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“Let your imagination run free”: Lord Whitney talk creativity, childishness and mindfulness in Upon a Christmas Wish

Amy Lord and Rebekah Whitney

Amy Lord and Rebekah Whitney. Photo by Tom Joy

Lord Whitney is the the Leeds-based creative studio behind Upon a Christmas Wish at Harewood House. Led by Amy Lord and Rebekah Whitney, it is an innovative artist-led studio creating immersive experiences and spaces that spark wonder and inspire curiosity. They build cinematic worlds that allow audiences to journey into their imagination, see things differently and explore the possibilities.

We sat down with Amy and Rebekah to chat about the studio’s origins, their inspirations, and the importance of unlocking your inner child…

Thanks for making time for us – it’s been a very busy few weeks installing Upon a Christmas Wish at Harewood! To start, can you tell us how Lord Whitney came to be?

Rebekah: The two of us met at university in Leeds many moons ago, on a graphic art and design degree. We had a similar aesthetic, but we were working on opposite sides of the studio – I was all about illustration while Amy was more into photography. Our tutor noticed the similar themes in our work and put us together – and we instantly hit it off. We found we had the same mind’s eye. We’d talk about an idea, go away to develop it, and when we came back together we’d have drawn the same picture of how we wanted it to look.

Amy: It was the worst timing though! It was practically the last week of our third year, all our work had been handed in, and only then did we find eachother. We were so excited to have finally found something that made us giddy. It felt like we were playing as children again – time would pass so quickly and the security guards kept having to kick us out of the studio at night.

Photo by Tom Joy

I love that phrase, ‘the same mind’s eye’. How do you two see the world?

Rebekah: I think we’re able to return to being kids, and see things as a child would – just letting your imagination run free. It turns out we were basically the same child, both enjoying taking things down to set them back up again, and now we’re able to do that as adults. I think that if you can tap into the thing you enjoyed as a child, you’ll probably enjoy it as an adult.

Amy: Definitely – that’s an important message we have in a lot of our work, things that gave you joy as a child will give you joy now.

Returning to the origins of Lord Whitney – you’ve graduated, having only just found eachother as creative partners. What happened next?

Amy: We didn’t set up Lord Whitney straight away – we both had a few years trying things out and feeling quite lost, not knowing if or how we could get a creative job in Leeds. We’ve both worked in film and TV, festivals, children’s workshops, photography… we’ve been on a journey, and all those different experiences feed into what we do now. It makes us unique!

It’s actually really interesting to note that we’ve had our studio for 10 years now, having started up after the last recession; and we’ve met lots of other creative businesses who are also 10 years old. There was clearly a phase when lots of creative people decided they wouldn’t get a job through someone else, so they may as well do it themselves! And now, after the initial shock of the Covid pandemic, we’re seeing people do the same thing again – new creative businesses are springing up all over.

Rebekah: Creative minds will thrive in a crisis – we’re problem solvers!

The Lord Whitney team install Upon a Christmas Wish. Photo by Paul Craig Photography.

What’s Leeds like as a base for a creative studio like Lord Whitney?

Rebekah: It’s great! There are so many more opportunities than when we first started and we have an amazing studio that we couldn’t afford in London. It’s the same in Sheffield and Manchester. In fact we haven’t done a London job in a while. We did plenty when Lord Whitney first started, and we never made it an issue, travelling to London several times a week. I’m glad we did that, because it encouraged London brands to look further afield for their creative work. But we love Leeds – we did consider moving in the early days but just couldn’t give up the north!

Let’s chat about Upon a Christmas Wish, the remarkable experience that you’ve created for Harewood. What was behind the concept of the House telling the story of a little girl’s Christmas wish?

Rebekah: Last year was awful, very traumatic and difficult [Upon a Christmas Wish was originally planned for Christmas 2020, and had to be postponed due to Covid restrictions]. When we began thinking about it in the first lockdown, we had a conversation about doing something positive. It was a scary time – like everyone we were navigating our business and worried about family and friends, but we were starting to see creatives trying to do positive things in their communities. So what could we do to create a moment of respite? How we could create an experience that helped Harewood’s visitors to feel relaxed or try to forget what they were going through?

