My immediate answer is, why not? Arguably, most country houses are grown-up country houses. Why shouldn’t one of them be designed by children, for children?
A typical experience for children in a country house today is to be offered a treasure trail or quiz. I have a dream that one day at Sudbury we will be offering the equivalent for grown-ups.
Passing adult’s a clip board, asking them how many [delete as appropriate] [animals/ flowers/ trees] they can see on their way round, and promising them a sticker at the end if they find them all. That way the children will be free from grown up interference whilst they experience what the hall, gardens and museum have to offer.
I wonder how long it would be before adults would complain about the limited experience they were being offered?
The process of getting to the concept of the Children’s Country House has not been smooth, or linear. Trite as it may sound, it has always been a journey.
The journey started with two people. Two people who had been presented with a problem. When Nikki Kirby (General Manager) and I joined the National Trust in 2017 we were both told that there was a problem at Sudbury. That problem was the whole site had no unique selling point, no clear proposition- oh, and by the way, what was the point of the museum of childhood in the servants’ wing?
As we started to explore this problem together, it felt like we were picking up different suitcases on our journey together.
One case we might call the business case; in other words, what was the financial situation, what was our visitor data and their spending habits telling us? When we looked into it we discovered that Sudbury already had a different visiting profile to the average Midlands National Trust property, with many more families visiting than other places. And we found out that the museum of childhood was the core driver for a visit, not the hall or gardens.
Another case we might call the social justice or moral case for increased access to culture for children and giving children a voice in what happens to them. In this case we packed all that we had found out about the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), including Article 12, the Right to be Heard and the evidence from organisations like the Cultural Learning Alliance about the direct social and economic disadvantage experienced by children with a culture deficit.
As Nikki and I went on our journey together between 2017 and 2019, we were carrying these cases along with us, putting new information or experiences in them as we went along.
Occasionally, we would open them and share them with people to see what they thought. In this way we reached a point in 2019 where we had the concept of the Children’s Country House as expressed here in this blog, ready for testing live on site.
I’m so excited to see what happens next, as the concept becomes a reality and we get more and different children’s voices, opinions and input into the experiences offered on site.
Meanwhile, sign me up for the grown-up’s trail- I want that sticker.
Liz started her career in museums young, as a weekend volunteer playing on the street at Blist’s Hill, part of the Ironbridge Museums Group. She was about 13 at the time.
Fast forward a few years and Liz now works for the National Trust as a museum professional within their internal consultancy. In between times, there was a stint as a museum security guard, some time front of house and much time in a funding / policy role at Arts Council England. Liz has been instrumental in the development of the vision of Children’s Country House. You can read the full brief that Liz helped develop below.