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National Volunteer Week – Meet Ella

young woman sat on bench in front of brick wall

Ella – Student and Garden Volunteer

1–7 Jun is National Volunteer Week! Volunteers are an essential part of Harewood, and this week we would like to show our gratitude and give thanks to all of our 200 volunteers for their outstanding volunteer service.

With over 100 acres of Grounds and Gardens, without the hard work of our garden volunteers and the support they provide to the Gardens team, we would be unable to keep our grounds looking so great all year round for our Members and visitors. We would like to introduce you to one of our garden volunteers Ella who has kindly shared with us her experience of volunteering at Harewood and how this has impacted her mental health.

“My. Happy. Place.”

My name is Ella. As part of my University studies, I took part in a three-week volunteer placement with the gardeners at Harewood House Trust, to answer the question; what benefits does volunteering here in the gardens have on my mental health?


I am a fan of worms now. As a child, I thrived in a world of mud and bugs. So perhaps I am predisposed to be intrigued by them. My favourite thing about digging through the soil was the creatures I would come across. I came across earthworms, beetles, millipedes.

Probably more than I know the name of. Volunteering at Harewood made me feel like a child again. I experienced childlike joy at finding these creepy crawlies. Calling to my comrades, “I’ve found a millipede!”. And on one occasion, I found myself watching as a worm attempted to burrow its way back into the soil. A solid 10 minutes I found myself watching. Which, in the grand scheme of time does not sound particularly long… However, that was 10 minutes of spontaneous mindfulness. The first benefit I experienced; how involuntarily mindful working in gardens makes you become. My first day, I experienced some anxiety about meeting a group of new people. Other days, there was the lingering awareness of my deadlines looming that would dampen my mood. After 30 minutes in the gardens, all of that faded away.

a group of gardeners cleaning up and organising a small pot of land


We worked in all kinds of weather conditions, rain, snow, sunshine. It was the consensus between us that teamwork plays a role in keeping us motivated. On one day, me and two others were creating a bug motel. At some point temperatures must have dropped as within 20 minutes it had started snowing. My fingers and toes had gone numb, and I was uncomfortable. A part of me wanted to stop what I was doing and go home, frankly. But the ladies I was working with were powering through. And that was all the encouragement I needed to carry on. We distracted ourselves with conversation. Eventually that mindful muscle kicked back in, and I was happy to be outside, and in the snow. I love snow! I marvelled to a colleague that I liked how everyone just gets on with the work, no matter the conditions. She shared the sentiment that working within a team is an excellent motivator. I went home after lunch, with the promise of returning the next day in more layers.

This is the second benefit I found. Working together within a team with a common goal. It is a really nice way to connect with people. As someone who can experience social anxiety, there was none here, for me. Because there is no pressure to spark up a conversation. I relate to my teammates nonverbally, through this shared goal. Within that, it is nice to look up from the mud every now and then and share some words, or anecdotes, or laughs. There is a definite sense of belonging here which I appreciated.


And finally, Volunteering at Harewood has boosted my self-esteem. I have learnt about no-dig soil. This operates on the knowledge that soil is its own, self-sustaining, organism. I own a Rhubarb plant now, whom I love and hope to keep with me for the next 10 years. From the other volunteers, I heard about the trials and errors of growing your own fruits and vegetables. I also felt the pride they expressed after cooking a meal with produce, they grew! I feel inspired to try too. I have gained a new appreciation for nature. And I have learnt tips on how to protect it. Most importantly, I feel encouraged for my future, excited by possibility. The foundation of these experiences? The intention behind it all. Harewood House has very clear intentions to stay relevant with the present day. Much like soil, it is a living organism, that continues to evolve and adapt. And for me, this is vital. Spontaneous mindfulness, working within a team, and learning new things. Ultimately, I do not believe I would have experienced these benefits in abundance if the Trust were not intentionally about creating this safe space.

Rhubarb plant that was gifted to Ella

Thank you so much Ella for sharing your story!

Feeling inspired , find out more and get involved at https://harewood.org/about/join-us/volunteering/ or by contacting volunteer@harewood.org.

Harewood House … in gingerbread form

Currently situated centre stage in the Old Kitchen is a most beautiful Gingerbread Harewood House, made and iced by one of our Garden Volunteers Klara. For this blog, we sit down with Klara and ask her about volunteering at Harewood and how her interest in gingerbread began.

When did you make and ice your first gingerbread?
I grew up in Hungary. Since I was a child, making gingerbread has been a part of my life. It is a Christmas tradition in our country to make and decorate gingerbread cookies, we call “mézeskalacs”.

