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Rosie Goodwin
Family Arts Correspondent
9:38 AM 15th August 2019

Beningbrough’s Achievements With Family Fun This Summer

Boy with sticks in grass. ©National Trust Images/Paul Harris - image 1415036
Boy with sticks in grass. ©National Trust Images/Paul Harris - image 1415036
Six miles from the centre of York, Beningbrough Hall, Gallery and Gardens is a National Trust destination overlooking the River Ouse that’s been reinventing itself for centuries. Currently, it’s in the midst of a busy summer programme of exciting family activities.

It came to my attention, however, because these activities are not altogether conventional; they’re not the sorts of automatic go-to craft-style family workshops recycled across the world in heritage settings. As someone who has worked in heritage education for a number of years, I’m always on the look-out for unusual engagement activities, and was intrigued and impressed by what’s on offer.

Gardening. ©National Trust Images/John Millar - image 777532
Gardening. ©National Trust Images/John Millar - image 777532
Mondays currently provide a chance to be garden apprentices. Families get to work alongside the property’s gardeners, trowel in hand, to try seed-sowing, garden maintenance or composting, supported by the Yorkshire Gardens Trust.

On Tuesdays, it’s time for bug-busting in the hall, learning about the conservation of historic houses and the challenges of bugs to collections, in highly memorable and engaging ways.

Both these days offer engagement that is genuinely illuminating and also cater to a wider age range than the typical under 10s; not to put too fine a point on it, these are the activities that careers are born of. They’re also exactly the sorts of things that today’s youngsters desperately need.

Gardening engages the senses and helps children to develop without even realising it. Young kids love to feel the textures of the outdoor world: thick damp soil, delicate falling petals, small hard seeds. Gardening develops fine motor skills, coordination and mini muscles. For all ages, it can be one of the most therapeutic, stress-relieving ways to pass a little stretch of time.

Boy on bicycle with dad. © National Trust Images/Chris Lacey - image 1074574
Boy on bicycle with dad. © National Trust Images/Chris Lacey - image 1074574
As for the ‘bug-busting’… that strikes me as a moment of programming genius. What young person doesn’t want to learn about real-life bugs, these little nasties that threaten our nation’s rich tapestries and antique furniture? As well as introducing them to conservation issues, it may well foster a life-long interest in natural history, allowing youngsters to recognise how the stuff of school science lessons translates into the world of heritage and culture.

As we left behind last week’s National Play Day and moved towards this week’s International Youth Awareness Day, I had parenting on my mind and fell distinctly in love with this National Trust gem for another reason too. Beningbrough offers a place of safety for a young audience: it’s resolutely a place of freedom and joy.

From the moment of arrival, little visitors are greeted with a range of bikes, trikes and scooters. There’s no catch. All around us, little ones helped themselves, peddled off, for as long or as little as they fancied. When they’d finished the ride, off they hopped, leaving their vehicle of choice for someone else to claim.

As well as the more obvious family-friendly attractions – a den-building extravaganza for those taking part in the 50 things to do before you’re 11 ¾ and a woodland adventure playground, packed with exciting rope bridge, sturdy ship and dreamy Wendy house – a sense of freedom exudes from the gardens themselves.

I watched as the kids kicked footballs on the manicured lawns of the walled gardens. Later, a rather frenzied and frenetic game of Frisbee took place too. Fancy that? Nobody told them to stop. There are not signs rudely insisting on ‘NO BALL GAMES’ – quite the reverse. Fun is positively encouraged. Fun is licensed here.

On Wednesdays and Fridays, there also are Artrageous workshops, as always included in the normal admission price and befitting a destination which hosts a changing programme of exhibitions. Galleries are not always the easiest places to explore with a family. Yet ‘Yorkshire! Achievement, Grit and Controversy’ currently celebrates the men and women who have contributed to our fine county throughout the centuries.

It made a rather neat ending for our day of freedom and play, of exploring orchards and plants, of scrambling up rope bridges and balancing logs and sticks in our teetering dens and constructions.

What makes a county great? The exhibition explores this and other questions. Maybe it’s the ground-breaking new female Doctor Who, Jodie Whittaker. Maybe it’s the courage and guile of plotter Guy Fawkes. Or perhaps it’s Patrick Stewart, who boldly voyaged through space as a French captain with only the trace of a Yorkshire accent. My son loved recognising these Yorkshire stars. But mainly, all the children I saw really loved being children for the day, relaxing in a beautiful setting, or learning unusual and quirky things this summer.

For more information, visit https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/beningbrough-hall-gallery-and-gardens