Monday 03 June 2013
Volunteers’ Week is an annual UK festival of volunteering, celebrating volunteers and volunteering across the UK. This year’s Volunteers’ Week focuses on saying ‘Thank You’ to the millions of volunteers who regularly contribute to society, and to recognise the way that organisations celebrate the work of volunteers across the UK.
Cadw, the Welsh word for ‘keep’, is the Welsh Government’s historic environment service which looks after 128 heritage sites across Wales. The volunteer stewards at Plas Mawr play a huge part in helping with the up-keep and running of the finest town house of its period in Britain. Some are retired, some have a deep interest in history, some are newcomers to the area who were looking for new interests and friends.
The volunteers were featured in the latest edition of Cadw’s members’ magazine Heritage in Wales to showcase the priceless work they do.
Rachel Skelly was head custodian at Plas Mawr for four years, she says: 'The volunteers really do bring the house to life. Stewarding the rooms is the most obvious duty but the 45 volunteer stewards at Plas Mawr do far more than that, from spring-cleaning the house at the end and start of each session to baking oatcakes for the kitchen display and even embroidering pieces for the new wall hanging in the parlour.
'With 17 new rooms, it would be very difficult and very expensive to manage the house without them. But Plas Mawr is the kind of place that gets under your skin and they become involved in all aspects of the work. Even with the stewarding, many volunteers go beyond the call of duty – on quiet days, they will give visitors a personal guided tour. Some have taken courses about the historical background to the house and its period; this information is then relayed to visitors.
'All in all, the volunteer stewards make sure that a visit to Plas Mawr is a very positive experience.'
Volunteer, Ann Peacock was at her post on the day that Plas Mawr opened under Cadw’s care after the magnificent house was restored, decorated and furnished as it would have been in the mid-seventeenth century, almost a century after it was built for the important local merchant, Robert Wynn.
Ann says: 'I moved into the area in 1997 and there was an advert in the paper about volunteering opportunities. It started off as something to do but by now I’m very possessive of the house and very protective of it.
'On that first day, as I have done countless times since, I picked up my information files and took up my position in one of the rooms, ready to help visitors with information and the little touches of knowledge that don’t always appear in guidebooks or on audio tours.'
Llew Groom was born and bred in the Gyffin area of Conwy, and at 85 years old he is one of the oldest and most experienced volunteers. He was taking groups around even before Cadw took care of the house. He says: 'The restoration in 1997 was a revelation. I’ve been coming to the house since I was a school boy, and can remember the plaster before Cadw took over, in various shades of white and covered in half an inch of grime. We were sent here to clean the cobbles. My knee swelled up so much from the work that my father came in and told them I wasn’t coming again!
'However, this didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for Plas Mawr and my home town. This house is part of the heritage of Conwy, everything about it intrigues me.'
But volunteering isn’t just about what the volunteers give to Cadw and its visitors, but also what they get from it on a personal level. Hilary Sukhon, another volunteer at Plas Mawr, who completed a degree in Tudor and Stuart social history shortly before starting, says: 'I just love it. I can’t explain why. It envelops you, it’s a very happy house.
'My favourite part is the kitchen, it’s nice to be able to point out things that they used to use in the Tudor period that are still used today but look different – the salt grinder, the apple corer, mugs and cups and all the spices and herbs.'
For more information about Cadw, the Welsh Government’s historic environment service, find Cadw on Facebook and follow @CadwWales on Twitter.