How did you learn your craft?
At first, I learned my craft from my mother. Later, I developed my own style and various recipes, including gluten free, diary free and vegan. Over the years I adjusted my collections to meet the country-specific trend where I had been living. However, I have never lost my own style that makes my work unique and recognizable. I have a quality-oriented mindset, that comes from my background as a chemical engineer working in quality management and also as a certificated botanical artist.

How did you hear about volunteering at Harewood ?
I moved to Yorkshire in 2021 and I was looking for a volunteer gardening opportunity and I saw an advertisement for a Volunteer Open Afternoon in the Walled Garden when I first visited Harewood.

What is it you enjoy most about volunteering with the garden team?

The Garden team (staff and volunteers) are all very friendly and welcoming. We learn so much from the professional gardeners.

We work in a very warm environment, in beautiful surroundings, where everyone is very enthusiastic about our work and at the end of the day, when we see the results of our efforts, we feel very proud.

How did you start to make the Harewood gingerbread House ?
I researched the floorplan, took many photos and then simplified the House, retaining its main characteristics. In total, it took about 2 weeks to complete the project.

What icing do you find most satisfying or do you enjoy doing most?
I like the simple traditional designs, but my favourite is creating gingerbreads where I can use my own imagination and design. It is most satisfying when I see the magic of a plain gingerbread transformed through my icing. I especially like doing 3D creations such as houses, Easter eggs, boxes, etc.

What would you like to do in the future?
I hope that I will have more opportunities in the UK to introduce my gingerbread artwork to more people and share my love of this beautiful craft.


Klara’s Gingerbread on Facebook

Looking after Harewood’s 10,000 + books – Our Library Guardians

There are more than 10,000 books held within the 3 libraries – Main, Spanish and Old Library- at Harewood, collected by every generation of the Lascelles family and covering a range of different genres. A dedicated team of Library volunteers check the details of more than 11,000 books on the online catalogue, and adding extra information about their condition, contents, bindings, illustrations etc. This #VolunteersWeek, Kathy, Paul, Susan and Raymond take us through the work they do and what brought them to volunteering at Harewood. 

“It is interesting to imagine who has read the books over the years.”

Retired Librarian 

My name is Kathy and I am a retired librarian, working with a small team of 3 other volunteers to update the catalogue for the library collection at Harewood. We are checking the details of all the more than 11,000 books on the online catalogue, and adding extra information about their condition, contents, bindings, illustrations etc.

Many of the books are 200 to 300 years old, and some are rare and valuable. What makes them especially interesting are the personal histories shown in many of the books. They contain bookplates and armorials belonging to the member of the family who collected them. They often have inscriptions showing who gave the book as a birthday or Christmas present, or who presented the book to show their esteem. Sometimes there are notes in the margins, and occasionally some doodles (such as those where a member of the family was getting bored during a long church service). Some contain sketches done by members of the family.

It is a privilege to work with so many old and rare books. It is interesting to imagine who has read the books over the years. Some of them are in quite a fragile state, with covers loose or detached, leather deteriorating, spines becoming split and corners damaged. We have to be as careful as possible when we are cataloguing these volumes so that we do not damage them further. They have to be preserved temporarily by taping them together, and handling them as little as possible. Conserving these books properly is a huge and ongoing task, but one which is certainly worth doing.

“I very nearly said ‘no’ to an offer to work at Harewood; I am so glad I didn’t.”

Former British Library employee

When I left the British Library and the best part of thirty years spent cataloguing I didn’t want to catalogue another book and I very nearly said ‘no’ to an offer to work at Harewood; I am so glad I didn’t. I was worried about being ‘stuck at home’ on my own all day and every day through the long, cold and wet Yorkshire winters.

The day I come here is often the best day of the week as I become a working person again, I get up early, dress smartly(?), and have a peaceful commute as I am able to leave home later than most people and the roads are quieter. I work in pleasant surroundings with friendly colleagues, no pressure, and the feeling that I am doing something useful again. As we only work in the mornings of our one day a week, I often stay at Harewood in the afternoons in summer, walk in the gardens, or sit and read. I love the Himalayan garden most of all. I previously worked in an anonymous office building on the edge of an industrial estate — here the house and gardens provide an exceptional environment. All this is of course conducive to better mental health in this age when we have suddenly discovered its importance.

“The rewards of working with congenial companions, in overwhelmingly beautiful surroundings, with such an amazing collection of books, and, crucially, no deadlines or statistics to achieve, have been enough to keep me at Harewood ever since.”

Library Volunteer since 2013

In 2003 I responded to an advert sent to the British Library asking for volunteers to join a team working on a new Library Project at Harewood House. I was due to retire shortly and this was a perfect opportunity for me to continue working with books as I have done all my life. I was told that there were already two qualified librarians, transferring records from the existing 20th century card catalogue onto a database. This was the first phase of preparing an on-line catalogue of all the books in the three libraries on the State Floor.

