Column - Behind the Scenes at Harewood House

A group of children get the chance to look around the state bedroom during their tour of Harewood House. Picture: Harewood House Trust/John Steel.
A group of children get the chance to look around the state bedroom during their tour of Harewood House. Picture: Harewood House Trust/John Steel.

Working at Harewood is a real privilege. I’m constantly learning new things about Harewood, which is one of the most rewarding parts of my job. It’s my job to try and share some of that passion and knowledge with our visitors.

From young children to retirees, I have a responsibility to provide generations of visitors with the opportunity to engage with our collections, gardens, history and more.

Zoe White, education manager at Harewood House.

Zoe White, education manager at Harewood House.

So what does being an education manager mean? It’s a question I often ask myself as the breadth here is so enormous.

At the heart of my job is our formal education programme. Each year we welcome more than 5,000 educational visits from learners of all ages.

From reception children meeting the penguins for the first time, to university students studying our collection of Renaissance masterpieces, the opportunities to use Harewood as a resource are boundless. The biggest challenge is portraying just how much there is here without it becoming overwhelming!

For our younger school groups we try to make all the activities as exciting as possible. Pupils often enjoy tours of the grand State Floor where they are shown hidden doors and beds slept in by princesses.

Outside, they meet new feathered friends in the bird garden, and even become a human tree for the day as they discover the fantastic life cycle of plants.

We try to make sure that every child takes away a memory from Harewood which we hope helps them learn as much as possible from their time here.

One element of our formal education programme which is of great importance to me is the development of our secondary education offer. It’s a tough nut to crack because of the massive pressure schools are under, but we know how successful it can be to help enrich teaching across a variety of secondary subjects.

This year, I have been working on our new Harewood Discovery Days. Currently a pilot programme, these days are designed for secondary level students to get hands on with art history, learning about key objects from Harewood’s diverse collection with some engaging activities included to really bring the house to life.

In depth tours of the elegant State Floor will be followed by a session exploring rare and important documents from Harewood’s archives not usually seen by the public. Students will have the opportunity to test their critical analysis, research and communication skills, culminating in an afternoon of public speaking.

Each student will present their findings and thoughts from the day in the magnificent surroundings of the gallery. Our first Discovery Day launches on Friday, November 4 and we are looking forward to what promises to be an exciting day.

The knowledge of the team here is another rich resource which I make the most of throughout the year.

Each department is fortunate enough to have dedicated staff who provide me with lots of information which I use for a range of things.

Trails, worksheets and interactive spaces are of great importance at Harewood, enhancing our visitors’ experience on site. From our Minibeast Trail to our ‘Meet the Animal’ sessions in the farm, the team do whatever they can to support learning all season long.

Alongside formal education, a large part of my job involves planning and delivering our family events programme which primarily run throughout the school holidays. One of my favourite events of the year is Autumn Glory which covers the nine days of the October half term.

At this time of year the grounds of Harewood shine with the beautiful autumnal trees and soft autumn light. A wonderful natural splendour, this makes installing trails around the lakeside path a genuine highlight.

Fantastical life-size animal graphics are currently hidden among the trees for children to discover as they make their way around the lake. Below Stairs is being brought to life with the sounds and smells of cookery in the Old Kitchen which allow families to appreciate this magnificent space as it should be.

Upstairs on the State Floor, small printed pumpkins and leaves have been hidden among the great treasures of Harewood’s collection. Children are really enjoying the eye-spy feel as they wander among the beautiful antiques.

So often I speak to people who still remember their school trips or childhood visits to Harewood, which to me shows the power of this place to inspire and educate; something that the house and grounds have been doing for centuries.