575 Wandsworth Road, London

Laura Hussey is House & Garden's Manager at the National Trust's 575 Wandsworth Road, which took part in Heritage Open Days for the first time in 2018.

Why we take part

We wanted to raise the profile of 575 Wandsworth Road within our local neighbourhood and also across London – currently most of our visitors our National Trust members, but this is not representative of our local audience so we still are relatively unknown to the people who live and work in the area.

In addition, for those that do know of us – it can be very difficult to secure a space as we only open through pre-booked tours. It was a great opportunity to test something new. We’ve done evening tours before, but not shorter taster tours – so it was useful to see how these worked.

What we did for HODs

Some of the incredible fretwork in the bathroom at 575 Wandsworth Road that visitors are able to explore / © National Trust

We ran a series of taster tours – a more informal ‘walk and talk’ experience than our standard tours. This allowed us to open the doors to more people across the day, and created a more interactive visit where the conversation was centred on what sparked their attention rather than just what we thought would be of interest.

We were also inspired by Heritage Open Days to open up this dialogue even more, and invited families from a local primary school that we have been partnering with on a series of arts/literacy projects to lead tours for other local families. Again, this created a more informal experience for everyone and was more akin to inviting someone into your home than the traditional tours we have delivered.

The difference it's made

  • Most visitors were not members, and had heard about us from the Heritage Open Days website, so wouldn’t have known about us otherwise.
  • We learnt that there was a great appetite for evening tours, and that these drew in a younger audience. The nature of the conversation was also different – rather than focussing on the history of the house, there was more a focus on its role for the community/the future of heritage and the National Trust.
  • It gave us confidence to test a new way of opening the house – embracing the ‘homely’ qualities of 575 Wandsworth Road, and moving towards the idea of a conversation over the dining room table rather than a traditional tour, which can be quite passive. We’d like to develop family-led tours to make our visitor offer more family friendly. This would also be a real step change for our volunteering model.

My favourite bit

Taking in the beautiful patterns in the study over Heritage Open Days / © Nicola Carr - National Trust

Seeing people’s expressions for the first time when they first walk into the house – and how everyone responds differently. One little girl was very shy, and didn’t speak throughout the visit but at the end something caught her imagination and a ‘wow’ popped out.

What's surprised me

Handing over control is very liberating, easier than expected - and has lots of unexpected, positive results. There is something really powerful about seeing people who’ve had a connection with 575 (e.g. through schools programme) share what they love about the house with their friends/families/new visitors – and how that enthusiasm and support for the house spreads like a ripple effect. Everyone who visits becomes an ambassador for the house, playing an active role in supporting its future.

My top tip

If you have connections in your community already, link up with them early to give enough time to develop an idea together and give it the greatest chance of success. We are already planning for next year, developing the idea of family led tours but also connecting with other local landmarks/organisations to see if we can create a local hub of events in the area.  

Inspired? Find out more...