Project Stories

Darwin’s Living Laboratory with English Heritage

Putting your visitors at the heart of your new experiences is excellent - but don’t forget your volunteers.

We bridged the gap between traditional heritage-based knowledge and engaging a new audience in ecology and the natural world, empowering volunteers and staff to deliver a high-quality family visitor experience in the gardens of Darwin’s home – Down House.

When English Heritage launched a new family-friendly nature interpretation scheme in 2021, they quickly recognised that the new boards and interactive posts designed to engage visitors in the garden and Darwin’s practical experiments and scientific findings posed a real challenge to their team. How would they gain the additional knowledge – and confidence –  needed to explain Darwin’s often complex approach and scientific findings in a way that would engage families of all ages?

Pulling on our expertise in heritage

Our years of providing high-quality nature and heritage experiences  – and our history working within the conservation sector, perfectly placed us to be able to help.

Working with soil scientist and interpretation expert Dr Erica Bower and ecologist and environmental educator Tom Walmsley, we delivered a training programme to educate volunteers and visitor-facing staff based on Darwin’s six steps to being a good scientist. We centred our approach on fun and curiosity and asking leading questions, giving everyone the confidence to tell science-based stories relevant to what was happening in the garden at that time of year.

Self-serve learning to keep the good work up.

In addition, we created a user-friendly toolkit which included the six steps, background material on the new interpretations and top tips for engaging families and school groups with the often complex concepts that arise from Darwin’s work.

“Very helpful; I particularly liked the simple and involving ideas. Thank you.” Susan Ryall, Down House Volunteer

“Lots of great fun! Very engaging, and volunteers enjoyed it immensely. It’s certainly given us a great foundation.” Anthony Rourke, Head Gardener