Volunteer Interview Blog 2019

volunteering at Painshill

To celebrate Volunteer’s Week 2019, Painshill are delighted to launch our new Volunteer Interview Blog!

Each month we will be showcasing a volunteer from our team who gives their time to keep Painshill running and looking stunning.

Around 170 volunteers work for Painshill. They worked a total of 15,000 hours during 2018. This figure covers the Landscape, Visitor Centre, Crystal Grotto, Watermill and the Tower Café.

We are extremely grateful to all our volunteers for their dedication and effort. They are vital to Painshill and its success!

We are grateful to The Community Foundation for Surrey for part funding our volunteer programme.

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Volunteer Interview of the month – Nov 19

‘The Gentlemen Greasers’

Malcolm, Warwick, Mark, Ron (not pictured), Barry and David


What is the role of ‘the greasers’ at Painshill?

Warwick – We look after the Waterwheel. It is not a folly but a functional building that pumps water from the River Mole to create the Serpentine lake. That’s its sole purpose now. It was more involved before, we don’t know when exactly, but in former times there were many pipes. One went right up the slope to the top, close to the Temple of Bacchus, probably to a tank where the gardeners took water from.

Malcolm – There was also a pipe that went from there to Painshill House. A pressure pump took water up the slope and from there gravity would carry it to the house. It fed the house before they had mains water we think.

The original waterwheel was made of wood and leather and lasted 50 years. Around the 1830s another was put it but that fell to pieces when the park was derelict. The wheel was there but all the paddles broke off. In 1987 it was restored.

What was the lake like when the Waterwheel was derelict?

Malcolm – A jungle. Trees were growing in it.

Warwick – You couldn’t even see the lake. The man who restored the Gothic Temple was working for 2 weeks before he even realised there was a lake. It was more like a swamp.

Malcolm – For quite a long while they had a pump pulling out all the sludge and leaves to clear and restore the lake.

Warwick – Yes, the first restoration team must have had such an imagination to see the 18th century landscape within the “jungle”. They worked tirelessly to clear it.

Waterwheel - 1981

How long have you been volunteering?

Warwick – Well Ron has been here for many years.

Ron – Since 1987!

David – I was here about 2008 and I left in about 2013.

Warwick – Malcolm came in 2009. When I was on staff I was responsible for the Waterwheel but was a proper ‘greaser’ from about 2011.

Where did that term ‘the greasers’ come from?

Warwick – It came from the work in the wheel. A big part of the job is greasing all the parts. I think it was the first director that called us that. The wheel has 26 grease nipples and 6 oiling points where we drop oil in. We calculate how many times the wheel has turned in the past week and if it hasn’t turned much there is less maintenance but if it has been turning a lot we need to grease everything.

And is that dictated by water level?

Malcolm – Yes, the river level is changing all the time. We monitor it. We can’t control it though! People often ask questions when we are in there and we like to be a guide there as well.

Waterwheel repairs
Waterwheel repairs

What got you involved in volunteering?

Barry – I first came as a visitor and a notice was put up in the Waterwheel asking for help. I said to Lucy in the Visitor Centre, in a weak moment, that I was toying with the idea of becoming a volunteer. Lucy persuaded me to give it a whirl. I am the newbie!

Mark – I am newer I think. I started a year ago. Warwick asked me. I was just minding my own business and before I knew it I was here once a week!

Ron – I came with my wife and she did the same.  They read out a list of jobs they needed and when they said ‘waterwheel greaser’ she signed me up.

What makes you come back to join ‘the greasers’ every week?

Ron – I am retired so it is good to have something to get me out of the house!

David – I used to work in the city on building sites where everything was often grey and always man-made. When I retired I decided to do a 180 degree turn and work outdoors where the grass is green, the sun shines and the sky is blue. Painshill was local, I hadn’t been before, but I lived close. I first started working with the gardeners three days a week. I just loved the surroundings. It is a lovely place to be. I miss it. I come back annually to see these old friends.

Warwick – Half the morning is actually spent in the Tea Room. It is a social thing of course. We meet once a week for a coffee and good chat. And the more the merrier!

What your favourite spot at Painshill?

