THERE’S a great deal happening at Chirk Castle right now.
A well as the ongoing renovations designed to make the 13th century Marcher fortress more eco-friendly, there are a number of initiatives aimed at improving the visitor experience at one of the National Trust’s most imposing properties.
Developments at Home Farm – where a new visitor hub is being created – and on the wider Chirk Castle estate are opening new areas up to the public while the addition of roles such as costumed interpreters are helping people to learn more about the castle’s fascinating history.
These developments are, in turn, opening up new opportunities for volunteers to join the Chirk Castle team.
Lucy Byrne, 24, began as a volunteer with the National Trust and now works as user services co-ordinator at Chirk Castle.
She said: “I studied history at university and went on to do an MA in creative and cultural management in Chester.
“As part of the MA I had to volunteer and I did my volunteering at Erddig (Hall, Wrexham).
“It gave me a chance to do things practically and I enjoyed meeting different people and doing something different every hour or so.
“I was going to carry on volunteering when this job came up at Chirk.
“I look after membership at the castle and run the ticket office at Home Farm. I like the people I work with and there’s something new every day. There’s something about coming up the drive to work – it’s not your average office.”
Indeed, there are few workplaces where you will see a medieval guard instructing a group of children on how to charge with a lance.
The guard is Andrew Humphreys, who joined the team last year as a costumed interpreter and is currently developing a new team of volunteers to enliven the visitor experience and to help visitors delve into the castle’s medieval origins.
These roles would suit anyone who enjoys interacting with the public and who would like to explore the castle’s early history.
However, if dressing up isn’t your thing, there are plenty of opportunities for volunteer room guides at the castle
Pat McGregor, 68, has been a volunteer room guide at the castle for the past eight years while fellow guide Joy Hill, 83, has volunteered for 15 years and was the first National Trust employee at the castle 19 years ago.
Unlike Joy, Pat joined with no previous experience. And none is necessary – volunteering is an opportunity to learn new skills and fellow volunteers and staff will help newcomers to settle into their new roles.
Pat recalled: “I spoke to somebody who was already a volunteer at another Trust property and came up here (to Chirk) to see if they needed any volunteers.”
Pat was welcomed on board and was given full training before she took up her post in the castle.
“You learn the history of the castle and you meet lots of people,” Pat continued.
“People like to hear the stories of the castle that you don’t read in the guidebooks.”
While volunteering as a room guide might be very rewarding, it may not be advisable if you are of a nervous disposition, especially when it comes to the supernatural.
“A lot of people ask if there are any ghosts in the castle and you have to judge whether to say yes or no – of course you say no if they have little ones with them.
“There was a time when a gentleman came here with his family and saw a ghost,” she said. “He went into the King’s bedroom and was genuinely spooked when he came out, saying ‘she was shouting at me, screaming at me, I’m not going back in there’.
“I mentioned it to the duty manager and she said that the cleaner had seen exactly the same thing that morning.”
But if ghosts might put you off never fear, there are numerous volunteer opportunities available elsewhere in the castle and on the estate, including mini bus drivers, assistant countryside estate wardens, gardeners and school education assistants.
Chirk Castle is also looking for assistant volunteers at the shop who will be vital in helping to generate income which helps to keep the property open.
Jenny Ewens, 59, from Chester, is an estate volunteer who takes visitors on tours of the castle’s extensive grounds.
“I take visitors on a guided walk around the estate,” she explained. “We start here at Home Farm and we see some of the old building here – the pig sties which date back to the 18th century, the dovecote which was moved down here from the gardens – and talk a little about their history. From there we head to the woods, pointing out the ice house along the way, and on to the bird hide. Another volunteer, who is a keen ornithologist, has put pictures of all the different birds that can be spotted.”
Jenny has been volunteering for three years having been introduced to it by her husband who drives the castle’s courtesy bus.
She said: “I’ve done a lot of research myself and that has been fantastic – exercising the grey cells. I’d retired and had been looking for something different to do. I’m an outdoors girl and Chirk has something for everyone. You meet so many interesting people.”
- Chirk Castle attracts volunteers from all over north east Wales, north Shropshire, and Cheshire. Anyone interested in joining the volunteers team at Chirk should contact Joanne Jones on 01691 777701 or email joanne.jones @nationaltrust.org.uk.
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