Amy: When we started talking about positivity, we quickly got to how Bek felt being a mum, and specifically reading to her kids. We talked about the lull of a story – children don’t necessarily understand the words or meaning but when stories are read out loud they are really calming. Stories were so important to us as children, and still are now. In our work, you can see bits of Narnia, bits of Peter Pan… all these references peeking through. So we wanted to use a story to help people reconnect with their inner child and imagination, and make something relevant for adults and kids.

The Lord Whitney team install Upon a Christmas Wish. Photo by Paul Craig Photography.

How did the work develop once you’d had the concept?

Rebekah: There was a lot of research, working with the Harewood Collections team. They dug out articles and artefacts relating to Christmas, and we pulled out gems and nuggets to be included in the fictional story, like the Christmas theatrics. We also spoke to David Lascelles, Earl of Harewood, who remembered amazing Christmas parties when he was a boy, with plenty of merriment and Christmas cheer.

Amy: Absolutely, the research phase is so important. You come with an idea but the project is Harewood specific, so it has to be developed in its own context.

We wanted a strong narrative, so we found an amazing collaborator in Toby Thompson, the poet and writer, and got Buffalo on board for sound design early on. We love collaborating, it adds such strength and creativity to a project.

Rebekah: Obviously we did have to consider how to create an immersive experience during a global pandemic! Everything had to be spaced out, you can’t touch anything – so voice and sound was really important to make a safe, immersive show.

What’s your favourite part of Upon a Christmas Wish?

Rebekah: The toy room really excites me. That room in particular is a moment for children, and for the adults who remember setting up the games. When I was little I had a book called iSpy Christmas, which was full of detailed photographic spreads – you had to spot the tin soldier or the bear playing a drum – and that book heavily inspired this room. The toys have come alive and they’re setting up games for Sophie to play. And I love the big moon for the moment of calm and stillness.

Lord Whitney work on the toy room in Upon a Christmas Wish

Amy: I like the dining room because of the contrast to the previous room. You’ve started the experience in the music room, with a film and audio – it’s clear what’s going on. But then you step into the dark dining room as if you’re stepping into Sophie’s imagination. It’s unexpected and we like to challenge people’s expectations!

What would you say to someone about to enter Upon a Christmas Wish?

Amy: Let everything go and step into it with an open mind. We thought a lot about mindfulness and healing in creating this piece – we tried to create moments of mindfulness even if people don’t realise they’re having them. So really, we’re interested to see what people feel like when they come out!

Rebekah: If people feel a sense of wonder, like you feel as a child, at any moment, then that’s fantastic – job done.

 

Upon a Christmas Wish by Lord Whitney is open now at Harewood House. Christmas at Harewood tickets include timed entry to the House, as well as Harewood’s beautifully decorated gardens and grounds. Pre-booking is essential at harewood.org/christmas.

A Gardeners View of Spring at Harewood

Springtime in the gardens at Harewood means colour. Lots and lots of colour! From the dazzling display of tulips in the borders, alongside masses of hyacinths on the Terrace, down through the West Garden and all the way around the lakeside woodlands.  Here, swathes of daffodils cover the thickly wooded slopes in between groups of stately rhododendrons.

But there is always more than meets the eye at Harewood. Linger in those verdant glades a while longer. Take the time to stroll. Pause and look beyond those perennial showstoppers. Look closer. Look up, even look behind you, and you might be rewarded with a glimpse of something special. Whether it’s the billowing clouds of pure white cherry blossom against the blue sky, or the eerily striped hood of a cobra lily rising from the woodland floor, or a colony of orchids growing on a mossy roof, the richness and diversity contained within these gardens is staggering.
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And that’s just what’s in store for visitors now. Things are only starting to get interesting. Because for gardeners, springtime, of course, means more than colour. It means growth and renewal. It also means a lot of hard work. Harewood is very much a developing garden. We’re busy planting some amazing plants, many of which visitors will see flowering in the gardens this summer, while some will put on growth and then flower next spring, and there are others that may take some years to reach flowering size. The important thing for us is continuity – evolving the gardens through the constant addition of new plants. Enjoy the gardens this spring!

