New manager at Bridge Cottage Heritage Centre in Uckfield is Paul Dearn, the man who introduced winter-themed openings in historic houses to the National Trust.
It was when Paul was house and collections manager at Polesden Lacey in Surrey that he and the team introduced themed events, with houses decorated as if for Christmas in their heyday.
They were also the first National Trust property to encourage visitors to experience the house as the owners would have done, choosing and playing 78 records, playing billiards or even sitting down and reading the newspaper.
Paul was with the National Trust for 22 years, and then moved into the private sector working at Chawton House Library, at Alton in Hampshire, once home of Jane Austen’s brother.
After five years it was time for another change and while looking for a new role he spotted the advertisement for the job at Bridge Cottage and now works there part time.
He is very enthusiastic and committed to the cottage and proves it by travelling two-and-a-half hours from Winchester and back again each time he works.
Travelling is a constant theme in his life because he clocks up similar mileage in a different direction for another job. This one is in Birmingham at an historic vinyl record shop, The Diskery.
The shop is opposite the O2 arena and has been visited by music greats such as Led Zeppelin, UB40, Robert Cray, and YellaWolf.
Paul goes on the road too visiting VW events and music festivals driving his much-loved collection of VW vehicles. He has a 1960 VW split-screen camper van; a 1970 VW single-cab pick-up, and a 1987 VW Fox.
Paul restores and looks after the vehicles himself and also inspects other VWs for people thinking of buying them.
He is delighted to have joined Bridge Cottage at the start of an adventure to make it an educational hub and community hub within Uckfield and beyond.
Restoration completed, the challenge is to make the heritage centre viable financially and Paul says it has fantastic potential.
A wide variety of activities are already on the calendar from educational school visits such as some last week where children got involved in learning about Tudor cooking. Educational officers Maria Kirk and Nicola Howells, wore period costume to set the scene and demonstrated tudor cooking on an open fire.
The cottage has taken its first wedding booking and is pleased that the honour is going to a local couple. The Adult College for Rural East Sussex (Acres) is interested in holding classes there and community organisations are using it for their annual general meetings.
Music events are well-supported – there are plans to hold more of them next year – and so are talks. And the Uckfield family history group holds its monthly meetings at the centre.
Half-term activities next week will include crafts on Monday and Tuesday, a Living History Day on Wednesday and a Museums at Night especially planned for Hallowe’en on Thursday evening.
Cards for Good Causes will have a pop-up shop there from November to mid-December and Bridge Cottage will be open for this year’s late night shopping event on Friday, December 2.
Local artists will be selling their work and there will be stalls of produce from farm shops too.
The cottage has never been open to the public on a regular basis but is due to be open every Friday from the first Friday in November
Paul said: “We will consider anything that will help actively involve the local community in Bridge Cottage. This year has been a time of testing the water to see what Bridge Cottage can offer and what the community wants from it.”
Paul says he brings a wealth of experience with him to the centre. He has worked in heritage properties from the ground up starting as a volunteer doing basic cleaning and housekeeping tasks at a small National Trust property Packwood House https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/packwood-house in Warwickshire and ending up as house and collections manager at Polesden Lacey, one of the top six National Trust properties in the country.
He can already see that a team of dedicated people, staff, volunteers and trustees are working very hard behind the scenes to make Bridge Cottage a success, not just for the cottage, but also for Uckfield and he is looking forward to seeing the future unfold.
Look out for an event to be held on a Saturday in early January inviting potential volunteers to learn more about the way they could help there.
Read more about Bridge Cottage events on its website here.
Find local businesses in our Uckfield Directory