Hello and welcome!

Hi! I am Jodie Lees, Creative Programme Manager at Sudbury Hall and The Museum of Childhood. Welcome to the Children’s Country House Blog where I will be taking you through the journey of developing, discovering and delivering the Children’s Country House. This blog will be a space for us to share our activity over the next few years and in particular our learning from this process too. We will share regular updates on the project and how you can get involved too. Be sure to subscribe and as always get in touch – we would love to hear from you with your thoughts, reflections and ideas. I look forward to getting to know you all!

Update May 2020

More than ever we need to dig deep into our adaptability and agility. Our work for the development of the Children’s Country House was planned to take place across this year and we expected to see lots of trialling and testing of interventions happening on site that would enable us to make key decisions about Sudbury’s future. Key to all of this was to ensure that children and young people were being consulted throughout and telling us what they thought and ultimately telling us what they wanted from us as a heritage space. We still hope to do some of this work, but we know that this may have to look very different.  

Over the past couple of months, we have been working to adapt our plans to ensure that children are still on this journey of discovery with us as much as possible. Today we have launched several ways that children and families can have a say in the work we are doing, helping us ensure that we are creating something that has them at the forefront. There is also the opportunity for everyone to be included in our future exhibitions at the museum through some fun activities that hopefully will prompt some interesting conversations and kindle fond memories of our own childhoods. 

The activities include: 

  • Tell Us – a questionnaire for children, families and young people to tell us their thoughts  
  • The Museum of You – an opportunity to help us build the Museum of Childhood collections through your stories  
  • Childhood Gallery – an online gallery of childhood pictures
  • Childhood Music – a creation of music playlists that represent the soundtracks of childhoods through the decades

Alongside this we have also developed a programme of weekly social media engagement so people can stay connected with us while we are closed.  

You can find out more by visiting our website and we would love for you to get involved.  

April 2020 Update

As you will know the National Trust closed its places and spaces last month in response to guidance from the government. This means that the work for Children’s Country House will look slightly different over the next couple of months. This may mean that you won’t see much activity from the blog but thank you for your support and we looking forward to welcoming you back when the time comes to reopen.

You can read all of the updates here https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/press-release/the-national-trusts-latest-statement-on-coronavirus-covid-19

There are also some great ideas of things to do during this time https://twitter.com/nationaltrust

Stay safe and well and we look forward to reconnecting soon.

World Book Day 2020

World Book Day is an established annual event in schools and bookshops alike, and as in previous years, Sudbury has taken part along with a number of other National Trust properties across the UK. There are eight World Book Day £1 books available in our shop while stocks last, and there were some extra story and book themed activities happening over the weekend. 

We were joined on Friday and Saturday by the fantastic Story Imagin-ory team, who ran storytelling and play sessions for us using the Stories Gallery in the Museum. These sessions were great fun and visitors’ feedback was overwhelmingly positive. The sessions ran for 45 minutes and involved everything from singing and signing to stories, and dens to play trays! 

We also tried something a bit different and set up this year’s World Book Day trail in the Hall. This year’s trail was based on one of the World Book Day books, ‘Where are you Puffling?’ and families enjoyed searching for the coastal creatures which were hidden in different rooms around the Hall, while they followed the story of the Vernon family’s preparations for a trip to the coast to watch wildlife.  

Visitors were also able to pause for a while and read books in the Long Gallery, and the popular Indoor Garden space in the Billiard Room was busy with children (and grown-ups!) competitively building dens, playing games and searching for the final animal on the trail, a cute baby puffin or ‘puffling’! 

Some visitors also came in costume this weekend, and those who did received a Sudbury bookmark, ready to colour in and use to mark the page in their favourite book. There were also costumes available to try on in the Saloon in the Hall. The usual Regency style costumes were joined by a variety of weird and wacky storybook character costumes for visitors to try on and have their photo taken. 

We’ve welcomed a lot of visitors this World Book Day weekend – thank you if you came to see us! 

This blog was written by Keren Randall, our Visitor Experience Officer. Keren is working closely to help us bring Children’s Country House programming to life.

Why the Children’s Country House?

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.

Garden Consultation

As part of the Children’s Country House we are redeveloping our garden to create an immersive children’s garden experience, designed with children, for children. Sudbury’s new garden will combine high horticulture, child-led design, playfulness and multi-sensory experiences. Ensuring access for all and environmentally sustainable approaches will be central to everything we do.  

This year we will be consulting with children and young people to find out what they want the future Children’s Country House Garden to look like, feel like and include.  

The consultation kicked off this February half term where the team were in the boat house (then in the learning room, because of bad weather) to ask key questions: 

  • What do you like about Sudbury Garden? 
  • What do you dislike about Sudbury Garden?  
  • Why do you spend time outside? 
  • What would you like to see in the future garden at Sudbury?  

We explored these questions through drawing, writing, discussions and voting systems. All of the feedback was then culminated into a creative canvas created by live illustrator Jenny Leonard. Jenny joined us for two days and designed two pieces that showcases all of the ideas and conversations we have had with children and young people.  

Luke, Head Gardener at Sudbury said ‘It’s great to see the ideas come to life. It’s been a lot of hard work to get to this point, so seeing something tangible that has come directly from children is really exciting. We are looking forward to sharing these ideas with the designer.’ 

We are holding consultation for the garden throughout the whole of 2020 – keep an eye out for information about our exciting workshops in May 2020.  

Project Launch Day

On Thursday 30th January 2020 we held a Project Launch day to officially kick off the Children’s Country House project. The all-day event, held at Sudbury, enabled team members across the National Trust to come together for the first time.  

The aims of the day were to bring everyone up to speed, ensure that people understood their role, kick start our workstreams and decide on next steps.  

It was a fantastic day that allowed us to continue to build the support for the project and start to plan for the coming year.   

Not only was this an integral point in the project internally but we also used this to launch Children’s Country House to the public and further afield to which we had a great response. You can see links to newspaper coverage and click through to a radio interview where you can listen to me talk to BBC Radio Derby (2 hours 20) about the project.  

Lots of you have been getting in touch with your stories of Sudbury Hall so please keep these coming