Read about the life and work of the Attingham Wardens

Attingham Park is a National Trust property comprising of an 18th Century mansion set in a Repton landscape; the Park and wider Estate includes a deer park, walled garden, several miles of the rivers Severn and Tern, extensive farmland and woodlands.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

How did I get here?

I was asked again recently how I got into my job and what made me choose this work as my career. The answer goes as follows...

When I was 17, my best friend and I went on a NT working holiday as something a bit different (and cheap!). We both loved it, and over the next few years went on two more together. Then I did a couple on my own, each time a new property and a new task, meeting new people and all the while thinking, 'These wardens have got the best jobs EVER.' But I never really thought it would be something I could do - I didn't have a clue about the skills, qualifications and knowledge needed to work in the countryside. I was born and raised in a seaside town on the east coast, and had rarely ventured inland and uphill except for the odd walking holiday with my dad.

I went to university because I felt that was what my teachers and parents expected of me, and ended up at Oxford studying archaeology and anthropology - subjects that I enjoyed, but that I chose because I knew I was interested in them, not because I had always wanted to be an archaeologist or anthropologist. Truth be told, at 18 I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. By the time I finished university I realised that archaeology was not where I wanted to be, and I got a job with a charity working with ex-offenders. This was fulfilling work in some ways, but I didn't feel there was much opportunity to expand my role. After a year and a half I admitted to my friend that I wasn't happy with my work, my home or my future in that part of the country and she suggested that I try some full time volunteering to learn something new and get a fresh start. Because of our holidays together, I looked on the National Trust website and found a placement at Wimpole Hall in Cambridgshire; two months later I was moving my worldly possessions (such as they were - not much room in a Ford Ka) into the volunteer accomodation and working alongside forester Simon. It was hard work - I worked full time for the Trust plus evenings in a pub to earn enough money to eat and fuel my car - and I loved every minute of it.

With some of the other Careership students in my year

It had been a scary move to leave my friends, family and paid work behind, with no idea what I would end up doing after the placement ended. But Simon and the other staff were so friendly and willing to share their knowledge with me that I absorbed as much as I could and quickly settled into life at Wimpole, even getting seasonal paid work on the farm (lambing season), in the mansion (cleaning the basement rooms - spooky!) and eventually being responsible for locking up and opening the mansion on some days. Living on site meant I could immerse myself in the place and nothing could beat wandering around the grounds in the evenings when the visitors went home - it was all mine!

Livestock management at Reaseheath College
While volunteering, I heard about Careership. This scheme is run by the Trust to train up the wardens and gardeners of the future. Although it has changed a little since then, the principal is the same - trainees are sent to work at a property for several years, working full time with the staff and also attending college in 2-week blocks to study and attain qualifications in countryside management and the environment. After 8 months at Wimpole I applied for the careership at Attingham and got an interview; spent a nervewracking but exciting couple of days being interviewed and tested; burst into tears as I drove home sure that I had messed everything up; and then got the call that evening that the place was mine! I was bouncing off the walls for days. I knew that this was a very special opportunity to get my career started - my months of volunteering had made me realise that this was where I wanted to be: outside, thinking on my feet, multi-skilled and doing something that mattered.

At the Careership graduation - even wardens wear frocks from time to time!

Fast forward five years and here I am! I was lucky enough to stay on at Attingham after Careership ended, first in a seasonal contract and now as a permanent member of staff. I love it here - the people I work with, the landscape I care for and sharing my little bit of the world with the people that visit. I've still got a lot to learn - in this job you never stop learning, there is always something new! But I've also come a long, long way in those years since I left the sea behind. And it feels like home.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Sneak preview of the new play area

This week has seen the wardens continuing work in the new play area that will open later this year. The earth mound/tunnels have been formed and on Monday we spread grass seed over the bare ground to encourage the turf to grow and solidify the surface. The pipes join up in the centre of the mound in a spooky dark tube so the kids are going to have great fun running through it screaming their heads off! I've had a try but luckily no-one had a camera on them - instead, I caught volunteer Andrew having a play...

Big kids love it too!

Phil and David have finished bolting the 'climbing frame' together so its ready to be clambered over, and soon work will begin on the sandpit and stepping stones. There is still a lot of work to do to get the site ready so keep reading for updates.

Colin spreading the grass seed
As well as the play area, the wardens have continued hedgelaying (now that we are into March the hedgelaying season is coming to an end - the entire hedge line must be checked for nesting birds before any work is carried out, and as soon as we see signs of nesting we will stop laying until next September); processing logs; supervising volunteer tractor drivers; patrolling the riverside and checking fishing licences/tickets; attending meetings; removing old fences in preparation for new ones; liaising with tenant farmers over future work; posing for the Shropshire Star and Shropshire Magazine (!) and celebrating an important birthday (happy birthday Ness from the learning department!) as well as a dozen other things. After working last weekend as well, I am ready for a break and am heading off on holiday tomorrow - see you in a few weeks!

Bob proudly showing off his perfect log!

Taking a break after lugging timber for two days...
Wardens love a bit of cake!


Sunday, 4 March 2012

Springing forward

It has been a busy few weeks - again! Half term proved very popular with visitors as the sun came out and the snowdrops really started to come into their prime. On Thurday 16th February we ran a family volunteering day - working with Susie and Bec from our family engagement team, I met five families and took them out to the front park where we planted 51 trees to restore a woodland screen that was part of Humphry Repton's original park layout. As well as the planting, the group enjoyed a picnic lunch and the chance to explore Attingham after the work was done (I think most made a beeline for the play area - and well deserved!).

New hawthorn leaves
The crocuses are popping up all over the place
General estate work has included digging in a long stretch of rabbit fencing, another trip to Wenlock Edge to coppice hazel, hedgelaying, chopping and delivering logs, mulching newly planted hedge, creative building in the soon-to-be new play area and a special day on the 29th February - the Local Leap 2012. This is a day when the Trust encourages its staff and volunteers to do something that will benefit the local community and the people that live alongside us. Senior park and estate warden Colin took a team over to St Eatas Church in Atcham and the team worked in the churchyard clearing vegetation, pruning and tidying. It was a good day enjoyed by all, and the locals of Atcham were really pleased to see us helping out. For my part in the Leap, I took some of my neighbours to Wenlock Edge and showed them how to coppice hazel - the cut wood was then taken back to Frankwell to be used in a community garden that I am helping to set up.

Meanwhile, spring is merrily springing away - the crocuses are up on the tearoom bank and more daffodils are coming into bloom everyday; the hawthorn is bursting into leaf across the estate; the skylarks have been singing to us as we work. Lovely!

The daffs will soon be out everywhere