David – I don’t think I could single one out! It is a lovely place to be. There are views from the Temple and from the Turkish Tent. And nature pays its part, I like different views as the seasons change.

Malcolm – I can’t pick one. I have such a list. There is the hermitage where you can look out, the vineyard, the top of the Tower.

Mark – I like sitting at the Amphitheatre looking over the vineyard and the lake. You can see to the Surrey Hills.

Warwick– I like the west side of the landscape, the heath land. But there are so many places. I can’t choose one.

David – I was always promised a kingfisher and I never saw them.

Warwick – Yes, on Grotto Island! They fly through the bridge.

David – Oh, I missed them!

Warwick – You will have to come back.

David – If that’s an invitation, I would love to come back!

Volunteer Interview of the month – Oct 19

Carolyn Ezekiel

Carolyn Ezekiel

How long have you been volunteering?

Oh, I am trying to work it out. Maybe almost 30 years I should think.

Really wow, that’s amazing

It must have been 1991, so yes 28 years now!

What keeps you coming back?

Just habit. No no, obviously I love it! I will keep coming because I can choose what I do, when I come and tailor it to other volunteering I am doing. I used to do the walking tour.

Is that the thing you enjoyed most? Giving guided tours?

Yes. The one thing I didn’t want to do is be inside the shop or office. I wanted to be out there in the garden. I also like being a steward in the Grotto. Everyone goes in the Grotto and so you have got a captive audience. They enjoy it and take note of it all. If you are just walking around visitors don’t know they can talk to you. If you are standing on duty they ask you questions.

The Grotto is extremely fragile and the Painshill Park Trust spent an awful lot of money restoring it. I feel it makes a difference having a steward in there. I work in there at the weekends. The Grotto is the thing that makes Painshill different from other gardens.

It must be incredible to be in there at weekends and see children’s reactions.

Oh yes, yes they do just love it.

When did you first visit Painshill?

Well, I live in Cobham, so came in the early days. People used to come in what is now the trade entrance and it was only open at weekends. It was all staffed by volunteers. There was a little hut selling tea and a few souvenirs.  The Grotto wasn’t there, it was completely open to the sky. So I have seen it be completely re-built.

Crystal Grotto
Crystal Grotto at Painshill - credit Graham Dash

What was the landscape like?

Well the Gothic Temple was there but the Five Arch Bridge wasn’t. It was a lovely garden but it wasn’t that interesting because there wasn’t enough information about it. What the Trust did is change the entrance and build a Visitor Centre and the bridge. It was that bridge that won me over! I just love that bridge over the river. We had a talk from the architect about the Visitor Centre and how it would be built end on so that you aren’t confronted by the size of it at any stage. You only see the narrow edge and therefore through to the garden. I think the design is very good.

So you have watched it change massively.

Oh massively. What I love is the vision of Charles Hamilton. I think he was just an amazing person. To spend a life creating a garden is almost a concept we don’t understand these days. People ask me; did he make it to sell tickets? But really he just did it because he loved it. He saw this land, didn’t have any money, but could imagine what to do with it. It was a swamp and he made this. A fantastic thing.

Was there a particular thing or person who inspired you to volunteer?

Well, I’ll tell you who was inspiring, a man called Teige O’Brien, who was there at the forming of the Painshill Park Trust. He was so enthusiastic about Painshill. There is a bench dedicated to him in the Turkish Tent.

I already volunteered at Claremont. There was a group of us at that time, probably forty years ago, that started doing tours there. One of them said, why don’t you also come to Painshill!

Do you have a particular spot in the landscape you love?

Oh dear how can I choose? Autumn I love but also the spring snowdrops. I suppose the view from the Gothic Temple is the highlight.

I remember a friend of mine’s daughter got married there. They had a marquee on the Amphitheatre. At the end she and her husband walked through the Gothic Temple and down to the lake to a waiting boat. They were taken off over the lake completely out of sight. I think they had a car around the other side to take them away but we couldn’t see it. It was beautiful.

Volunteer Interview of the month – Aug 19

Graham Dash

What is your role at Painshill? 

