in Volunteer

Lat week, Kate, our Volunteering Development Officer, and I went along to Sackville School to talk to some of the sixth formers’ about volunteering for the National Trust and Standen.

There are many roles across the property here from the garden to the house to the wider estate to admin – within each domain, there are varying roles from people giving just one hour a week to people who give several days – it is all dependent on how much time you wish to give. For me, it was interesting to hear about some of the roles that fall outside of the house, like garden stewards, who are not so much involved in the garden but are more involved in being around to talk to visitors.

Talking to 16, 17, 18 year olds sixth formers  made me think about what angle would get younger people interested and enthusiastic about volunteering, especially as it would mean giving up their time after school or on the weekend when they could be out with mates, having part-time jobs or even completing school work. I found that talking about the fact that volunteering looks good on your CV and that it can make your application for University stand out, got them thinking about what would suit them.

Visiting this school also made me realize what opportunities there are out there for everyone, not just  for younger people but also those who are looking to increase their skill set or even as something to do once you retire. The key is letting people know, which was the point of visiting the school but also about this blog.

So if you would like to get involved or if you know someone who like to learn something new and different then please contact us.

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A Day in 1925…

The Kitchen Gardeners

The Kitchen Gardeners

Last weekend, we had our big Day in the Life day. The house is set up for a weekend in 1925, when Amy, the eldest daughter of the Beales, is coming to visit along with her husband and three of her children. Hence why as you go around you might spot a bag that has not quite been unpacked, the table is laid for dinner and then when you go upstairs, Amy is having breakfast in bed and Maggie is writing her diary before coming downstairs.

All of this has been gearing up to last Saturday where we took the Day in the Life story to the extreme! It was especially  exciting and fun to share the house with the visitors (not that it is not usually)  but this took that feeling to the next level. This was something that united the property as loads of volunteers and staff dressed up and pitched in.

The Cafe Staff

The Cafe Staff

There was loads of activities going on throughout the house with some of our volunteers playing billiards and draughts. We also had napkin folding demonstrations and writing in the Visitors book with pen and ink. We also had some cooking on the range with produce from the Kitchen Garden at Standen, where people could try roasted pumpkin, red cabbage and fresh bread.

Draughts and Puzzles in the Drawing Room

Draughts and Puzzles in the Drawing Room

It was a thoroughly enjoyable day but not one without its tensions! The main one happened just before we opened – we had filled the bath in the Green Bathroom upstairs and filled it with bubbles so it looked like someone was just about to have a bath. Now the taps are no longer connected so we had to fill it by hand with buckets. The next thing we knew water was coming through the ceiling in the Victorian Gentlemen’s Lavatories! So we had to quickly empty it, again by hand, using buckets!

I was dressed up as  a maid and got the chance to spend the day in the house talking to everyone and partaking in some of the activities. Here is one of me in action:

Gretting Guests as they arrive..

Greeting Guests as they arrive..

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Introducing Me ….

Hi I am Lizzie, the new Conservation and Interpretation Assistant here at Standen. I am Hannah’s successor to the role and, like her, will be here for the next year.

I have spent the last few weeks learning my way around Standen and meeting all of our lovely volunteers and staff members, all of whom have been very welcoming and friendly. It has been very busy – I am pretty sure I spent the first week in a haze of new impressions and names!

Prior to starting here, I was a Conservation intern at another National Trust property for 4 months. This introduced me to some of the routines and basic skills that are needed to help preserve historic houses. I am really excited about this role here at Standen as it gives me the opportunity to learn more about what it means to be a Conservation and Interpretation Assistant and more about the intricacies of running a historic house within the National Trust.

Like Hannah, I will be writing posts about the things that we get up to behind the scenes here at Standen and also about my experiences of the next year. I am also open to including posts written by and about our volunteers and their experiences of Standen.

Larkspur Bedroom

Larkspur Bedroom

As this is my first post, I thought that I would talk about my favourite room here at Standen – the Larkspur bedroom. Part of the reason I like it is that it is a warm, calming and comfortable room. I also like it because it feels the most alive of all the rooms in the house – I am always half expecting Amy Beale to come around the corner!

So what is your favourite room here at Standen and why?

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People Person: front of house duties in an historic house

An aspect of my responsibilities as Conservation & Interpretation Assistant is helping to manage Front of House duties during opening hours.

On a very basic level, this involves being the first point of contact for the volunteers that are on duty, and also being a visible and approachable member of staff for visitors. However, managing Front of House is often more demanding than it sounds!

The day starts with briefing our house volunteers to ensure they are all kept informed, have a chance to express queries or concerns, and that they know which rooms they will be stewarding.

Welcome to Standen!

After the morning’s volunteer briefing: Ruth, one of our Room Guides, gets ready to welcome visitors to Standen

Just before opening, a final check is carried out to make sure everything is ready for visitors, and then at 11 o’clock we throw open the front doors to the first visitors of the day. Throughout the course of the day, I wander through the house, greeting visitors and ensuring that everything is running smoothly.

Front of House duties are really people focused, which I love. It’s the best way to get to know and build up a rapport with our volunteers (though remembering everyone’s names is tricky!), and its great to be able to interact with visitors. I’ve even noticed that different types of people visit Standen on different days: on quiet or rainy days, it’s often people that are familiar with the Arts and Crafts movement or even Standen itself. At weekends, it’s often families that have come for a day out and might not have visited Standen before, so they see everything through fresh eyes.

Cooking on the Range

Cooking on the range: an instance of when Front of House needs to be carefully managed to ensure disruption is kept to a minimum and everything runs smoothly

Sometimes the logistics of managing Front of House can be tricky – especially if we don’t have enough room stewards to cover all of our showrooms. I often find myself dashing from room to room providing tea break cover, or stewarding a room while the Room Guide goes to deliver an introductory talk about the house.

There’s also more unusual instances which can crop up from time to time: we recently had a photo shoot in the conservatory, which meant that it needed to be temporarily roped off to visitors. We had to rethink the layout of the visitor route to ensure it was disrupted as little as possible. Every time that I’m responsible for Front of House, I find that there’s a new challenge – it’s certainly keeping me on my toes!