The small cottages near Dorchester where Thomas Hardy and Lawrence of Arabia lived are charming to look at, but it’s the warm welcome of the volunteer guides there that turn them from houses into homes. On 1 March the National Trust will be opening the doors of Hardy’s Cottage, Clouds Hill and Max Gate, Hardy’s other home in the area, to visitors and the conservation charity is looking for more volunteers to help them do it.
There are different roles to suit different interests, from helping with school groups or costumed cooking demonstrations to retail assistants, reception point duties and sharing the stories of the homes and their former owners with every kind of visitor. You can find out more at one of the drop-in sessions on 1 February from 12 noon to 4pm at both Clouds Hill and Hardy’s Cottage and from 12 noon to 7pm at Max Gate.
All three houses have proved very popular with volunteers and visitors alike, and more volunteer vacancies have arisen as a result of the National Trust deciding to open their doors every day of the week from March to October. Annette Joyce started as a volunteer Room Guide at Clouds Hill last year, and has fallen in love with it, and her role. She had recently moved to Dorset having taken early retirement, and wanted to keep busy and meet new people.
Annette said ‘I look forward to the days I am there as I always come away having had an enjoyable few hours sharing so many stories with visitors and fellow volunteers. It’s rewarding when people thank you for enhancing their visit, however I wonder if they know how much their visit helps me.’
Annette values the opportunity it has given her to learn new skills, as well as the flexibility of the rota arrangements. She is proud to be playing a part in the nation’s heritage, and has caught the passion bug that all the volunteers seem to share. ‘I can’t believe I have the chance to spend time at Clouds Hill’ she says, ‘listening to the same music that Lawrence of Arabia listened to, in the cottage he loved.’
At Max Gate and Hardy’s Cottage the enthusiasm is just as infectious, and the atmosphere is particularly relaxed and informal. Theo Kempe, who volunteers at Max Gate, hadn’t thought of herself particularly as a ‘people person’, but she soon found that she really enjoyed helping people get the most out of their visit. ‘It’s rewarding to see people light up when I tell them about the house and its stories. I’ve learned a lot from being here and I spend time in a special place that I love.
If anyone is interested in volunteering and is unable to make any of the drop sessions, or would like more information, please contact Martin Stephens on 01305 262538.