What is it really like to volunteer at Arundells? Some of our volunteers share their thoughts on why they signed up in the first place and what made them stay.
My Arundells Experience: John Potter
There are, I suppose, three threads to my involvement with Arundells: my personal connections with the Close; the Story of the House and its fabulous contents; and the pleasure of working in partnership with fellow guides, stewards and staff.
I was born in Salisbury and attended the Cathedral School shortly after the War. The School was still based at the Wren Hall complex next door to Arundells. Occasionally we were allowed to swim in the river at the bottom of the garden. The school, at the time, was in the process of moving to its new site in the Bishop’s Palace across the Green. I was not a chorister and had no talent for singing, but I came to love the Close with its fabulous Cathedral and fine buildings and attractive Greens.
On leaving home my work took me first to the Midlands and then to London. Retirement with my wife, Val, to Salisbury in 2007 more or less coincided with Arundells plans to open to visitors following the death of Sir Edward Heath two years previously. It was his fervent wish that his property should now be enjoyed by the public. A Manger and staff were appointed to realise Heath’s vision. Word got round that volunteers were needed to welcome visitors and share the story of the House, its owners and its contents.
Arundells is remarkable for its stunning house and garden. But its contents are equally remarkable. A collection of artwork, objects and favoured objects brought together a man who had risen from being an ambitious grammar school boy in Kent to becoming a world-famous yachtsman, art connoisseur and Prime Minister of a government struggling with the social and economic challenges and occasional turmoil of a New Age. By any reckoning his life was one of remarkable achievement, irrespective of the political affiliation of the visitor to the house.
The collection of Sir Edward’s artwork and other possessions reflects his wide-ranging interests and ambitions. Military uniforms from his service in the Royal Artillery stand beneath and alongside a remarkable collection of paintings by celebrated artists, including Augustus John, whom Heath came to know in nearby Fordingbridge. There are, too, unusual objects of unexpected fascination such as a working model of an ancient seismograph, readily available to track the threat of an approaching earth-quake.
More recent history is reflected in treasured possessions collected from around the world by Sir Edward during his time in politics. These reflect his passion for international yacht-racing alongside his love of art of and rich engagement in global issues of the time.
The quality and vibrancy of the house and contents is matched by the lively interests and engaging personalities of those attracted to volunteer as Stewards and Guides. The same can be said of the warm-hearted, informed and welcoming staff who run the place. It all adds up to something quite special.
A Personal Perspective by Linda Robson
I have volunteered for most of adult life, working with children. I decided it was time to move on when I needed help to get up from the floor (no I wasn’t drunk!) Working with children involves a lot of sitting on the floor!
I saw an advert for people to work on the front desk at the Military Museum. Not having a clue about anything military I applied and was given the job! But I love the house (The Wardrobe) and enjoy helping people to find out about their military relatives. Plus we do get some rather dishy young men in uniform coming in.
Next door was this posh house where an ex- Prime Minister lived. And I had always thought to volunteer in a place like that you had to be Conservative, talk posh and at least have a degree in something better than media studies. I began talking to our lovely friendly neighbour over the wall; her name was Wendy and she dispelled all these myths. I knew absolutely nothing about Sir Edward or the house but when they had their Volunteer day I could be seen climbing over the wall to join in. To my surprise once again I was given the job. I do believe they were desperate for anybody!
I also volunteer in Salisbury museum and love the history and diversity of subjects on display. But I confess I can be found lurking in the Rex Whistler corridor a lot in the hope of catching a customer who has not heard or wants to know about this amazing artist. I have been known to get carried away when I start talking about him so I always tell them to tell me to stop if I am talking too much. I also look for signs that they have had enough information. Like backing away, looking at their watch, saying they have a train to catch or any other excuse us Brits use, as we are too polite to tell people to shut up.
This has been useful at Arundells because you have them in a room and if you shut the door, they can’t escape! (only joking).Also I like to keep in mind they have paid their money and you should always tailor your talking or not talking in some cases, to their individual needs. So if they want to talk about the latest crisis in their life, it is not our job to rabbit on about the house. I like to give them fascinating facts rather than a boring monologue. Never be afraid to say you don’t know when asked about something, tell them to go in another room and then google it on your smartphone!
But the biggest asset to being a volunteer is having a ready sense of humour, a smile and not taking yourself too seriously.