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A volunteer researcher with a mission for equality

Me as a baby visiting Harewood House.

This photograph was taken during the first of my many visits to Harewood House.

We explored its opulent rooms and marvelled at the extravagant furniture, oblivious to the origins of the Lascelles’ wealth. My enthusiasm for history began as a child in primary school. I could not wait to read the informative display boards at the historical sites I visited, but I rarely found myself represented in these displays – and this was the case for Harewood House.

My school rarely taught us about the contributions of Black and Asian people, and therefore I did not expect any different from public history. The curriculum trained both myself and others to see the colonial histories of India and the Caribbean as detached to British history – despite their involvement in the British Empire. To a young me, I was never truly British. It was only when I was a teenager that I learned about Harewood House’s historical connections to Caribbean slavery. And it was only when I was an undergraduate student that I understood that these slaves were just as entitled to be recognised as part of Harewood House’s history as the lords and ladies on its walls.

A friend encouraged me to write to Harewood House to express my disappointment at the lack of informative material about the Lascelles’ involvement in slavery. In addition to having sections in the visitor guide at Harewood and online, the Trust published the remnants of the Lascelles’ West Indian papers at the Borthwick Institute at the University of York, which has allowed members of the public to access these crucial documents. I am a history undergraduate student at the university, and the work I conducted for my dissertation introduced me to the rich possibilities of this Harewood archive.

The team at Harewood invited me to the house multiple times and I eventually became a volunteer researcher. It is important to include an historian of Black heritage, because quite often we are the subjects, not the researchers of history. Local Black communities also need to be involved in the representation of this history – a history that still has repercussions for Black populations around the world. My aim is to ensure that the next Black child who visits Harewood House sees themselves represented, and sees their ancestors credited in a house they helped build but could never visit. And for visitors to understand that although slavery took place thousands of miles away, this is their history – this is British history too.

Olivia Wyatt, Volunteer Researcher, Harewood House Trust.

Editor’s Notes: Since engaging further with the Harewood House Trust, Olivia has learnt about Carnival Messiah, which was performed at Harewood in 2007 as part of the abolition of slavery bi-centenary, and the ongoing work with the Geraldine Connor Foundation. 

Returning to Volunteering post Lockdown

Harewood_House_SamVolunteer‘After what seems like a really long time I returned to volunteering in the Terrace Gardens this week. it’s awesome to be back at Harewood!’

‘Three months have passed and I have finally been able to help out at Harewood again, on the Terrace, in the Bird Gardens and the Walled Gardens this week.

Although it is still a strange time with the restrictions and what has been a tough time for all, I feel that returning has been the shining light for me and I am so happy to be back. I have worked with some volunteers who I had not met previously which has been great and my roles have been varied to help get Harewood ready for reopening. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed completing the set tasks each day.

To be surrounded by the beauty of the Harewood Estate has always been inspirational to me, the sounds and sightings of the amazing wildlife also make me feel privileged to be back. I have worked very hard as have the other volunteers and staff in preparation for the reopening which has been both fun and rewarding, I love visiting Harewood and volunteering has enabled me to play a part in making it the special place it has been for years.

I have felt very safe with the new procedures which everyone has been following, I’m sure when Harewood reopens it will enable people the opportunity to make special memories they can tell others about just as I do.’

Sam Booth has volunteered with Harewood on and off since 2016. He came to volunteering after suffering a head injury some years ago. You can read Sam’s previous blog for Harewood and why he volunteers here. 

Nurturing students through volunteering

Whilst we celebrated National Volunteer Week last week, one of the most positive stories to come out of this year is that for the first time we welcomed four students from the University of Leeds, who then went on to gain full time employment at Harewood.

Students Lucy, Rachel, Emma and Hannah all came to Harewood for different reasons. They are now fully employed members of the Visitor Experience team for the season and we are delighted to have them on board and with such knowledge of Harewood already.

Lucy Bowley studied Fine Art at the University of Leeds. She joined us after a university trip to Harewood. She started as a Room Steward.
“I volunteered in the house. I loved chatting to visitors from around the world and sharing the interesting facts about each room. I’m now a Visitor Experience Team Member.”

Rachel Tonks was on her third year of studying Fine Art with History of Art, when she started as a volunteer. She explains that being a volunteer at Harewood House was a good way for her to join her interest for Country Houses and Heritage with her job, while learning more about it.
“I really enjoyed having the opportunity to learn in detail about the house and it felt good to be a part of giving visitors an experience of Harewood that was meaningful and interactive.”

Emma Hunt Shelley is a Classics student who came as a volunteer Room Steward over Christmas.
“I would encourage everyone to volunteer because I really feel that it gave me a once in a lifetime opportunity to work in a place like Harewood and continues to do so every day that I go into work!”

Hannah Lee Hargreaves was in her last year at the University of Leeds when she attended a volunteer open day at Harewood.
“I fell in love with the place, and became a volunteer Room Steward over the Christmas period, allowing me to learn more about the history of the house and the estate. “

These students are a good example of how being a volunteer can lead to a job. We are continually looking for new faces to join our team, you can find out more information online

From budgets to birds, shadowing volunteers during National Volunteer Week

This week saw National Volunteer Week celebrated far and wide at Harewood House Trust, as we aimed to showcase many of our diverse and vibrant volunteers each day, both online and across the House and gardens.

As part of the celebrations, a number of staff from the administrative offices chose to donate their time to shadow a volunteer and learn more about a different department, whilst making new friends of course.

From Director of Finance, Martin Horbury, chopping up fruit for the birds in the Bird Garden, to other Executive team members Hannah Obee and Edward Appleyard driving the shuttlebus, it was an engaging and enjoyable week for those who took part.

Comments included; “There were over 50 different varieties of meal preparations for the birds in the morning, each bird getting their special diet, and it was so impressive to see the team reel off exactly what each bird was having by sight. I’d have happily eaten some of those dishes, if it wasn’t for the mealworms.”

“I particularly like the contrast between the modern and old art which gives a great ambiance to the House.” 

With a Volunteer Open Day to recruit potential new volunteers also, it has been a high energy and great tribute to Harewood’s army of volunteers this National Volunteer Week.

If you are interested to find out more volunteer@harewood.org

Volunteer Margaret – Room Guide

As part of National Volunteer Week, we’re celebrating the many interesting and valuable characters who contribute to making Harewood the place that it is….

Why do I volunteer?

I volunteer because I enjoy meeting people.

What brought me to it?

After being retired a while I wanted to do something different and enjoyed Historical Houses.

What did I do?

Financial Controller

What three things do I enjoy?

Meeting different types of people
By sharing the history of the house and its contents hopefully making it more enjoyable for visitors
The friendship of staff and other volunteers.

What do I love most about Harewood?

What I love most in the house are the ceilings and its contents.

If you are interested in volunteering, please contact volunteer@harewood.org