I had not realised the power of storytelling! We use it all the time to describe how we interpret our places with our visitors and it has become a bit of a ubiquitous heritage management word, like “engagement”. We “tell the stories” of our places and people; there is a danger of it losing its meaning through over use. However, we met someone recently who really knows the power of storytelling and is passionate about helping others to tell their stories. Di Mullis, who works with the Eden Project in Cornwall, is running a series of workshops for all of our staff and volunteers, helping us to tell Croome’s many stories. Amazingly we picked one of the only sunny days Cornwall had had for weeks to see how things work at Eden and develop the Croome workshop with Di (team of staff and 6 volunteers above). From the feedback from the first session I think this could be a real game changer for us in the way we work. I cant wait to get more reactions and hear the conversations as more of the team go through the experience. This has also focused my mind on something that I think is critical to our success, and that is how everything will hang together. We have a huge number of strands developing with the project and lots of activity planned, but if there is no coherent narrative that brings this all together into one central story for visitors then we run the risk of things appearing disjointed and incoherent. I am sure that the theme of Loss and Survival and our Spirit of Place that underpins everything is how we will achieve this. Much work to do over the next couple of months but the team are on it and developing ideas to make sure that the visitor sees, hears, feels and experiences something that really hangs together for them.
There has been an awful lot of talking and planning and now we are getting to the point of doing. We have said over and again that we will do things differently, push the boundaries, test things out, and take risks. Easy to say, not always easy to do. It feels like we are at a point where we need to hold onto these aspirations, keep the vision, and hold our nerve. Examples of this are popping up almost daily now as we go forward and start to put plans in place for next year. Just one example is with our programme of Live Interpretation, “Croome Encounters”. We have always said, and have it written large in our project outomes, that we will show visitors the process as well as the product. So when we needed to find a space and time for our team of aspiring actors to rehearse, why not do this in the Court on an open day. Our discussions on these things are always guided by: what did we say we would do, and what is worst that can go wrong? If we don’t try anything we won’t break any new ground. So…next year you will be able to see all the rehearsals happening in the Long Gallery as part of your visit. Let’s see what happens? So it feels like we are starting to live the aspirations of Croome Redefined in many ways, and this is just one example. (Check out Tom’s Blog for much more on the creative side creativecroome.blogspot.co.uk ).
Our work to repair the Court continues and I must pay tribute to the effort and detail that everyone is putting into getting things right. All of the detailed specification is almost complete; every door, every window etc. individually looked at, assessed and specified. It has been a mammoth task, but only what this great place deserves. Work on site will start in April next years, and there will be more on how we will share the work with people later. Can’t wait to see the Sky Café in place!
Meanwhile we continue to remove asbestos from the Court, uncovering more as we go. One piece of learning will certainly be to include a big contingency when dealing with asbestos removal as the risk and probability of finding more when you start cleaning are very high. It does feel good however as each area is cleared and cleaned and handed back to us. You actually hear the building give out a contented sigh of relief!
A Happy Christmas to you all. New Years resolution – update this BLOG more regularly!
A week of extremes. We are working through the detail of the building work with our team of Architect, Curator, and House Manager in order to specify the work and get contractors to tender. If we don’t get this right now we don’t get the job right in the end, and when you are dealing with such an important place we have a duty, a responsibility, to get it right. We are following in footsteps of great craftsmen and men of vision that created Croome Court and how we repair it now will add a new layer of history to the place. We have the added issues such as how to get 30 minutes fire rating to an 18th century mahogany door without affecting its integrity and how to put a modern closer on to an historic door in order to pass fire regulations whilst not making the place feel municipal. All challenges for the team and ones that can only be met through painstaking attention to the detail and working through it door by door, window by window, floor by floor.
So, is it all in the detail? Definitely yes, but also no! We have to get the detail right but in this project we are doing much more than repairing a country house and keeping an eye on the bigger picture is crucial to success. With this in mind we had a planning session with all the team looking at the next 4 years, bringing together in one place all the various strands of work going on at the property. Rolls of lining paper fixed to the walls became covered in the biggest Gantt chart you can imagine and everyone became both amazed, excited and slightly daunted by just how much is planned over the next 4 years. Actually creating the bigger picture together and seeing it all in front of us was a great exercise however, and will ensure we are linking together, seeing opportunities and squeezing the most out of our limited resources.
So, it’s about getting the detail right, keeping an eye on the bigger picture and making sure everything is joined up. Nobody said it was going to be easy!
Redefining the County House for the 21st Century. That’s what we’re doing. Nothing too ambitious then! We have set off on this journey and I’m beginning to realise that it is actually only one part of a much longer journey. We are all guardians of this place called Croome for a short period of time, and for that time we inhabit it, shape it, give it life, and then pass it on to the next generation. Through Croome Redefined we are in the very privileged position to be at a moment in time when we have some resources; £6.3 million in fact, including £1.8 from the Heritage Lottery Fund. £1.4 million of that will be the gift of time, from people wanting to be involved. It is amazing, and truly heart-warming, that we can bank on such a gift! We have a plan to guide us, created over almost 4 years by the hard work and determination of a huge number of people, that was integral to securing the HLF funding. We will put the place in order physically though the repair works and allow the house to breathe again and life to flow through it by making each and every room available for use. This is hugely important and something that will take time and effort, and will only be the start of how we continue to care for the fabric of the place. And then, what is perhaps the hardest part, but also the most exciting and will ultimately be the most rewarding, we can start to consider what the place can be for the future. This will involve questioning, listening, much testing of ideas, and most importantly learning as we go. Together we are redefining the County House for the 21st Century.
This Blog will document my thoughts as we take this journey. If you are interested do keep an eye on it.