Coming to Harewood was an opportunity to immerse myself in a worthwhile project, helping to secure the future for a valuable and remarkable collection of largely rare books. The rewards of working with congenial companions, in overwhelmingly beautiful surroundings, with such an amazing collection of books, and, crucially, no deadlines or statistics to achieve, have been enough to keep me at Harewood ever since.

During the pandemic we unfortunately had to suspend activity for a while, but I am glad to say that we are now back at Harewood, though we have to work on different days and in different locations. We shall no longer be working as the tightly-knit group we were before, but we shall do our best. I don’t mind working on my own, but I do enjoy being in the libraries, surrounded by beautiful furniture and books and able to chat from time to time with staff, volunteers and visitors.

We do still get asked why we are not wearing white gloves when we handle such precious books, but we tell them that experts consider that bare hands are safer and more sensitive than gloves and thus do less harm.

“I began having ‘Wow’ moments, when a hand written document from a member of the Royal Family or famous people writing to the various Earls dropped from the pages.”

Retired Dentist 

This retired dentist decided there was more to life than teeth. And so, having helped Special Needs children to read and then joining the Leeds University Library as a mover and shelving assistant for six years ending in Special Collections working with important documents, I discovered that Harewood House needed volunteers. I spent two years talking to visitors about the house and its history, all the time looking enviously at the library books and wishing I could get involved with them. Then, lo and behold, I was invited to join the team. My first job, which lasted six years, was to list all the books in the Bazaar Room and the shelves outside the offices and in adjacent rooms.

In came boxes and boxes of books spanning the various ages of the house, from religious volumes to children’s books and novels galore. There are also many years of hand-written weather books of Harewood. I began having ‘Wow’ moments. These were when a hand written document from some member of the Royal Family or famous people writing to the various earls dropped from the pages. I spent the next nine years creating catalogue cards for each volume with author, title, publisher, date of publication and a number. About 3,600 of these books have been entered on the data base and are being archived in detail.

Volunteering for Real World Experience

This #VolunteersWeek, Megan takes us through a day in the life of a Bird Garden Volunteer and how volunteering at Harewood is contributing towards her qualifications. 

My name is Megan and I’m one of the Bird Garden volunteers, I have always had a huge love for animals and I’m currently studying to gain a CMZAAV qualification (Certificate in the Management of Zoo and Aquarium animals) which requires that I volunteer to gain real world experience. I feel incredibly lucky that I’m able to do this at Harewood and work with some of the most amazing animals. My personal favourites are the Humboldt penguins which I’ve learnt to identify, such as Beaky who many of us have a huge soft spot for. Many of my course studies are based on the animals in the collection such as researching their behaviours to further understand them, including how we care, protect and save them. I’m currently working on a project observing Brown Lory behaviours to understand how much they interact with visitors.

A day in the bird garden starts off with preparing the food for all the 50 species of birds – this means a lot of dishes! Once the food is prepped its time to feed and check they are all looking healthy, we do this by just keeping an eye out for any unusual behaviour. Once everyone’s fed, a lot of my time is spent tending to the bird enclosures, often weeding and cleaning. The best part for me is scrubbing down the penguin pools, it’s quite a smelly job but I love it!

Harewood is a fantastic place to volunteer, there is nothing better than being in the great outdoors with nature surrounding you. I am always happy to see visitors enjoying themselves and embracing a passion I hold so closely.

‘I am more confident and feel part of a family at Harewood’

“…volunteering has really made a massive difference to my life…”

Sam has volunteered in the gardens at Harewood for six years. “I wanted to share my story as volunteering has really made a massive difference to my life, I am more confident and feel part of a family at Harewood.”. Twelve years ago Sam suffered a head injury which left him with long term mental and physical health problems. Sam listened to a Monty Don Audiobook which discusses the healing power of gardens and gardening. Often in pain as a result of his injury, these words are really meaningful to Sam. Working in the fresh air, surrounded by stunning scenery and nature, Sam can be himself.

He also takes great pleasure in interacting with the visitors, sharing stories of the work he is involved with. Hearing visitors say how much they love visiting the Walled Garden makes his day and motivates Sam to continue to play his part in supporting the Grounds and Garden Staff and Volunteer Team.

This year Sam and his fellow volunteers have been working in the Walled Garden on the “no dig project”. Initially creating pathways and raising beds, then covering them with carboard or biodegradable carpet underlay, to minimise digging, suppress weeds and retain moisture.

Sam is a keen photographer and maintains a weekly photo diary to help him recall the work he does. His diary now runs to 1100 pages!