Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween, hope you have had fun today! The castle has been heaving with small monsters, vampires, witches and ghouls! We have had a really successful day of children’s activities (including scary face painting) taking place in the Old Kitchen’s. It was lovely to see so many children enjoying a day out at the Castle.

The Old Kitchens decorated for Halloween

On Monday the House Team had a pumpkin carving session up at the castle. Even though we are somewhat out of the way up at the castle we do a lot of socializing together, which is really nice. I enjoy the fact that we all get on and can do things together. So we had a get together and got very creative, and here are the fruits (or vegetables) of our labour.

The pumpkins ready to go

Ben and his pumpkin

Will’s poorly pumpkin

Powis Castle on a pumpkin

Megan’s kitty cat

Neil’s pumpkin in the Duke’s room

My Tardis pumpkin

Naomi’s pumpkin in the State Bedroom

Kate’s pumpkin all lit up

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A House Team day out at Chirk Castle

This week has again been a busy one, what with thursday marking exactly two months until Christmas day, and today being only a week before our Christmas decorations start going up in the castle!! Our State Rooms are being put to bed a week on monday and Christmas officially open on the 17th November, I have to keep reminding myself we haven’t even had Halloween yet! We have a lot to do and not too long to do it but Christmas should be very magical, I’m really looking forward to it and enjoying the challenge too!

On Wednesday all the Powis Castle House Staff took a trip to Chirk Castle for the day for the first All Wales House Staff Meeting, which will hopefully become an annual event. I was so excited about this as the program of talks looked really interesting, and it would be a chance to catch up with some of the people I have met during my time with the Trust, as well as meet new people too! The talks were about issues that are affecting all the Trust properties at the moment, such as bringing place to life and how to get around difficulties such as more staff needing training than places available on training courses.

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The stunning Davies Gates at Chirk Castle

Will, our House Steward, also gave a talk about having Interns and Long Term Volunteers, and there was a lot of talk in that area during the day. I felt this was really positive as I have loved and appreciated this experience so much so far and it is great to know that it will continue and benefit of others like myself in the future. Having Long Term Volunteers is also beneficial for properties struggling with being short staffed but that do have the funding to employ more hands. It gives us the opportunity to experience working for the Trust and helps House Teams get they work that needs doing done. Internships are fantastic to get particular projects off the ground by having one person focus on them. I joke we could have done with an Intern purely dedicated to managing our new Christmas theme this year!

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Chirk Castle

The talks that gave me the most food for thought were the talks on social media, making me think about my blog. It is how going so much better than I ever expected and the talks gave me some ideas how to increase it’s range, as well as tips on writing posts and finding good stories to write about. This also helped to give me some ideas and focus for the social media side of the work I’m doing for the Castle now.

I spent a lot of the day talking to different members of Trust staff in different areas. Days like this are a fantastic opportunity to network and ask questions from experts in particular areas. Me and Ben were talking to Ken, who gave the talk about Social Media, and he has agreed to come over to Powis and give us some training and advice to help us in our new role. I also talked to one of the Trust’s regional conservators who specialises in Textile Conservation, about her work, with a possibility of shadowing her, and she gave me some great tips about steps to take if I decide to go down the route of specialising in textiles ( a real interest of mine outside of work).

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Chirk Castle’s main entrance way

Another talk that me and Kate found very interesting and relevant to our work in the Kitchens was a talk about the Trust’s Bringing Places to Life initiative. The talk was given by Liz, a Trust regional conservator, and Hawys, Visitor Experience Consultant for the Trust in Wales. Their talk really made us think about the way we were going to present our research in the kitchens and changed our minds quite radically. We had always wanted people to be able to come into the kitchens and see it in the midst of a working day, and for people to be able to handle a lot of the objects and learn by doing. We had though about putting large boards of interpretation into the space in the New Year, but after the talk we are beginning to re-think this idea. In a space like what we have with the kitchens it should be possible for us to illustrate its purpose and how it was used with a minimum of written interpretation, relying more on objects and our wonderful volunteers to tell the story of the space.

