Beningbrough Hall and Gardens: Jo Parker

Our Heritage Open Days

As Event and Marketing Co-ordinator at Beningbrough Hall and Gardens, my role is helping the wider team showcase the Hall’s history and attractions to the public.Open days are free, fun and family friendly. We organise garden trails for children in our grounds and have interpreters in 18th century costume telling visitors about the history and heritage of the house and its contents. Open days are particularly special as the Housekeeping and Conservation Team open drawers and cabinets not normally seen by the public. There is definitely a “buzz” in the atmosphere on these days, so I really look forward to them.

Why we decided to take part

We wanted to be part of the Heritage Open Days initiative because it allows us to open our doors to visitors who may not have been to the property before. Attendance numbers on the open days are always high and we see an increase in non National Trust members, probably coming for the first time. It is great to be involved in an initiative celebrating the depth of our country’s rich attractions. Open days are a special opportunity for visitors to bring friends and family to an event that is both fun and informative. The days encourage different interpretations of history and culture and give a genuine insight into life at the Hall in the 18th century.

How Heritage Open Days made a difference

Our Open Day is a popular day in the calendar for visitors, staff and volunteers alike. When visitor numbers are high, this creates a great atmosphere. For those new to the property, it’s a chance to see they can have a great day out – often on their doorstep. We get excellent feedback from Open Day visitors, who often remark that they will come back and see us again. By word of mouth, interest in the Hall increases, allowing us to reach new people and ensure that our history and heritage are appreciated now and in the future. Over the years, we’ve tried to keep the offer fresh and last year introduced a plant sale to coincide with the date – this was a popular addition and one we will be repeating in 2013.

Favourite Heritage Open Days moment

I think my favourite memory is the reaction of a little girl to one of our costumed interpreters who told the stories of our portraits on loan from the National Portrait Gallery. Wearing an 18th century dress and wig, the interpreter made a big show of curtsying to the little girl when greeting her and her mother. The little girl laughed so much, she was absolutely thrilled. I suppose that is what it is all about really, that connection with people, which makes learning about our history fun and memorable.

Advice to first-time participants

Getting the buy-in from everyone involved at the property is the most important thing; it really is a team effort. Everyone, staff and volunteers, really look forward to our Open Day. They know that the open access day gives us a whole day to promote the Hall and its stories and engage with members of the public. Everyone here is aware of how valuable these days are, so it is great to see the effort the team puts in to make it special.

The other thing I'd say is that you need to consider how you will promote the day(s) so that you can reach as many people as possible. Many papers will happily do a feature for you to advertise your free opening.