Exit through the gift shop

posted by Scott McKenzie

I’ve got a guilty secret. I’ve been a member of the National Trust for well over 5 years – and I’m under 40. Say it once, say it loud – I enjoy looking round sites of architectural and historical significance! I could make the excuse that it’s a great day out for the family, but I was a member before I was a Mum. Basically I’m a sucker for weathered stone walls, multiple portraits of disturbingly similar family members, and a well-stocked gift shop.

The best one yet was Barrington Court in Somerset. If you’re ever in the area, I urge you to drop in – not just for the amazing Gertrude Jekyll-influenced gardens, but because the house is a fascinating and unique place.  Instead of the usual tapestries, four-posters and chairs with dried teazles on them, there’s nothing. Well, almost nothing.

As you stand in the echoing, empty rooms, you can appreciate their scale and design in a way you couldn’t if they were filled with furniture. And there’s something else – in the old kitchens you can hear the faint sizzle and pop of pig being roasted slowly over an open fire. In the attics there’s the murmur and scratch of generations of owls and owlets (yes, that is what they’re called). And the old schoolroom is filled with ghostly reminiscences of an evacuee, now an elderly man, sharing his memories of the sounds, sights and smells of rural wartime.

What has this got to do with internal communication? A couple of things have been resonating with me since the trip to Barrington Court. Firstly, that sometimes it pays to do the unexpected thing. The National Trust were, for various reasons, left with an empty house, and rather than try and fill it with stuff borrowed from other properties around the country, they decided to find a creative way to work with what they had. Secondly, I learnt that sometimes what you leave out is more important than what you leave in. Leave space for the imagination, and people will fill it themselves, becoming truly engaged in the process.

This was a guest blog by Laura House, Senior Consultant in the Change & Internal Communications team.

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