Time is a precious commodity, and all too often we never seem quite sure of how to use it. The demands we make on ourselves, as well as those made by others, strip away the hours until that deadline you were so determined to make came and went without even so much as a “By your leave”.
Managing your creative time can be even more difficult. Time is set aside but if the Muse fails to pay you a visit, you end up with very little to show for what feels like more wasted time. I’d like to take a moment to propose a rather radical remedy for these bouts of writer’s block. It has certainly done wonders for me this past year.
Volunteer at a local National Trust property!
Now do spare me a moment of your time, time that I have already acknowledged to be most precious, and let me explain why giving just a smidgeon of your time a week can be such a tonic.
First and foremost, you’ll be helping to support an organisation that works tirelessly to preserve much of our cultural heritage. In many cases there are properties that would not exist in the state they do today without the efforts of the National Trust. Take Dyrham Park, for example.
By the 1950s, the last owner of Dyrham Park was prepared to strip the house of its contents and demolish the house. Luckily it was instead entrusted to the government, with the National Trust taking over the property in 1961. Since then, extensive renovation work has been underway to restore and maintain the house. Most recently the roof has undergone a significant amount of work.
Dyrham Park is the ancestral home of the Blathwayts, built by William Blathwayt from 1692 to 1704. Mr. Blathwayt was a very influential man of his time, holding various positions most notably under King William III. Mr. Blathwayt’s ability to speak fluent Dutch made him a great asset to the King, and Dyrham Park was built mainly while Mr. Blathwayt was away accompanying the King on various matters of state.
The house contains an extensive collection of Dutch paintings and Delft china. Indeed, the entire house was so decorated as to impress William III on his much anticipated visit to Dyrham Park. A visit that, sadly, never happened. The story goes that after William III’s unexpected death, Mr. Blathwayt hoped that Queen Anne would instead be making a visit to Dyrham Park. Alas, the Queen allegedly so despised her predecessor that all his favourites were shunned, including Mr. Blathwayt. He retired quietly to Dyrham Park where he died in 1717.
By and large, Mr. Blathwayt was forgotten by history. It wasn’t really until the National Trust acquired Dyrham Park and after some extensive research that it became clear just how instrumental Mr. Blathwayt had been in reforming the structure of government and the civil service in England. This, for the moment, concludes why the National Trust is such a vital organisation that needs our support.
Now for the slightly more selfish reasons for volunteering. It is a fantastic source of personal inspiration on so many fronts. You get to work in a beautiful setting, learning as you go. You receive induction training, of course, but the true fountain of knowledge comes from your fellow volunteers. People that you may have never known otherwise, sharing their experiences of life in general and their stories about the property. You are altogether surrounded by sources of inspiration, so long as your senses are open to them.
Volunteering at Dyrham Park also greatly appealed to the actor in me, or rather the storyteller. What else is an actor if not a storyteller? Learning so much about the history of a place and the people who lived there brings you into contact with stories that you might struggle to find on the GCSE History syllabus. Not grand events on the world stage, but stories of everyday life, of small events that meant big things for the property. Telling these stories to fresh audiences, potentially every few minutes, made me think a great deal about how I go about telling a story.
Considering that my partner and I only first visited Dyrham Park early in 2017, I can honestly say that the place has had a significant impact on my life. We received an e-mail about a Volunteer Open Day and out of sheer curiosity I went along. Before I knew it I had signed up for an interview, soon to be followed by induction sessions and was then allowed to monitor rooms in the house all by myself. Interacting with the public, giving them information about the house and it’s history.
In short, volunteering with the National Trust is an altogether unique experience. I recommend it to people of all ages. Even if it is something you only do for a short period, I am convinced it will be worth your time.