I’ve got a guilty secret and it’s time to let it out. I’m a few months shy of a decade of National Trust membership, and I’m not going to hide it anymore. Yes, I enjoy looking round sites of architectural and historical significance.
The best one I've seen was Barrington Court in Somerset and not just for the amazing Gertrude Jekyll-influenced gardens, but because the house is a fascinating and unique place. Instead of the usual tapestries, looming four-posters and chairs with dried teasels on them, there are bare boards, undraped windows and not a stick of furniture.
As you stand in the echoing, empty rooms, the scale and lines of the Tudor design are what hit you, uncluttered by the accumulated detritus of generations. And there’s something else; from one corner of the kitchens, near the fireplace, you can detect the faint sizzle and pop of pig being roasted slowly over an open fire; if you find yourself roaming the attics you can just discern the faint murmur and scratch of ghostly owls. And the old schoolroom is haunted by the reminiscences of an evacuee, now an elderly man, sharing his memories of rural wartime.
The experience of Barrington Court demonstrates how some of the most creative ideas are developed as the answer to a problem - and that it often pays to do the unlikely thing. A few years ago and for various reasons, the National Trust ended up with an empty house that, for once, they decided not to fill with borrowed items that were never part of the lives of those who lived and worked here. Instead, they took the creative and rather brave decision to leave the house empty of visual stimulus and to concentrate on other senses. The result is a house of memories that allows you to discover your own narrative as you wander through it.
Through leaving the walls undecked and the floor uncarpeted, space for the imagination is created. By inviting the visitor to take their own mental leap into the past, a far more immediate, tangible and memorable experience results. As communicators we often try to do too much. There’s an ever-present urge to leave no stone unturned and plug every gap - and in our content-rich environment, there’s no shortage of material. But Barrington Court demonstrates that creativity is sometimes more about what you leave out, than what you put in.
Laura House is senior consultant for change & internal comms at Hill + Knowlton Strategies