Christmas at Sudeley Castle

PUBLISHED: 16:24 04 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:38 20 February 2013

Old Banqueting Hall ruin

Old Banqueting Hall ruin

The current financial climate is causing many people to think again about their priorities ... but will cardboard boxes pass muster as Christmas presents?

This is the time of year for our traditional thinking, planning and shopping for the forthcoming 'festive' season. The time to anticipate the long - in my opinion too long - over-indulgent, build-up of frenzy to celebrate our material culture, which is now going through a great metamorphosis.

We cannot turn a corner or even a page without being faced with the credit crunch, bankruptcies, and job losses, and doom and gloom is being forecast by the media across the board. Although alarming and uncertain on so many levels, could it be that this global economic and environmental crisis is offering us a chance to re-evaluate our priorities and regain a sense of true value in our lives?

We are being frog-marched to recognise that collectively we are using too much water and energy, wasting too much food, travelling too much, having too many unnecessary gadgets, clothes and things which we don't need and bring us little real satisfaction. Not to mention the unforgivable inequality of the distribution of life sustaining resources to much of the world's people. Being aware of these facts is an opportunity we all have, but how to manage them on a personal level is more perplexing.

We at Sudeley Castle, like so many others, are struggling to think what our options are if there is to be a dramatic downturn in our business in the foreseeable future, even though our visitor numbers have seen an increase of 34 per cent this season. The preservation of the historic buildings at Sudeley and conservation of the contents are dependant on our paying visitors and their continued patronage and enjoyment of the gardens and exhibitions. Will family outings and general tourism be affected by the credit crunch . I expect that they will. Can we cut down on our overheads? I don't know that we can by very much without detriment to the very object which we have set out to preserve.

However, I believe that Sudeley is a place where many people come to feed their spirit, to breathe in the timeless beauty of its surroundings, to take some time off from their daily lives and concerns and step into another era when technology and self gratification were not the priority.

All through the ages people have struggled with the problems and upheavals of their times, and creative and imaginative people have sought solutions for them. England's unique wealth of architecture, historic houses, gardens, museums and galleries are not selling the trivial and disposable products of our materialistic culture, but bear witness to something more tangible, valuable and perhaps something to learn from in times of crisis.

I have felt fortunate to have been custodian of Sudeley's heritage over almost 40 years, but saddened to watch our visitor numbers drop off to our competitors - shopping malls, theme parks, Sunday shopping, cheap foreign travel and the like. It has been suggested that we are rather an old fashioned attraction; we need to be more cutting edge, use interactive technology, to create new excitement every year to attract new interest. Well, quite frankly this is exhausting even to think about, let alone to achieve. I wonder if at Sudeley, and other similar historic houses, there may be an opportunity in the light of the present cultural revolution for the revival of our traditional role as an accessible repository of some of our country's rich history and heritage.

Returning to my Christmas theme, I remember a scene played out under our Christmas tree last year, when after the hysteria of tearing open and chucking aside the piles of presents from well meaning parents, grandparents, godparents and Father Christmas, my grandchildren were having a tremendous game of pulling each other around in one of the large boxes that had packaged an expensive remote control toy. Later the box was turned into a house where the air conditioning system was demonstrated by flapping the cardboard folds back and forth. I think the competition for the box ultimately turned to tears and bed and bath time were promptly announced as emergency measures, but nevertheless "out of the mouths of babes".....

Hmmm, I'm wondering if I can get away with cardboard boxes this Christmas , and I am hoping that Sudeley can get away with just plain old fashioned humdrum Henry the VIII and his wives, prize-winning gardens, and an impressive collection of historical and artistic treasures to soothe the senses of our hard pressed customers next season. Oh, and we have some exciting surprises up our sleeve which I will let you know about in a future piece.

I do hope the readers of this column will pay us a visit next year when our opening dates will be March 30 to October 31. In the meantime, very best wishes for a peaceful and thoughtful Christmas from all at Sudeley to the readers of Castle Connections and their families.

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