Over lunch we were taken on a tour around Chirk’s newly opened rooms; the Lord Howard de Walden exhibition. A lot of funding has been up into this area with an emphasis on accessibility and bringing places to life, so a lot of the items in the rooms can be handled and furniture can be sat on. I was very jealous of the fact that they can also light a real fire in one of their rooms! The smell of woodsmokre makes me think of re-enactment. It felt very homely but one of the things we were discussing going round was how do you know what you can touch and what you cannot. It raised issues we had begun thinking about in our kitchens project.

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Beautiful leather bound books

Having been a member of the National Trust for as long as I can remember I have spent many family holidays visiting beautiful historic properties, and and used to walking around, hands in pocket, looking but not touching. I am sure many people who have been frequent visitors will say the same, and it is this feeling of not being able to totally engage with the collection that the Trust is hoping to change. Obviously there will always have to be limitations, for the sake of the collections, but in areas such as the de Walden exhibition and our Old Kitchens, how do you encourage people to break out of the routine and touch the handling collections?

It is a complicated question, on one hand to create a more immersive experience we are trying to move away from too many sign s and flat media interpretation. There was a suggestion of ‘please do touch’ signs, or pictures of a hand touching objects to get the point across, but them we are going back on our other objective minimising the number of signs we have. We hope that having a volunteer in the Kitchens, who will be interacting with the public and picking up the collection themselves will encourage visitors to do the same. We will also have activities set out that will allow people to discover the kitchens use through encouraging them to handle the collection we have on display there. I think it will be a case of playing it by ear, trying new things and seeing how the visitors react to them.

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The Courtyard at Chirk Castle

On the flip side if we do get people used to being able to touch objects and sit on furniture, how do we then differentiate between areas where this is allowed and encouraged and areas where it is not possible? There are properties that the Trust owns where all items in the collection have been brought in (maybe because there was no native collection) and people can touch everything. However when they then come to Powis and find that they cannot touch our collection (as is the case on days when the kitchens are not open) will they be disappointed and enjoy their visit less because of this? Is there a danger that the opposite of how I feel will happen, and people will come into properties and handle things because this is what they are used to, which would be very damaging to collection that are inherent to properties and cannot be replaced. Again I think this is another dilemma in heritage that cannot be answered one way or another, but must be looked at case by case, where things should be attempted and changed reactively, as this is the only way any of the questions surrounding the issue can be answered!

Interns Day at Heelis

On Friday us three Long Term Volunteers got the opportunity to go on an  Interns Day at National Trust HQ Heelis, in Swindon. The day is designed to tell us all a bit about the Internship program the Trust are running, as it is only a few years old, to allow us all to meet one another and share our experiences, and to get some advice and direction with regards to getting a job with the Trust at the end of our time volunteering.

Heelis, Swindon

The first thing I learnt, before going on the course, was that although I sometimes say I am, I cannot call myself an Intern. Interns work part-time on a particular project for six months, where we Long Term Volunteers work full-time, as if we were a member of staff for a year. I must say I do prefer the term ‘Intern’, it sounds more professional and give different connotations to ‘Long Term Volunteer’ but I am glad I’m doing what I am. I get to stay longer for one, so I can fit more experiences in. There is more flexibility for me to experience a bit of everything and get involved with all different aspects too than if I were working solely on one project. I just hope the terminology will not get my experiences discounted when it is written down on paper.

The day was such a good day out, really interesting and good fun to boot. It was nice to meet others in the same situation as the trust, and I had no idea how many different Internships you could do! I had always assumed it was mainly Conservation or Education but there was Interns in marketing, IT, Photography, Reducing the Trusts energy consumption and green issues! There really is a vast array of different ways to work for the Trust! It was not surprising there were so many different Internships when they told us the Trust has more than 500 jobs, in 22 different specialist disciplines in over 200 locations!

The Atrium, showing five pieces of textile art

The Internship scheme was created because so many people were contacting the Trust asking to do work experience and Internships with them. Setting up the scheme was a much more effective way of satisfying the needs of the people asking, as well as making sure both the Trust and the Interns got the best out of the experience. Long Term Volunteers have been at Powis a lot longer than the Internship scheme has been running so we have the benefit of a slightly more established system. But days like the Internship day will help no end in establishing what is working and what is not and improving what is already a fantastic system to offer opportunities for those looking to get experience in the industry, as well as benefiting the Trust.

