Newly opened Children’s Country House hoped to “spark a lifelong love of heritage”

Image: The Children's Country House (Gavin Repton)

Children are encouraged to lead their own visit at the recently opened National Trust property in Derbyshire

The National Trust has this week opened The Children’s Country House in Derbyshire, a heritage destination designed primarily for the experience of young people.

National Trust experts have worked alongside children to create the experience, which encourages young visitors “to be curious, explore the house and ‘have fun with history’, all while protecting the late 17th-century hall’s collections.”

The development of The Children’s Country House started in 2017 and has been supported by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

Sudbury Hall was already a destination for families with a hall, gardens and a museum which was installed in the Victorian wing of the Hall in 1974 by Derbyshire County Council.

The Trust said the existing draw for families had presented an “opportunity to reassess the property and its programming with families in mind. It felt like a natural step for us to think more deeply about how children experience historic country houses,” it said.

To create The Children’s Country House, National Trust staff worked with 100 ‘Ambassadors’, aged up to 12 years, to devise and test ideas, first in digital sessions and then via in-person workshops at the hall.

Assistant Director for Midlands and East of England, Emma Hawthorne said “We want it to be a place of wonder and we’ll be inviting children to bring their imagination and a thirst for exploring.

“Children are vitally important not only to the future of Sudbury Hall but also to the future of the heritage sector.

“Our aim is to be a place where everyone feels comfortable, welcome and can lead their own visit, developing their knowledge, confidence and curiosity as they explore the collections, stories and history.”

Activities are inspired by the historic use of each part of the hall. ‘Becoming a portrait’ in the Long Gallery is hoped to encourage children to think about the symbolism of the portraits that line the 138ft space.

A £70,000 project to restore the building’s Great Staircase has allowed it to be used by visitors for the first time in 40 years.At the base of the staircase, children can use a convex mirror to look at the ceiling paintings and carvings depicting garlands of fruit, flowers and palm branches.

In the Long Gallery, children are invited to lie down to appreciate the plasterwork of the ceiling, featuring animals such as grasshoppers, unicorns, boars and dragons.

Staff have developed a conservation plan to safeguard fragile and precious objects by colour-coding items which can be handled.

John Orna-Ornstein, Director of Curation and Experience, says: “I hope that The Children’s Country House will spark a lifelong love of heritage in the children who step through its doors, and that it will continue to delight all who visit with its creativity, magnificent beauty, and for the window it gives us into the day-to-day lives of the people who lived, worked and played in its rooms.”