As we open seasonally, visitors often ask us what we do out of season: ‘does the whole site close down?’ or ‘do you go on holiday in the winter?’ tend to be the most frequent questions. In short, the answer is mainly ‘no’ and in this piece you will see that it is actually the busiest time for us at The Red House.
Our goal is always to make the house and site looking the best it can be and we love sharing Britten and Pears’ home with all our visitors. While regular conservation, housekeeping and maintenance takes place all year round, the closed period gives us an opportunity to focus on more disruptive and larger projects.
We’re never really closed
It is worth noting that the site still gets used in the winter. We continue to host schools and our Friday morning Mini Music Makers sessions; offer rehearsal space for chamber music in residence ensembles; give tours for musicians on artistic development courses at Snape Maltings; hire out our rooms and this year, we have taken part in the warm spaces scheme with East Suffolk Council.
Looking back and reflecting on the year
I like to start the closed season by reviewing the year and gathering feedback from visitors – whether they leave reviews online or surveys – and seeing what areas can be improved. We do this with colleagues and volunteers as well as it is so valuable to make sure we offer the best experience for everyone we work and interact with. This usually informs our plans for the winter, making sure everything is addressed in time for opening.
Exhibitions and planned changes
Exhibition planning usually takes place much earlier in the year and helps us identify what work needs to be done. For 2023 we decided to keep exhibition ‘Britten and Women’ up for another year as it has such a positive response from visitors. We will refresh the display cases with new archive material and have a new film about Britten’s contemporaries: composers Imogen Holst, Elisabeth Lutyens, Elizabeth Maconchy, Priaulx Rainier and Elinor Remick Warren.
We also use the time to plan our two art displays. We wanted to share more of Mary Potter’s paintings and focus on her oils in the Library. There is one work that is displayed here for the first time, the triptych ‘Car Park’ which was previously hung in the Britten Pears building at Snape Maltings. The other display is on Britten’s go-to stage designer John Piper and it has been a joy revisiting his works and set designs. There will be more of Piper’s work during the Aldeburgh Festival where you can see the scale of the Britten Pears Arts collection.
House, Library and Composition studio
There has been quite a lot of work done to the house this year. We noticed damp in the north side of the house where a large climbing hydrangea was located. It wasn’t a plant that was in place in Britten and Pears’ time and it was decided that it would be taken down to prevent further moisture entering the walls. As a result, the entrance hall was repainted and is looking its best again.
The House, Library and Composition studio has had a thorough clean to clear cobwebs, pests and dust off every object, book and surface. My colleague Julia, together with our conservation volunteers are going through every space meticulously ready for opening.
If you are familiar with the house, you will see another change. Because of the John Piper and Mary Potter displays there were many gaps on the walls which needed to be addressed. We spent a couple of days moving the art and couldn’t help wondering if our regular visitors would feel as bemused as Britten would sometimes be when Pears moved the art around the house.
Our garden manager David started in August so he has had to get familiar with the garden quickly in order to plan schemes in time for the growing season. He has identified two areas in particular: developing the rose terrace by sourcing heritage varieties that Britten and Pears purchased; and reinvigorating the kitchen garden to again reflect the kinds of vegetables that were grown then they lived here. In the last two weeks, we had work done to remove large and overgrown trees in order to give the original trees an opportunity to thrive. If that wasn’t enough, many flower beds are getting an overhaul, plus behind the scenes work has taken place to improve our composting and nursery areas.
As we near opening, we have recruited the seasonal welcome team and training begins for them and our volunteers. We are lucky to have garden and conservation volunteers helping us all year round but for those that join us for the season, it is an opportunity to share with them the changes and what to expect for the year ahead.
We can’t wait to open the gates and our doors on the 30 March and we hope you will enjoy seeing the changes as much as we have worked on them.
The Red House opens Thursday to Sunday from 30 March until the 29 October 2023.
- Ella Roberts, Head of The Red House