After the introduction and background of the scheme we had a bit of an ‘Intern speed dating’ session, where we had to talk to five different people for three minutes, ask them about what they were doing and where. This was a really good idea, it was really interesting to hear about the different things happening in the Trust, and to learn the common themes running through all properties and departments, like the massive effects of 364 opening. Everyone I met was so friendly and nice, and there was a lot of talk of visiting each other’s properties and seeing what exactly different Interns and properties are getting up to. As you may have gathered I will jump at any opportunity to visit different Trust properties so this sounded very exciting to me!

The meeting rooms where we were, One named after Powis!

After our chatting we were taken on a tour of Heelis. The building is architecturally amazing, built with a real focus on being energy-efficient and green. They said that if the building were dismantled it would not leave a lasting mark on the ground below. I’m not sure how necessary this is as it is located in the middle of a business/retail park, but it appeals to me that the Trust is paying so much attention to reducing their effects on the environment and reducing their carbon footprint. The interior reminded me very much of the new university library completed at Worcester just before I left. Both are amazing eco-friendly buildings, and both have the feel that they came flat packed from Ikea!

I spent lunch talking to new people and discussing our different experiences. One thing I am realising is that every property faces similar challenges the whole Trust through, but they also all operate very differently. Naomi just spent the week at Penrhyn and from what she was telling me it seems that they are the opposite to us here at Powis, yet we are all still within the same organisation, working towards the same goals and facing the same challenges. It is really interesting and makes me quite excited to discover what life is like at as many different properties as possible.

The Trust motto

We had a talk from a former Intern who attended the day last year, about her transition into working for the Trust, which was inspiring and exciting. I can only hope I will be in her position this time next year, that would be a dream come true! Then we did some career development planning with the team who are working on a new website for Trust employees to help them define their career ambitions and achieve them. We got a sneak peek of some of the content which will be on the page when it launches.

The first of two tasks was a fairly psychological quiz designed to show you what motivates you in your career. There were 36 pairs of statements that you have to award a set number of paints. Then you have to total up your scores and fill in a graph, which assigned a number to nine different motivators, with 1 meaning it held no motivation and 24 being the opposite end of the spectrum.

I scored:

–          Material rewards: 6

–          Power & Influence: 5

–          Search for meaning: 17

–          Expertise: 19

–          Creativity: 14

–          Affiliation: 14

–          Autonomy: 11

–          Security: 13

–          Status: 9

My scores weren’t very surprising to me, I have always known I don’t want to be the boss and this is not the career I would pick if all I wanted was to be rich! I would love to be an expert in a field; however I have to decide which area to specialise in first! I have always loved learning new skills and been very motivated to become good at the things that interest me, I seem to collect hobbies and interests! I was surprised however that my creativity was not higher, as I have always been told I am very creative. It’s the reason I’m no good at cooking, I read the recipes and decide to go off on a tangent instead! The response seemed to be the same all round the room, the quiz had come out reflecting us all rather well. All in all I thought it was a very good quiz, accurately clarifying what drives me in my career.

The solar pannels on the roof

The second activity was to write what we hoped our CV would look like in three years time. This seemed to be a slightly deeper version of the ‘where do you see yourself in . . .’ question, asking us not only to look at where we wanted to be, but also to fill in how we got there. I found it easy enough to think about what I would like to be doing in three years time, as there is so much I would be happy doing! The trouble was picking one path. However I don’t think my lack of focus is a bad thing given the current job situation. I like knowing that there is an awful lot out there I would be happy doing! My finished ‘dream’ CV looked like this:

Name: Ellen-Scarlett

Address: A Castle (possibly in Wales)

Job Title: Assistant House Steward, specialising in Textiles and Pest Management (It may not be a real job however it is a dream CV so I let myself off)

Career achievements in the past five years: Upper second class degree with honours In Archaeology and Heritage (tick). Nine months as a Conservation Assistant at The Greyfriars House and Gardens, Worcester (tick). 12 months as a Long Term Volunteer as Powis Castle and Gardens (partial tick). One year six months as a Conservation Assistant at a beautiful and interesting Trust property. Lots of different interesting training courses (2 down . . . many to go!).

Additional skills acquired: Learnt to drive (nearly there). Learnt to crochet (nowhere near). More travelling.