I’ve been a volunteer since October 2012, starting as a Grotto Steward. After my retirement, the following May, I went on to become a Tour Guide, occasional speaker to outside groups, a member of the Grotto Service Team, and Landscape Team helper. My hobby of photography has also come in useful with many of my photos being used by Painshill.

Why did you choose to volunteer at Painshill? 

I have been a regular visitor at Painshill since the early 1990s and in 2012 picked up a leaflet on one of my visits asking for Grotto Stewards. I wanted to give something back to Painshill and felt that I could provide a few hours a month art weekends while still working. After I retired I had more time to do more.

What is the thing you love most about your work at Painshill? 

The privilege of being able to work in such a beautiful and idyllic place, the chance to learn more and be able to pass that information on to interested visitors.

What is your favourite spot at Painshill? 

In so many ways this is a difficult question to answer. However, if I have to choose just one spot it has to be the view from the Turkish Tent across the lake to the Gothic Pavilion (also said to be Charles Hamilton’s favourite view).

 A selection of Graham’s amazing photos. Take a look at some more on Graham’s Flickr 

Volunteer Interview of the month – July 19

Pauline Wood


What is your role at Painshill?

So I am currently doing flower arranging for the Tea Room.

They are beautiful. We love them and get loads of comments about them!

Ah thank you. It is nice to bring a bit of nature inside isn’t it.

And you find them from around the landscape?

Yes all the foliage is from the garden. I used to do flowers from the Kitchen Garden but sometimes they don’t last in the heat so occasionally I bring in other bought flowers.

Why did you choose Painshill to volunteer for?

Well I worked in an office, I worked for British Airways for about 40 years and got made redundant. Then I just liked the idea of being outside. I was stuck inside for so long I just wanted to be outdoors.

What is the thing you love most about your work at Painshill?

I think it’s very therapeutic and calming. And also it’s just a lovely opportunity to be out in the garden. I go and pick the foliage and just look at what’s happening in the garden, what’s coming into flower, because I am just interested in plants anyway as I did a design course.

Oh ok, so you have done lots of flower arranging?

Not really, only here. I did a very short course just for interest a couple of years ago and then this opportunity came up and I just thought it would be lovely to do just have a go. I have a thing about Tea Rooms as well. Something about them!

What’s your favourite spot at Painshill?

Oh difficult to say. I love the Temple of Bacchus. I did my last design at college on it so I spent a lot of time measuring things and looking at the views. So it is still quite special to me.

Volunteer Interview of the month – June 19

Sue Cockle

What is your role at Painshill?

Currently I am doing some administration work in the office, but in my 3 years of volunteering I’ve done lots of roles here at Painshill. I started out as a Ranger and continue to do this, it is great as you get to walk around the landscape and enjoy all it has to offer. I’ve worked in the pop-up café at the Gothic Tower, I have also filled in at the Visitor Centre, plus lots of other things when events take place, not to mention helping bringing in the grape harvest. It was while working in the Visitor Centre that a member of staff made me aware that they needed help in the office and so since Autumn last year I have been helping out there.

Why did you choose Painshill to volunteer at?

Having retired I was looking to find some voluntary work but did not want to work in the ubiquitous charity shop. I was looking to find something to do that involved being outdoors. While searching a website offering volunteer opportunities locally I saw something for Painshill. When checking their website, I saw they were having an open morning soon encouraging new volunteers, so I went along and the rest as they say is history. There were lots of different roles, everyone seemed really friendly and there was lots of flexibility about how much time volunteers could give. One of the volunteers took us through the landscape to the Crystal Grotto and I realised what a beautiful place it is, I had not visited in years and realised what a hidden gem it is.

What is the thing you love most about your work at Painshill?

I enjoy the camaraderie of all those who give their time to Painshill whether employees,  volunteers or the trustees, everyone is so enthusiastic about the place.  I also love  it when new visitors say what a wonderful place it is and that they must come back again.

What is your favourite spot at Painshill?

The Temple of Bacchus is possibly my favourite. When I first started volunteering there was just an outline of where the building stood, and in my time here I have seen it restored. It is not just the building that I like but  the view out over the Surrey countryside from where it is situated within the landscape is stunning. Hamilton really had an eye for drawing you to a location with his follies only for it to reveal some other vista from it.