Yorkshire Gardens visit Harewood House Harewood House in Yorkshire has rare plants Flowers in bloom at Harewood House in Yorkshire Rare plants at gardens in Harewood House in Yorkshire See spring plants at Harewood House in Yorkshire Visit Yorkshire Gardens and see Harewood House Gardens in Yorkshire include Harewood House Visit Yorkshire to see stunning gardens at Harewood

 

Thousands set for Brownlee Tri 2016

Harewood House is a great place to visit

Thousands of triathletes, young and old will descend on Harewood House, Leeds this Saturday for Alistair and Jonny Brownlee’s fourth annual triathlon.

The Olympic triathlon gold and silver medallists will join over 1500 registered participants and a crowd of 5000 spectators at the spectacular Harewood Estate.

In addition to taking part in the Sprint, Super Sprint or Relay, the Brownlee Brothers encourage participants to bring along their friends and family and enjoy the Entertainment Village.

Speaking upon returning home after finishing runner-up in the 2016 ITU World Triathlon Championships in dramatic fashion, Olympic silver medallist Jonny Brownlee said,

“With just days to go until the big day we can’t wait for the event to start. It’s always a great way to end the season and we’re looking forward to seeing everyone there.”

Double Olympic champion Alistair Brownlee said,

“Brownlee Tri is a fantastic family day and we hope to see as many of you as possible at Harewood House on Saturday. We wish everyone taking part the very best of luck!”

After months of build-up, the event is nearly upon us. This year’s route includes a fantastic open water swim with pontoon entry and exit, a traffic-free closed road cycle and a new off-road run, covering trails that the Brownlee brothers train on.

The Brownlee Tri will also have a packed Entertainment Village offering sports activities, a variety of delicious catering and refreshment outlets, music, stands and retail. Described as the “perfect balance of a family day out and sporting event” and “an amazing first triathlon”, the Brownlee Tri offers something for everyone.

The event also features a free Brownlee Foundation Kids’ Duathlon delivered by the British Triathlon Trust for children of all ages, offering the perfect introduction to the sport.
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Find out more information at www.brownleetri.com or head to Harewood House on Saturday 24 September to be a part of it. Car parking is £5 per car with registration and the Entertainment Village opening at 8.00am.

Costumes from ITV’s Victoria series to go on display at Harewood House

Victoria on ITV was filmed at Harewood and includes Jenna Coleman

Harewood House was recently used as a major set for ITV’s Victoria series. The crew filmed across Yorkshire for several months during winter 2015/16; Harewood was fortunate enough to be one of the key locations. The production company, Mammoth Screen, used much of Harewood’s State Floor, Below Stairs and part of the Estate. There was some amazing set dressing transforming Harewood into Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace.

Visit Leeds to see costumes worn by Jenna Coleman in Victoria

To celebrate the success of the programme, which has been ITV’s highest rated drama of 2016, the opulent rooms on Harewood’s State Floor will come to life with costumes from the programme. Outfits worn by Jenna Coleman who plays Queen Victoria will be displayed throughout the 2017 season.

Alexis Guntrip, Marketing Manager, Harewood House said:

“We are delighted to be exhibiting costumes from Victoria in 2017. We worked very closely with the production company throughout the filming period; this is the icing on the cake! The programme has created a lot of interest from visitors to Harewood already. The costume exhibition will provide a wonderful opportunity for period drama fans to become part of the story.”

Alongside the costumes, visitors will be able to explore this fascinating age through the eyes of three influential women. Lady Louisa, 3rd Countess of Harewood, Lady Charlotte Canning and Queen Victoria herself. See personal objects owned by Queen Victoria and her Lady in Waiting, Charlotte, and learn about how Lady Louisa altered the very fabric of Harewood House in a grand redevelopment.

New Victorian Harewood Tour

Inspired by the 2017 exhibitions, Harewood is offering a new group tour for parties of 15 or more. The one hour tour will be presented by Harewood’s expert guides and will include objects, personal letters and archival material from Harewood’s collection. Alongside the historical stories, groups can learn more about how Harewood prepares for filming in the house, what rooms were used in Victoria, and see the wonderful dresses worn by Jenna Coleman in the series.