Continuing professional development: More training courses. A masters in textile conservation/Pest management (I should have just about recovered from writing my dissertation by then!)

 This activity, and the whole day in general, really got me excited about all the different possibilities that lie ahead of me in my career. I still feel so young, yet accomplished at the same time, and cannot wait to find out where I will be heading next. Though I know I will miss Powis Castle and everyone here I have been so lucky so far and cannot wait to embark on the rest of my career, gaining new experiences and skills and going to lots of fabulous places and meeting interesting new people. As they say, the world is my oyster, and I intend to explore as much of it as I can. Until then however I will carry on enjoying my time here and making the most of this Castle and this beautiful part of Wales! I am being kept thoroughly occupied with all that I am doing here, so won’t be daydreaming about the future too much! At least not any further than Christmas until all our decorations are finished and hung in the castle anyway!

Bats, cats, deer, dogs and all manner of creatures!

I must start with an apology for not having posted much recently, work has been so busy as it seems everyone but Emma and us three LTVs was on holiday, and I have had a nasty cold so have been coming home from work and going straight up to wrap up warm in bed! However I’ve got today and tomorrow off so hopefully will be fully recovered by the weekend. It was so much easier to recover from a flu when I was a student and didn’t have to get up at half seven everyday! Ah well, that’s growing up for you. I do have a fab job that (most days) I don’t mind getting out of bed for!

I have always been a real animal lover and these last two weeks have been full of all different animal antics here at Powis Castle so I thought I collect them together as the theme for this post and share them with you.

At the moment we are in the middle of rutting season, so the deer on the estate are making their presence felt! Their mating calls sounds like dinosaurs roaring, and it can be quite eerie hearing them in the middle of the night (this is what they sound like). Walking through the deer park I have been being careful not to get in between the males and their females, as they can get very agitated and attack if you do so. They are all getting bolder, standing by the road and not running away when we walk towards them. The other day there were a group of deer standing right in the middle of the road as we were driving home and we were nearly touching them before they started to move. Watching the males fight is really impressive, but it makes you realise what dangerous animals they could be if you got too close. In the mornings they have even started coming past the car park and onto the grass next to the castle! I feel quite privileged to be able to get so close to these mighty animals so often, but am also very wary of them! We now only walk to work through the gardens as the deer like sleeping on the East front and I don’t really feel like disturbing them in the morning!

Deer on the east front

I found this lovely photo of the deer on this website.

We are so busy at work at the moment, preparing for winter and Christmas along with the winter clean and all of our usual tasks. It has all seem amplified by being short on staff and being ill at the moment, and then on top of everything else, as always we have some unexpected and entertaining problems to deal with the come flying at us out of the blue! Like our unexpected guest on Wednesday last week, a bat in the Ballroom! Everyone else had gone for lunch and I was in the office when I got a radio message from one of the seasonal staff about their being a bat in the ballroom. She went to check it out and reported back that the volunteers had managed to shut the doors when it flew out of the ballroom, and it was now flying round and round the stair case!

So as soon as Emma came back from lunch we went to take a look, as Margaret turned off the fire beams so the bat would not trigger the alarms. Sure enough we went over to the Ballroom and there it was wizzing around and around, clearly feeling rather distressed! We stood on the steps watching the thing go and trying to think of some way to get it out of their unharmed, but catching it was not going to be easy! Eventually we decided we would close the Ballroom early and make the area dark to try get it to settle, and until then one of the House Team would stay on the stair-well to keep an eye on it. The bat then decided it wanted to hide behind one of the paintings to get away from all that people gathered now watching him fly round in circles. So I volunteered to stay and keep an eye on the bat (or rather the painting it was hidden behind).

The type of bat we think our little friend was

It came up to nearly three o’clock and Margaret came over in preparation for catching the bat as I went and informed the volunteers what was happening. By the time I got back again Margaret was holding a cotton bag containing the bat, waiting outside for me to help her release the bat into the stables. The bat had just dropped out from behind the painting onto the stairs below, dazed, and Margaret had scooped it up! After all that time waiting for the thing while it was behind the painting all the excitement happened while I was not there! We let the cute little thing go into the stables, it was so tiny with its wing folded up, and so adorable! When I went to check on it later whilst I was locking up it had vanished, no worse for wear from its exciting visit to inspect our artwork! Unfortunately he was much too fast to get a photo of, but we think he was a type of Pipistrelle bat, more information on them can be found here.

