Volunteers wanted at Audley End House to bring ‘downstairs’ to life

From left, Pat Lodge from Uttlesford Volunteer Centre, volunteers Yvonne Hannant and Richard William

From left, Pat Lodge from Uttlesford Volunteer Centre, volunteers Yvonne Hannant and Richard Williams, Audley End volunteer supervisor Julie Oglesby, in the 19th century kitchen at Audley End. - Credit: Archant

Forget Downton! A stately home near you needs your time to bring the ‘downstairs’ to life.

This spring, around 50 volunteers are needed at Audley End House for a number of varied roles, from interacting with visitors in the 1820 nursery and the ingenious coal gallery, to manning the pastry larder, the multiple Braybrooke laundry rooms, and greeting visitors when they arrive.

“There are dressing up clothes you can get out in the nursery, which you can’t do in other rooms, and the service wing allows for some interaction,” said volunteer coordinator Julie Oglesby, who recruited around 65 volunteers for the nursery and coal gallery last year.

“Our volunteers are an excellent bunch of people, some are very into history, some are very into people.

“Audley End is a well-known name around here and it’s a beautiful place to work,” Julie added.

Volunteers usually commit to at least one or two sessions a month – running from 11am-5pm – but Julie aims to be flexible.

“They have to come in for an interview, and then a short induction session to explain the nuts and bolts – then they can start soon after,” she explained.

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Richard Williams, a retired management consultancy owner from Bishop’s Stortford, started volunteering last year and has “loved” his experience.

“My wife and I have been members of English Heritage for years and years. When I saw the advert, it was just so exciting – I’d visited a lot before and just love the place.

“Retiring was quite scary, and it’s nice to do something you really love doing.”

“Everybody’s here purely because they want to be here. I think there’s a lot of fun in meeting our visitors. We’ve had people from Brazil, America, China – they all had a great love of the house.

“The lives of the servants, the ‘downstairs’ stuff, absolutely fascinates people. Particularly our American friends absolutely love that.”

Volunteers are mainly needed in the coming season, when the house opens from March 28 through to November.

But a number have been invited to take part in a £2.8m winter conservation programme, by helping with the painstaking process of book cleaning in the Braybrooke’s stunning 19th century library.