Compton Verney and the great outdoors

Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park is an inspiring and magical place, where art and nature meet for the benefit of all. A nationally-accredited art gallery set in a historic mansion house and 250 acres of ‘Capability’ Brown-designed park of 120 acres near Stratford-upon-Avon. Compton Verney is an independent charitable trust with six permanent collections, much-admired special exhibitions and a busy programme of events, learning and outreach programmes.

View over the lawn towards the lake and Adam Bridge. Image courtesy of Compton Verney.

In addition to the exhibitions and collections found in our galleries, we have a thriving programme of activities and events in our landscape. These range from the history and nature schools offer and preschool play activities in our Forest School, to independent activities like orienteering and pond dipping in the park to large festivals of music and heritage that take place throughout the season. Annually we attract 80,000 visitors and 5,000 school children.

From 2015 Compton Verney has been implementing its Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) activity plan, which has been a fantastic development opportunity for Compton Verney to explore and fulfil its expanded role as Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park,providing a wider offer and new exciting grounds programmes for our visitors and new audiences. HLF has enabled us to promote and expand the public’s understanding of the site as a whole, including the opportunity to increase access to and understanding of the historical and cultural significance of the Capability Brown landscape, garden heritage, natural history, nature conservation, the environment and ecology.

With HLF support and funding we now have a modern Welcome Centre, a restored chapel designed by Capability Brown, new wheelchair and child buggy accessible pathways throughout the grounds, a dipping pond, a bird hide, a labyrinth, new interpretation boards, a new bench, geodesic domes and a new lake ferry.

Image courtesy of Compton Verney.

Activities include orienteering courses, walks for people with differing physical abilities, imaginative trails which explore the history of the site, wildlife and nature or link to the changing exhibitions programme provided inside the mansion house. We have made partnerships with the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust and the RSPB and jointly delivered wildlife events and activities in the grounds, including bird feeder making.

Our Forest School programme has grown with the stability of funding provided by the HLF. It is highly popular with primary schools, offering early history sessions from the Stone Age to the Vikings, woodland and rural skills, including creating natural dyes and charcoal making. Our Early Years Forest School sessions are well attended by pre-school children and their parents/carers as we offer a safe woodland environment for outdoor fun and exploration and an opportunity to make friends. During the school holidays we have had up to 419 visitors in one day to the Forest School drop in, as it attracts visitors of all ages.

Image courtesy of Compton Verney.

Innovative and exciting Segways have been trialled over the last 2 years during the school holidays and many visitors have learnt to ride these electrically powered two wheeled machines, thus seeing the site from a different perspective whilst learning about its history and the fun Compton Verney can provide. Puppet theatre in the woodland has proven successful, Georgian games, yarn bombing in the trees, weaving around the willow tunnels, bee-keeping activities, tree climbing, archery and falconry, storytelling, shelter building.

The creation and installation of a super-size sandpit and deckchairs beneath Compton Verney’s stunning lime trees, has attracted many families and achieved a lot of social media coverage for us.

Forest school. Image courtesy of Compton Verney.

Projects have included a giant lantern procession, a weekend of foraging, natural fishing and falconry for local youth groups, historical re-enactment days (Georgian and Regency) with volunteers and a local amateur dramatic group. An expanded and very popular events programme in the grounds has increased attendance of events from a few hundred on average, to regularly attracting over 1,000 visitors. Events have included a Family Fun Day and Dog Show, a model aeroplane event, a health and wellbeing event and an event which celebrates local arts, crafts, artisan and heritage skills.

HLF also funded ‘The Clearing’ a commission which was a modern take on a traditional ‘eyecatcher’ folly. (Capability Brown used follies and monuments in the landscape to add interest and to draw the eye through the parkland). The project was a collaborative artwork by artists Alex Hartley and Tom James, which explores an imagined vision of the future, the ‘living dome’ is in the grounds adjacent to the lake and directly opposite the Georgian mansion house. In 2017 visitors could meet resident caretakers ask questions talk about experiences and learn about a vision of a future world which has been afflicted by climate change. A programme of skills workshops included how to build a fire and a cob oven, how to keep chickens and make soap. Compton Verney’s successful Dementia Café has developed activities which encouraged participants to explore the great outdoors. 

Additionally, new volunteer roles have been created including Outdoor Events Co-ordinators, Ferry Operator and Segway Backstop and a Horticulture Apprentice rolehas been funded by the HLF.

Because of increased staffing resources and presence provided by HLF, feedback from local community groups confirms Compton Verney has grown a local reputation for community engagement work and many new partnerships have been developed with local and regional organisations. There has been significant involvement of local people creating a greater sense of local ownership, influence and participation many of whom are non-traditional arts venue visitors.

Caroline Leverton
Visitor Engagement Manager, Compton Verney