Highlights

Victoria – a costume exhibition

English School miniature of Queen Victoria replicating a Franz Xaver Winterhalter portrait

Queen Victoria’s writing set
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A bracelet given to Lady Charlotte Canning by Queen Victoria

A day in the life of the Bird Garden team

Visit Yorkshire to see our Bird Garden

I took on my role as Bird Garden and Farm Experience Manager in December 2015, joining Harewood from Edinburgh Zoo. As manager, it’s my responsibility to oversee the daily running of the Bird Garden and the newly created Farm Experience. It’s an exciting, busy part of Harewood which is at the start of a three year development plan to enhance this much loved part of the grounds.

My day begins at 8am when I arrive at the Bird Garden kitchen with the rest of the team. The Bird Garden is home to 37 different bird species which all have specific dietary needs. From the tall, elegant cranes to the critically endangered Bali starling, we make sure each bird has the right food. We also prepare buckets of chopped carrots, apples, pears and leafy greens for our rabbits, guinea pigs and farm animals.

Once prepared, we head to the Bird Garden and begin the task of feeding and cleaning all the aviaries. We check all the birds to make sure that they are in good health whist we’re in the enclosures before the visitors arrive. One of my personal favourites in the Bird Garden are our family of palm cockatoos. These are unusual birds and it’s the first time I’ve worked with them. The youngest of the three birds is very inquisitive and he will often fly around the keepers, watching them closely as we clean and prepare the large aviary.

At this time of year we often find nests full of eggs which we will leave with parents to look after. On some occasions it may be necessary to take the eggs carefully to our artificial incubation room. Here we place them in specially designed incubators and hand rear any chicks that might hatch.

Once all of the birds are fed and checked, we go for a well- earned cup of coffee!

The next job is to clean out the farm animal paddocks and give them their first feed of the day. At 12pm, one of the keepers will take a bucket of eggs, veg and fruit to the pig enclosure. Here we invite visitors to take an item from the bucket and throw it over the fence for the pigs to enjoy. They are full of character and, since their arrival in March, I’ve grown very fond of them. Once the pigs have had their fill, we move onto the next paddock. Once again visitors can feed leafy greens to our hungry pygmy goats.

After lunch, I often leave the Bird Garden and Farm in the capable hands of the team and head over to the office to carry out the necessary (and inevitable!) paperwork for the day. This includes record keeping, ordering supplies, planning for upcoming events, liaising with the vet, managing new arrivals and arranging transportation of animals who may be leaving our care.

A significant role for the Bird Garden is the care and preservation of endangered species. Many of the birds we manage are in captive breeding programmes which supports their ongoing survival. These breeding programmes exist to support the genetic variation of captive populations. Computer databases help compile studbooks that record the details of each individual animal in the programme. This includes the animal’s sex, date of birth, and full family history. No money changes hands when we exchange animals with other zoos. Our aim is purely to save and protect endangered wildlife.

We have welcomed several new additions including six Humboldt penguins which arrived in early March from the Cotswold Wildlife Park in Oxfordshire. We also took on an egg which our colony have adopted. We hope that this foster-chick will hatch soon.

Other new additions include a pair of cheer pheasants which form part of our Himalayan themed enclosures overlooking the Lake, and a large group of roul roul partridge, an appealing, ground dwelling bird from Borneo.

When I’m in the office, it’s also the time that I catch up with the rest of the team who work outside the Bird Garden. The team at Harewood have a lot to juggle from school groups to TV interviews!

At 3:30pm, I will head back to the Bird Garden to carry out the Daily Penguin Talk and often find myself introducing not only the penguins, but also the wild grey herons and red kites that visit the enclosure hoping they might help themselves to a sprat or two!

Once I have answered the varied and interesting questions from visitors, I will either head back to the office, or carry out a variety of tasks around the Bird Garden until it is time to close for the evening. Every day there are new and exciting challenges arriving, so no two days are ever the same.

By Nick Dowling, Bird Garden and Farm Experience Manager