Exploring the Holkham Estate with Sue Penlington

Sue Penlington joined the Holkham Estate as its first education officer in 2013 and leads a team creating learning programmes and events for all ages.

Tell us about your role and how you came to work in the education department at the Estate.

I’m responsible for hosting school visits, adult education (walks and workshops), the family visitor experience including events such as Easter, Open Farm Sunday and Halloween, and I also run the Field to Fork Experience.

I came to Norfolk in 2004 for a job as a field studies tutor near Cromer, and pretty much never left. I love the mix of the coast, countryside and Norfolk Broads. I’ve been lucky enough to work in outdoor education throughout my career. I think the mixture of my experience and also knowledge of coasts and farming helped me to get my dream job here.

How many are in the team, and do you have access to all areas of the Estate for teaching?

I have a core team of two part-time staff who work with school groups and then the additional visitor services staff who run Field to Fork and trailer tours. I’m lucky enough to pull in help and expertise where I need it, from our room stewards in the Hall, the National Nature Reserve (NNR) team, farms, game-keeping, forestry and the landscape team. I also use some of the visitor services staff to help with Halloween and Easter. My team predominately covers the NNR, Parkland, Hall, Field to Fork and Walled Garden but we also cover the farms and renewable energies at Egmere.

What’s your favourite part of the Estate for teaching, and why?

It’s a tough question, but I think I’d have to say the sand dunes at Holkham Gap – I grew up on an island so I love the coasts and as a trained ecologist working with A Level students studying sand dune succession it takes me back to my roots.

How do different age groups react when they visit Holkham?

The younger ones are just blown away by arriving on a bus and having a packed lunch, it’s the older ones who don’t get it as quickly. Pretty much every young person is amazed that the Hall is still lived in by the family and they ask amusing questions like, ‘How big is their television?’ or ‘What car does Lord Leicester drive?’ The scale of things is a common theme which all visitors young and old are impressed with.

The Estate is constantly evolving, but what plans do you have for 2017?

I’m excited to be involved in putting together an exhibition in the Hall this year, which is called ‘What the Butler Saw’. I’m looking forward to running more trailer tours and events with a new team. I’m also involved in the Walled Garden restoration project, which is at a pivotal stage in terms of generating funding – it would be amazing if everything went to plan on this front.

What’s your favourite time of year a Holkham and why?

Easy – late September when the Pink-footed Geese are arriving and the trees are changing colour. The deer within the park are up really close as it’s their rutting season and fungi are all over the woodland floor. It signifies the conclusion of a busy season for my team before we celebrate the end of the main visitor season with our Halloween event. On a dry sunny day, there is no-where else quite like it.

Where do you relax on the Norfolk coast when you’re not working?

I like to spend a lot of time at Overstrand and Cromer beaches, the Rocket House Café in Cromer is a favourite haunt of mine. I wish I could spend more time at Cley Marshes but there just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day at the weekend.

Can you share a little-known fact about the Holkham Estate with us.

I don’t think many people know that there was originally a stable block on the other side of the lake.