Our lovely peacock family has grown recently with the addition of two pea-chicks this mating season. It’s amazing to watch them grow, they are getting so big now, when they were smaller than your palm to start with! They are also getting very cheeky. When I was out cleaning the Coach House the other day the entire family started to wander in, I went outside to take a few snaps on my phone and as soon as the saw me they all wandered over to the door to the courtyard, waiting to be let through! So I opened the door for the and they all trotted in, Alan and Perry, Penelope and her two chicks, ready to be fed by our caretaker, and then by any kind visitors that might visit us. Our peacocks do love a bit of cake!

The peacock family

More animals decided to make Powis their home this week, for a while there have been several sightings of an adorable grey tabby in the gardens. She (we decided it was female, however we may have been wrong) is ever so friendly and had even followed me most of the way home a couple of weeks previously. We were starting to get worried that she was lost or a stray so this week we decided to bring her in and try to find out if she had a home. I was working in the office with Swan when she was brought in and we were tasked with keeping an eye on her, not too much of an arduous task. She was so friendly, hoping onto our laps for a fuss and purring away very contentedly  So she stayed wondering around our offices for the next day too, all of us getting quite attached to the idea of a castle cat as lovely as she was! She strolled from office to office getting attention wherever she went and generally being incredibly cute! However we had to say goodbye in the end, and she is now at the vets to be scanned, and will either be returned home or there are plenty of offers to take her in! She reminded me how much I miss owning cats, I cannot wait until I am settled in my own place so I can get pets of my own. I am a cat person, however I do love dogs as well, and to keep me happy until I can have my own pet there are not shortage of dogs here at the castle for me to dog sit!

Office cat

While the cat was staying with us at the castle I was looking after a very adorable pup in Diary Square! His name is Hector and he is the cutest, cheekiest dog! Looking after him is lovely, though very tiring as he is none stop! Taking him for a walk through the deer park he nearly pulled my arm off wanting to go and play with a stag on top of the hill, a very bed idea at the moment. I really enjoy taking dogs for a walk, they give you a bit more purpose and liven the walk up no end! It was lovely as well to have his company in the evenings, once he settled, as he lay on my feet while I was sat at the table. However I have to say cats do have the bonus that when they jump on you they are slightly more lap sized than Hector is! Much as his affection is appreciated he is a little too big to sit on me.

Hector, what a cutie

Yesterday was a strange day at work, as you know me and Kate have been bringing the old kitchens back to life and we were working in the yesterday, making salt dough food. It was strange as I felt like I was helping out at my old child-minders again, cutting shapes out of the dough with kids cookie cutters, and we did have to explain to the visitors that we were actually working, honestly! We were making tarts, bread rolls, and pies for the kitchen as well as some things for Christmas. These included dinosaur biscuits, animal biscuits, jam tarts, gingerbread men, heart biscuits, food with instructions on, all in a variety of colours. It sounds an odd mix but I promise you they all fit in to our very special Christmas theme! I have also been sewing Elephants to hang on one of our Christmas trees, they are made from felt and are so cute! Emma designed the pattern and we now have several, as well as some birds and hearts to go on the Ballroom tree. Any ideas what our Christmas theme might be yet?

My little felt elephant

To finish off my wild couple of weeks I finally ventured down to Coed Y Dinas, a huge shop with everything from a garden centre, food hall, furniture store, Christmas shop, books, outdoor wear, craft shop (!) and a pet store! When I lived in Worcester there was a pet store that sold reptile just by my house, I used to love to go and watch them feed the snakes (another dream pet of mine). So I was very excited to see they also have snakes at Coed Y Dinas; as well as turtles, birds and fish. And there Christmas store is divine, giving me lots of inspiration for our decoration at the castle. They had a  whole section of peacock inspired decorations, which while it wont fit into the theme at the castle would I’m sure look lovely in my house. Tempting indeed! I stocked up on some crafting goods and lots of ideas, I will definitely be going back again, that place is very close to my idea of the perfect shop!

Well that is all for now, I shall try not to leave it so long next time as hopefully I shall be fighting fit by Saturday  ready for another week of unexpected adventures at Powis Castle!